Olaf Such, PhD, MBA, is Global Head of Clinical Science for Philips Healthcare. Interviewed at the recent 2nd Annual IEEE Technology Time Machine Symposium, he gives his predictions on how today’s technology breakthroughs will influence the practice of medicine 10 years from now.
How will today’s technology breakthroughs influence the practice of medicine ten years from now?
If you look at the way that medicine is practiced now, we are very much in a centralized model in most countries, so we have high tech facilities that take handle a lot of the care, and then we have very low tech environments where we do primary care and home health care. I think some of the technologies will have moved down to become more distributed, more accessible. With that we will see changes in the locus of care, where the center of care is located; moving down from the high care centers to the primary care facilities. Technologies like telemedicine, teleradiology, and other “tele” technologies can close some of that gap. So if you can drive care to the primary care levels, and that means “primary” in the sense that we’re talking about lower levels of care compared to “acute” care, you can drive the costs down. And we see, more and more, that people recognize that at all levels. And it’s not just the cost question driving it, it is also the availability of care driving it.
It’s not that anyone is taking work away from anyone else, it’s just the fact that the burden of work is just becoming insurmountable, which means that the people currently working in the care system see this burden growing so much that they are also happy about any solution that can off-load their, let’s say, complicated work that they have and let the high care facilities take care of the problems that they are really good at; taking care of complicated cases, high level care, acute cases, complex diseases, and then be able to off-load some of their daily work to the to the lower care settings.
What technology breakthrough would you like to see in the next few years?
I’ll be really honest on that. I don’t think, in this distributed healthcare model that we really need a technology breakthrough so much as we need a system breakthrough or a socio-economic breakthrough in the way we finance it. I don’t think it is a technology bottleneck at the moment. Sure, you always need more computing power at less cost, more computing power with less electrical power requirements. You always need higher wireless bandwidth, more intelligence, smarter systems, better artificial intelligence; all of these components, but they are all driving, anyway, out of other industries, notably the consumer electronics industry is driving these things. If we combine that with medical knowledge, bring that together in reasoning engines and put that into place in an end to end system, (as I said most components are there, you just have to put it together), so I don’t think it’s a key technology breakthrough that we need to actually get it done.