We’re living in an age characterized by rapid advances in technology, and although it might not be quite what the sci-fi authors of the past imagined (no aliens yet), some of the inventions are more than impressive and have incredible implications for medicine and healthcare.
Just looking at the 3D printer and its ability to make prosthetic body parts in a matter of days at pretty incredible costs and its potential to create organs and other tissues, it’s easy to see that technology has profound implications for human health.
Although 3D printing and other advances might be the solution to many medical dilemmas and issues today, technology poses many questions, both moral and practical, as it does answers.
With Tech News reporting a mixed message of a broken healthcare system combined with the promotion of costly medical devices, it’s easy to wonder whether more technology is the solution or whether it will just add more cracks and costs into the healthcare system. What’s more, with the help of big companies like Epic, Cerner, and MEDITECH, doctors and patients alike can access records and data online, which leaves safety and privacy, and convenience and accessibility in a precarious balance.
So, let’s take a look at some of the rapidly developing healthcare technology and what people stand to gain or lose.
Electronic medical records
According to the CDC, 78.4 percent of office-based physicians were using an electronic medical record or health record system as of 2013. As we move forward, more and more records will be accessible online.
- Storing information electronically makes it more vulnerable to security violations and hackers.
- Healthcare practitioners may come to over-rely on electronic records and forget how to work without them.
- Errors may result from entering incorrect numbers or typos.
- Some systems are difficult to use or navigate.
- The system could go down or experience technical issues.
- Although some costs may be saved on testing, implementing and maintaining the system, training people to use it, and uploading or incorporating old paper files may be expensive.
- There’s real-time, immediate access.
- They’re easy to read (no need to decipher handwriting).
- Patients and doctors can easily access them from home or on their mobile devices
- Patient information and doctor’s notes can easily be transferred from one doctor to another. For example, if you need to see a specialist, or switch doctors, all your information and the doctor’s notes are readily available.
- May reduce costs since all your test and results are available to all your doctors, there’s no need to do them again.
- Information can be backed up but physical papers can be easily lost, damaged, or destroyed.
Digital diagnosis and telehealth
Everyone’s probably looked up their symptoms online to try and get a self-diagnosis before going to the doctor, but digital diagnosis and telehealth go beyond that, bringing better symptom checkers and real doctors to the digital world, ready for consultation via email, messaging, phone or video.
- Doctors don’t always see the patients, so patients and doctors alike may miss visual cues, misinterpret messages, or miss important physical features or cues that could aid in diagnosis.
- Communicating online in chats and emails is not secure.
- A doctor licensed in one state might not meet licensing requirements for another.
- Digital diagnosis may mislead people into thinking they have more serious issues.
- Makes doctors accessible to rural areas or internationally.
- No travel time or costs.
- Patients can maintain contact with their doctors while traveling or after moving.
- Consult with real doctors online about questions and symptoms without having to go into the office at no or low costs.
- Educates and empowers patients.
- Can give very accurate diagnoses (the free online symptom checker, Isabel, has been shown to diagnose correctly most of the time, and was even correct 96 percent of the time in really complex issues according to the Wall Street Journal).
Although medical robots can be used in many areas of healthcare, the main controversy surrounds their role in surgery.
- Overreliance on robots
- A surgeon does not physically feel what he or she is doing
- May require unnatural position during surgery
- Training varies by hospital
- Technical problems
- Electric power can cause burns
- More expensive
- More training
- May take longer to operate
- Less invasive
- Less blood loss
- Smaller incisions
- Less scarring
- Faster recovery
- Allows surgeon better view
Ultimately, whether or not healthcare technology can be considered part of living a healthy lifestyle depends on how and when doctors and patients use it. Although some of the risks listed above sound pretty compelling, don’t forget that research is always improving the technology people already have. Doctors can now create personalized 3D heart models for patients who need heart surgery and practice beforehand, which minimizes the risks during surgery while putting sensors in the brains of people who are paralyzed, can give them the ability to move an outside object, like a mechanical arm.
Healthcare always carries some risks – just think about ancient methods of care or how people managed before drug testing. Although the integration of technology into our lives can seem frightening, the overall benefits are simply undeniable.