Starship Medicine

Technology's Impact on the Future of Medicine, Your Profession, Your Health...and Possibly Your Wealth?

As we continue to partner with the medical community by assisting doctors and dentists with developing sound financial plans, we strive to stay abreast of trending topics in the medical industry.  We find the possibilities for the advancement of patient care to be particularly interesting, and it is easy to see that these developments will lead to an industry paradigm shift (perpetually true in most conditions perhaps). 

Pauley Financial 

The Economist published an article in its April 8th, 2017 edition regarding how hospitals and patient care might evolve - the catalyst for our article. We know that change is constant, the pace is increasing and that embracing these movements ahead of the masses typically proves rewarding. As you also know, simultaneously, we await adjusted healthcare legislation (currently in the Senate) and recognize that such legislative influences will shape the evolution of medical care as well – money talks.  The intersection of that legislation along with the expected updated tax code will most certainly influence our wealth building/spending strategies.   More to follow on these topics as these government influences come more into focus.

STARSHIP MEDICINE?

If you’ve ever watched the Star Trek TV show, or any of the franchise’s movies, you’ve probably noticed that spaceship medicine is different from what we’re accustomed to. Instead of a physical exam, on the Starship Enterprise, the doctor points a blinking device at the patient and arrives at an instant diagnosis of any health issue. 

Could that ever happen in real life? It could—and actually has. 

Chip maker and tech company Qualcomm has been, since 2012, sponsoring a Tricorder XPrize Competition, offering $2.5 million to the company that can diagnose, with remote sensors, 13 health conditions: anemia, urinary tract infection, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, stroke, sleep apnea, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, otitis, leukocytosis and hepatitis. The winning device would also be able to assess a patient’s vital signs, like blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature through wireless sensors, imaging technologies and non-invasive replacements of laboratory equipment (a second prize of $1 million was also part of the competition). 

The social benefits of such a device are obvious: a huge percentage of the country’s health care spending goes toward expensive testing procedures, and fast, accurate diagnoses are also the key to fast, successful treatments. Imagine a world where medical costs—including the costs of Medicare and health insurance premiums—are reduced by 30%, and people can buy a device that allows them to diagnose their own ailments. 

In all, 312 teams entered the competition, including government-sponsored groups and medical corporations. The recently-announced winner: Final Frontier Medical Devices, founded by an emergency medicine doctor named Dr. Basil Harris. 

Instead of a hand-held device, the winning tricorder—called DxtER, is roughly the size of a shoe box, containing several individual diagnostic devices and sensors that patients can apply to themselves.  The devices, linked to an Apple iPad, will actually go beyond the specifications and diagnose 34 different medical conditions, in addition to the aforementioned vital signs. The next round of the competition will look for a way to create a commercial version.

WHAT'S REALISTIC NOW?

Thought leaders in the healthcare provider community such as the Cleveland Clinic are already re-evaluating and changing the way hospitals work.  In the present day, consultations and visits with specialists mostly take place in hospitals or offices, but remote technology and our ever-evolving data driven economy seem likely to change this process.  Mr. Toby Cosgrove, the Head of the Cleveland Clinic, envisions people sitting in rooms full of screens and phones. Hospitals would only host emergency patients and the most expensive equipment that would be shared across patients and disciplines.  Fewer people would be admitted, as only those consultations that required multiple specialists would likely be taken care of in what we think of today as a traditional hospital setting. The result?  Reduced costs, improved accessibility and potentially improved results as patients are more comfortable, will likely rest better, and will be less susceptible to nosocomial illnesses.  

We are already seeing online care grow; Kaiser Permanente conducted approximately half of their consultations virtually in 2017.  Dutch researchers have estimated that 45% of care that is currently provided in hospitals could be moved to a patient’s home.  Not exactly star-ship medicine yet, but we are getting closer.

HOW WILL THIS IMPACT DEMAND FOR PHYSICIAN’S SERVICES AND SKILLS?

Some of these advancements are certain to replace staff and/or automate functions that are currently handled by physicians and their colleagues.  Smartphones could replace stethoscopes, and while a hip replacement would likely be started by a surgeon, it could be finished by a robot.  Technology could warn a surgeon about an important artery just as GPS technology now warns drivers of upcoming traffic.  Less invasive procedures (from a steadier instrument) will likely result in lower recovery times.  Surgeons might operate on patients all around the world.  

How do these changes help you?  The gift of time that these advancements afford should then allow you more focus on the  actual art and science of medicine and healing vs hours of medical records maintenance.  We have yet to engage with a doctor that would like to spend more time logging patient notes and instruction.  

This also might mitigate a projected shortage of 90,000 doctors in the U.S. that is expected by 2025.  The World Bank has forecasted a need for an increase in healthcare workers of 100% by 2030.  These productivity increases could free up physicians to do the work that only humans can do.  

What also do these trends portend?  An ongoing and increasing demand for the technology, communication, and inter-connectivity of medical systems.  Many of you are wrestling with basic IT challenges even now (slow computers, conversions of EHR systems, managing compliance and security of data).  The investment in these burgeoning cyber solutions is likely to be significant.

Importantly, the most sweeping change that seems to be coming as a result of these technological advances seems to be the opportunity for the flip-flopping of bringing healing to the patient, as opposed to the other way around.   Perhaps we are coming full circle to the time when doctors made “house calls”.

We always welcome your thoughts and discussions as we navigate this changing landscape together.