The impact of technology on the future of medicine

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Ruth Burns, Director of Corporate Communications & Stakeholder Relations at Thornton & Ross, looks at the impact of technology on the future of medicine.

More than half of the European population is optimistic about the future of health and is willing to use healthcare related technology – but some still have serious concerns about technological developments and the impact they’ll have on the future of medicine.

The UK, for example, is split down the middle on whether they would be happy to be treated by a doctor via webcam for a minor illness. The findings of a report into the future of health indicate that older people are more likely to accept treatment via a webcam than younger people, stating time saving and convenience as the main reasons.

These are among the key findings of the STADA Health Report on the topic ‘Future of Your Health’, a major study into attitudes to healthcare, both now and in the years to come. The survey was conducted by market research institute Kantar Health on behalf of the pharmaceutical company STADA Arzneimittel AG.

The UK results were revealed in October at the headquarters of STADA’s Yorkshire-based affiliate Thornton & Ross.

Commenting on the results, Executive Vice President of Thornton & Ross, Roger Scarlett-Smith said: “The findings of this study demonstrate that we have every reason to feel optimistic regarding the future of health in the UK. Aside from the occasional spell of apprehension towards more invasive and digital advancements in medicine, the British, alongside the rest of Europe, generally keep an open mind on health-related matters of the future.”

“Using digital technologies based on real-time data, people will become ill less frequently”

Data and digital tech

As part of the report, 2000 people aged between 18 and 99 in the UK and a further 16,000 respondents from eight other European countries shared their opinions on health-related matters of the future.

Although it states that one in seven Europeans has lost faith in classical medicine, Futurologist and Director of 2b AHEAD Think Tank in Germany, Sven Gábor Jánszky, believes that this figure will increase in the future alongside the global trend of individualisation: “Classical healthcare most often follows the one-fits-all approach: the same diagnosis for similar symptoms, the same medicine for the same diagnosis. But people are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that human bodies are different: different in genome, in biochemistry, in gut bacteria, etc.”

Jánszky’s ultimate focus is to create markets and business models of the future by constructing the environments in which people in Europe will live, work and do business a decade from now. He says the promise of new healthcare technologies is individual, and data driven, with its impact categorised in three core principles: “Digitalisation makes body data measurable in real-time, as well as emotions, brainwaves and other indicators we hitherto considered immeasurable. It also means that everything that can be measured can be predicted, and everything that can be predicted can be optimised,” says Jánszky. “Using digital technologies based on real-time data, people will become ill less frequently. But what happens if the health artificial intelligence on your mobile phone predicts you to be 23% ill by tonight? What will you do? You will probably ask the AI what to do. And it might tell you to mix a certain bacteria cocktail in your food today, followed by a certain number of vitamins. Then you go to your 3D food printer in your kitchen, connect your mobile and have it print exactly the yogurt you need in that particular moment. Individually and situationally! The key term here is ‘adaptive’. That is what the future of healthcare will look like: predictive and adaptive.”

British respondents were also similarly divided over the use of robots in surgery, with half of the population saying they’d be willing to have a robot involved in surgery, if supervised by a doctor, but 23% said they would never put their life in the hands of a machine.

“At some point in the future, robots will operate way more accurately and precisely than average humans. Patients will trust them more. It’s important to understand that comparison is not about the top human surgeons on their best days; they probably work on a similar level to robots. But we are talking about the performance of average surgeons on average days. Elimination of human failure and an increase in the average standard is the most likely result of digital technology,” says Roger Scarlett-Smith. “Digital transformation enabled by real-time measurement means that we are in a better position than ever to positively impact our health. Rather than responding to illness, we believe the future is likely to resolve around sustaining wellbeing.”

Top 5 takeaways

  1. More than half of the European population is willing to use healthcare related technology.
  2. One in seven Europeans has lost faith in classical medicine.
  3. Healthcare of the future is “predictive and adaptive”.
  4. Half of respondents would be willing to have a robot involved in surgery.
  5. The future of health revolves around sustaining wellbeing.

Ruth Burns is Director of Corporate Communications & Stakeholder Relations at Thornton & Ross. Go to www.thorntonross.com