To say that decade was productive in terms of medical advances would be an understatement. We are constantly challenging older, established notions on how our bodies function, and with each year we are exploring new territory that might just prove to be the next big thing.
Tallying Healthcare Advances – The Careful Optimism Approach
Many of the discoveries are truly mind-blowing. In some cases we actually need to rewrite entire chapters of anatomy, and we might even be on the verge of using AI reliably in any business, even predictive medicine. Although it’s not truly AI but a machine learning algorithm, the results are impressive and machines show potential to consistently outperform humans in this kind of diagnostics and risk predictions.
The only thing needed is a large enough data set, and that’s where the optimism wanes today. Some of the effects of modernization on our overall well-being are quite concerning. Since patient data is being stored digitally, in large enough quantities it can abused in more ways than many people would even consider.
This data can be sold on the digital black market and buyers are willing to pay significant amounts of money for a large dataset. It can be used by insurance companies to determine credit score – used by advertisers to serve you ads – and health care safety advocates are justifiable concerned about this trend.
Since technology is evolving at an ever-faster pace, we are losing the ability to accurately predict a distant future. Although the healthcare advances from, say, 1700 to 1799 are probably not trivial, the amount of knowledge gained and re-examinations of entrenched theories is orders of magnitude smaller than that from 1918 to 2018.
Medical Professionals Hamstrung By Technology
Diagnostics might be on the verge of a revolution, but personal examinations are invaluable, and treatments like surgery can still only be done by humans. Since AI is far from becoming your medical practitioner of choice, human doctors are not going to become obsolete any time soon.
That doesn’t mean that doctors aren’t somewhat hamstrung by technological advances, though. Keeping up closely with the discoveries and new methodologies is essential for any doctor who strives to do what is best for their patients.
The problem with this pace of advancement is that aside from their full-time practice, there’s hardly time for the doctors to keep up with it all.
Since medicine has also developed into a multi-trillion dollar industry (close to $1 trillion in pharmaceuticals alone), the competition is fierce, the incentives higher than ever, and there’s no room to drop the ball.
An Unhealthy Alliance
Many doctors survive through “alliances” with pharm companies, making for an unhealthy relationship with questionable ethical foundations.
Ever since major news outlets have started reporting on these practices, people have started to lose hope in the integrity of our healthcare system in its current form. This is why some states, and this might be expanded in the future, have introduced regulations of these kinds of relationships starting from 2018.
But digitalization also enables these private practices to increase their income to a point where they might not even need the unhealthy deals with pharma companies. Not to mention enabling them to survive after states start introducing more regulations.
The answer might lie in digital marketing. With a better reach within their local communities, these practices can form a good recipe for growth, as demonstrated by some case studies. The underlying question is how to reach the people and provide them with the best care?
When a Search Engine Becomes a Physician
A search engine might not be a doctor, but the trends show that more and more people are using Google as a complete knowledge solution for everything – including health. The same applies to Bing, which is what Alexa uses as a source for answering questions.
Queries that people type on Google, or speak into devices like Alexa are no longer just searches of key terms but fully formed questions like:
“how do i stop coughing?”
Google recognizes this trend and provides direct answers in the form of featured snippets where you can quickly read an answer without even visiting any of the sites listed in the results page. This is far from ideal, to say the least.
We are far from the point where we can rely on algorithms to provide accurate answers to every single possible question. And even those algorithms are just sourcing information from websites which might not feature latest information or might not be authoritative enough.
Unfortunately, this trend cannot be stopped without educating the public on the importance of having a personal checkup.
The user queries usually involve the symptoms they experience, so the answers for treatment are also focused around symptom treatment. This can be extremely dangerous if the underlying cause of the symptom is a serious condition that’s being left untreated or poorly treated.
Doctors Are The Final Answer
Let’s say that grown-up people are responsible for their own actions, and should know better than to turn to a search engine when their health is at stake. What is it that we should do when it’s our children that start relying on these tools?
Since there is a lot of negativity bias in the human condition, Google will, more often than not, answer with the worst case scenario. This can have a disturbingly profound effect on the population as a whole, raising anxiousness and stress for people who don’t have a physician to present their case from an unbiased perspective.
Its medical practitioners that have the power to finally educate the public on the importance of regular checkups and the various different scenarios that can unravel from seemingly straight-forward cases.
No one expects doctors to become full-time bloggers, but sometimes just sharing a different perspective is enough to keep people from reaching any conclusion, which is still better than risking a wrong conclusion. Investing time in answering questions online might just be the next big thing for doctors. It helps people and serves to promote the authority of a physician.
Put simply, people need to be convinced that there’s more than one answer for any complex question and that the best possible thing they can do is a personal visit to the doctor. And it’s the doctors that have the collective power to do this, but it must be a collective effort.