There is no denying the fact that healthcare costs very high. We all are just 1-2 Serious illnesses away from getting totally bankrupt and losing all your savings if luck goes bad and there is no insurance to cover it. Even if there is no financial constraint, getting access to a human physician and getting to satisfactory quality time with them is next to impossible for billions.
Getting access to quality care, human doctors and surgeons is becoming more and more difficult over time as the population grows. This is a situation i observed every day and this is something i could never absorb silently working as a clinical practitioner for 3 years. I had to do *something*. May be not something very significant , but i had to do something. And that is how me and my team started working on ZINI the healthcare AI.
But ZINI is a small step in the total patient management sequence as shown below.
I have a dream, I see a future where AI backed chatbots are confidently taking over history taking and symptom analysis (step 1) , figuring out possible causes of trouble, and suggesting investigations and treatment options. I See a future where all these 5 steps can be completely or partially automated and technology has reached a level that genuine and quality healthcare services can be made available to billions without any constraint of money or resources.
And i believe this is not a far fetched dream now.
Here are a few examples that show how Innovators and scientists are working today in making all these steps/ sections a reality.
Many chatbots are doing this in an excellent way. To name a few that i as a doctor found really accurate and reliable would be ADA and ZINI.
Digital sensors who can do a GPE (general physical examination) easily and reliably. This includes Measuring Pulse, Temperature, BP and checking for pallor , icterus, lymphadenopathy etc. Many digital sensors are doing this step very reliably and accurately even today. Not all values are measured but it is not a far distant future to make all these available. fitbit and Mi Band are some names to share.
Trained AIs that can do an evaluation of Stethoscope sounds. Trained humans who can take over other aspects of SPE (or Systemic physical examination). Stethee is a name that is doing good in this area. It can listen, measure as well as analyse heart sounds, probably better than most human physicians. Listening to heart and lung sounds is no easy task for many doctors. Requires years of study and practice. And here we have some motivated people creating a revolutionary stethoscope that can listen and report on it’s own. Great work i must say.
All these progress can help us in setting up ZINI OPDs , as I visualise them, in a few years. Automating the above 3 steps is a big leap towards increasing access to healthcare services for all and massively reducing the cost therein. ZINI OPDs can be run with minimal human effort or skill set required in remote villages, islands, Spaceships or even our urban societies as the 1st step in patient care and patient guidance.
ZINI OPDs can be run with minimal human effort or skill set required and provide healthcare services in remote villages, islands, Spaceships, Newly colonised planets or even our local urban societies as the 1st step in patient care and patient guidance.
Scientists are working very fast in the direction and I see major breakthroughs and progress real soon in the above 3 steps. Regulatory bodies will need to work on some standards as to which AIs and bots are allowed to see, check, analyse and guide patients and to what extent. I see this happening in 3-5 years at max.
These 3 initial steps if automated can easily take care of 30-35% of the patient load, specially in primary healthcare sector, increase efficacy and enhance data collection, which will further improve research, automation and policy making for the future. But when it comes to cost, this is just 20% of the cost burden. 80% of the cost burden in healthcare is because of Investigations, labs, Scans, images, and treatments (ranging from medical, lifestyle to surgical treatments).
So here are some advancements in those areas.
Companies like AiDoc and Qure.ai have already shown promising results with radiological interpretations. AiDocs algorithm recently got FDA approval as well. Google has developed algorithms that detect diabetic retinopathy better than humans. I see a future where AIs not only reduce costs and time delay but also make scans more accurate and reliable. Scans are very important in many life saving decision making scenarios and automating this step is a big leap. Although in its infancy stage , this is totally a possibility as datasets grow and innovative people keep working on the problem.
Companies like FabRx and Cyclepharma have been able to 3D print drugs at home using a 3D printer. Most of the medicines will be able to print locally by just downloading a file and giving a print command. This does not totally take away the cost , but it massively reduces. it. There is no denying the many drugs reach patients ad 5X to 20X the Cost of manufacturing.
Some daring startups like Organovo and Biobots are actively working towards developing techniques to directly 3D print human tissues and organs. Above that, Scientists from the Tel aviv university in Israel had a recent breakthrough where they were able to 3D print a fully functional and working muscular human heart made entirely out of biological cells. Previous attempts used polymers or other non biological materials while this was a big leap towards biological tissues bring printed by a machine. It was “the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.” said doctors from tel aviv university.
It was the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers.
3D printed organs will revolutionise medicine completely. Organ transplant today is massively costly, mostly out of reach to pay for and the rejection rate even after a successful surgery is quite high. This technology will be a real boon and take medicine to the next level for humanity and coming generations of the human race.
Robot assisted surgeries are getting common, but how about trained Autobots that can perform minor procedures to surgeries one day. Researchers from Rutgers university already made a bot that can autonomously withdraw blood samples. You can see more here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpdTeGPruFA
I See a future where all these steps will be automated and minimal human interventions and regulations will be needed to manage patient care. This will make healthcare services accessible to all on earth and beyond. OPDs and clinics that are fully automated and run by virtual beings , robots and 3D bioprinting machines where diagnostics, treatments and investigations are done there and then by AIs. Medical bays in local societies, remote islands and spaceships run by virtual beings who take care of us 24×7.
This may be a little far-fetched today, but i have a habit of dreaming and trying. And I see this future to be coming sooner than later.
This will be a great upgrade for human civilisation. These are the people who will take humanity to ‘the Next Level’.
So here are my views on the future of medicine and healthcare in the coming years.
What do you think about this article?
Is this all possible in your view?
How long in the future do you see such a world turning into a reality?
5 years, 10 years, 20 years.
Please leave your comments and share your views.
Thanks a lot for the read.
Have a great time.
God bless you.
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The article was first published on Dr. Rohit Sharma’s LinkedIn pulse blog, it’s been republished here with the author’s permission.
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