Aon. Allied World.
Health.The Future State. Aon Health Symposium. 14 September 2017.

Disruptive technology is heralding an era of ‘business as unusual’ for healthcare

Speaker: Paul Hirst – Kianza

Genomes, drones, biometrics, robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, virtual reality. Far from being futuristic concepts or figments of the imagination, these disruptive new forms of technology are already emerging within the healthcare system and bringing with them a range of innovative applications for detection, personalised care, training and treatment.

Executive Director of Kianza, Paul Hirst shared an optimistic view on the health system of the future by outlining some of the visionary forms of technology that are already beginning to infiltrate the system. As our medical community attempts to keep pace with the increasing demands of our ageing boomer population, Paul highlighted the possibilities of technology to enable change as we enter an era of ‘business as unusual’ for healthcare.

Genomes and DNA sequencing: While the first sequencing of the human genome cost billions of dollars, today this can be achieved for around $1,000. This opens up opportunities for detecting and monitoring inherited diseases and predispositions for conditions such as mental health disorders and cancers.

Biometrics: Through tracking what’s going on inside your body, biometrics can provide a very fine set of data in real-time. When combined with an understanding of genetics, this has huge opportunities for monitoring, detection and personalised care.

Artificial intelligence (AI): Posing both huge threats and opportunities, AI systems can process huge amounts of data and cognitively make decisions. For health this has applications for diagnosis, as it removes the emotion and can base decisions on patterns found amongst huge data sets.

Virtual reality (VR): This is already on the rise in health and will likely continue to make an impact. Through the use of headsets and other devices, you can be immersed into other environments. This could be applied to treatment (such as diverting your attention if you have a fear of needles) and for medical training by simulating environments to allow medical students to get closer to real world examples.

Augmented reality (AR): This technology has a basis in reality, with a layer of digital applied over the top. AR could similarly have broad applications for training and treatment; for example, nurses using AR to locate veins for injection have demonstrated 30% improvement in locating the vein on the first attempt.

Robotics: Already in use across a number of Australian hospitals, robots can transport drugs, surgical equipment and waste. Robotics also has the potential to transform certain surgical procedures such as fine keyhole surgery and microsurgery, while also possibly enabling some surgery to be completed in remote locations, from great distances.

At the smaller end of the scale are ‘nanobots’; microscopic robots injected into bloodstream to diagnose, treat and repair. These could enable personalised care, and in the future may even allow for the very precise application of drugs to targeted areas of the body.

3D printing: This emerging and relatively affordable technology is already making a big impact, with exciting opportunities for printing prosthetics, synthetic skin, functional tissue and bones.

Drones: Facilitating remote deliveries, drones can be used for assessing remote areas (for example in a natural disaster situation) and deliver items such as pharmaceuticals and anti-venoms.

Disruptive technology and the future of healthcare

While it is still early days for many of these forms of technology, we can expect to see new applications continue to emerge. However these advances can be viewed as both a risk and an opportunity, and it is important that questions around access to technology (the digital divide) and ethical concerns about how technology is used for health remain on the public agenda.

With technology becoming more sophisticated and costs decreasing, we are seeing a growing trend towards the democratisation of the healthcare system as it becomes more affordable, accessible and personalised. As technology continues to advance, will care become so integrated into our lives that the real future of healthcare will be ‘invisible care’?