For a generation who is raising our families on microwaved meals and managing our retirement accounts on our smart phones, waiting – especially for health care – has become unacceptable. Accustomed to conducting our business by email and voice mail, purchasing our groceries via the express aisle and driving to work in the HOV lane, we expect the same speed and ease from our health care. Thanks to new and developing technology, that’s exactly what we’re starting to get. When it comes to medicine in the 30 Bonus Years, convenience will be key, and less will be more. Less invasive surgeries. Less recovery time. Less trial-and-error. Less inconvenience. Less time filling out medical forms and less delay waiting for test results.
Less invasive surgeries. In the 1980s, we were amazed when many surgeries that traditionally required a long incision in the knee could be performed through a few small incisions using tiny tools, a lighted scope and a video screen. Today, the use of what is commonly referred to as ‘minimally invasive surgery’ has extended to many other areas, including some abdominal and cardiac procedures, speeding recovery time and making life-enhancing procedures available to people who might otherwise not be able to withstand traditional surgery. In the future, even faulty heart valves will be replaced routinely with little (or no!) incisions. In a procedure pioneered by Emory University in Atlanta, surgeons are replacing defective aortic valves through a catheter inserted in the groin. In other cases, the use of robotic-assisted surgery for gynecologic and prostate surgeries are not only minimizing incisions and trauma, but also allowing the surgeon to operate with more precision than in traditional surgeries.
Perhaps the least invasive “surgery” is not surgery at all, but a technique that uses a high-dose radiation, delivered with pinpoint precision, to destroy tumor cells without harming surrounding tissues. CyberKnife® technology provides hope for patients whose tumors were once considered untreatable because of their proximity to critical structures such as the spine or brain. Unlike traditional surgery it’s apparently painless and, as opposed to traditional radiotherapy, it doesn’t require the patient to be completely still or undergo weeks of treatment.
Less trial-and-error prior to medical treatment. While treating complex diseases often requires a trial-and-error approach, advances in genetics will enable doctors to determine which medication – or combination of medicines – will work best for an individual before the first dose is given. This field of medicine, referred to as personalized or patient-centric medicine, individualizes the treatment specifically for a particular patient in an effort to achieve the greatest benefits of treatment with the least risk of side effects. Doctors are beginning to use personalized medicine in debilitating diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and cancers, where genetic information from the patient is used to target treatment. When treating cancers, Thomas A. Samuel, MD, associate professor of medicine in hematology/oncology at the Cleveland Clinic Florida, predicts that doctors will soon be able to put a piece of tumor tissue into a device that will evaluate it and recommend the best treatment regimen for thatspecific tumor.
Less inconvenience. Let’s face it, getting sick can be pretty inconvenient. Getting treated can be even more inconvenient, especially if that requires medical tests and procedures and the care of a specialist. That’s why some health systems, including WellStar are turning to health parks. Health parks are bringing to health care what malls brought to shopping in the 1970s, providing free parking and easy access to services like primary care providers, specialists, laboratory and X-ray services, physical therapy, pharmacies, fitness centers and out-patient surgery centers.
Even better, new smart phone apps could eliminate the need for some office visits altogether. Connected to a medical device, an Internet-enabled smart phone will allow patients to measure blood pressure, heart rhythms, glucose levels or other vital signs and transmit the results to their physician. For people with chronic health conditions that require regular monitoring vital information could be transmitted daily or even more frequently enabling the physician to detect problems that need immediate attention. In addition, you can access online doctor consultations and receive a comprehensive diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan from websites like MeMD.
Less forms, less waiting. People who grow weary of filling out the same information again and again – personal information, insurance information, medical history, you know the drill – will find some relief when all medical records go electronic. Many large medical centers are currently making the leap to electronic records, which will make one medical record available wherever you go – your primary physician’s office, your local hospital’s operating room or even an emergency room halfway across the country. The shift to completely electronic records promises to reduce costs and duplicate tests and procedures as well as waiting time for test results. Once tests are completed results are posted in your secure electronic record, which you can check online or have sent to your smart phone.
These examples of new and emerging technology only scratch the surface. While it is difficult to predict what lies ahead we can assume medical care will be faster, more convenient and more efficient than what we have now. After all, baby boomers are a busy bunch. They will demand it.
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