Dramatic improvements in healthcare over the last few centuries have carried humanity from the grips of early death to a renaissance of longevity and improving wellness. Today’s modern era has its own health challenges to be certain, but overall humans are living longer lives, thwarting once-fatal diseases, and mending debilitating wounds better than ever.
Healthcare will continue to be critical over the coming decades as the human population grows and ages at a rapid pace. Presuming that research and development receive adequate funding, allowing innovations to reach the market in an affordable way, some amazing changes should be in store for the world’s ailing, hurt and elderly.
Here are four emerging innovations in healthcare that I believe will be the most transformative for medicine and wellness in years to come.
It has technically been around since 1984, but it has only recently witnessed an explosion in commercial usage, with the industry growing by 35.2 percent in 2014 alone. 3D printed products range across a variety of industries from toys to heavy industry, and healthcare is among the most propitious.
3D printers, which assemble products directly from a digital model with layers of manmade or organic material, can manufacture skin for burn victims, airway splints for weak lungs, and will soon reach fully functioning human organs. Though emerging technologies typically take time to become cost effective in hospitals, 3D printing is less expensive than other forms of manufacturing and will become mainstream much sooner assuming regulators get on board.
Technology is starting to get under our skin — in both a figurative and literal sense. New electronic implants can be embedded into the human body to sense, record, and influence internal functionality. The possibilities are truly impressive: tiny devices that have the ability to detect and counteract seizures in epileptics, slow cell damage in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients, and even restore power to the blind, deaf, or paralyzed.
Many of the most extraordinary of these implants have not reached the mass market yet, and will require more testing to be proven effective, affordable, and safe for use. When implants become a viable alternative to medication, they will become an even more commonplace and revolutionary form of treatment.
Though the idea may make you think of the Jetsons’ maid, robot caretakers are already here with more to come soon. Though doctors and nurses will remain the primary medical personnel for decades to come, robotic assistants will augment their abilities to the benefit of patients both in and out of hospitals.
Robotic aides are already caring for the elderly. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, retire, and seek eldercare, even more opportunities will arise for robotic assistance.
Robots today can perform surgery, provide medical counsel remotely, assist in eating and child therapy, and deliver specimens in hospitals. Some robotic aides can perform the equivalent work of three human employees for the cost of less than one. As healthcare industries need of workers grows, these robotic helpers will be put to good use with thousands expected to enter hospitals in coming years.
Wearable technology has been touted as the next big craze for tech and fashion, but its sensor functionality is perfectly suited for healthcare innovation. The growing popularity of fitness trackers makes clear that this type of technology has a bright future in tracking and relaying health information from a medical perspective.
Clinically accurate blood pressure monitors, smart hearing aids, clothing that tracks breathing and heart rate, and wearable infrared light therapy for chronic pain are all devices that recently debuted at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). That’s not to mention Google’s smart contact lenses, which will sense glucose levels for patients with diabetes, and other devices like smart pacemakers.
Among the most groundbreaking in sensor technology may be digestible sensors. These tiny pill-like contraptions transmit patient internal data to doctors as they move through the body and interacts with various organs.
These are just a few of the innovations that I foresee will change healthcare across the world as they continue being developed and move into the mass market. Imagine what these will do for quality of life and quality of treatment for our current generations and those to come.