Five Technologies That Will Transform Medicine In Post-Pandemic America
Until the 1920s, the overwhelming majority of doctor-patient meetings took place in the home. But as medicine became too sophisticated and complicated for house calls, doctor’s offices began sprouting up in cities and towns across the country. Soon, little brown buildings, filled with doctors, all practicing independently of one another, became the epicenter of care delivery. This fragmented approach to healthcare has stood in place, largely unchallenged and unquestioned, for nearly a century.
2. Drug development
No industry felt a greater sense of urgency during the coronavirus pandemic than drug makers. As a result of kickstart efforts like “Operation Warp Speed,” vaccine-development technologies accelerated at an unprecedented pace. In the past, the traditional biologic approaches for creating vaccines required at least five years of development and testing prior to receiving FDA approval.
Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines were created in a matter of weeks, after researchers in China published the exact genetic code for the virus. Scientists quickly figured out a “shortcut” of sorts, using a lab-created messenger RNA to deliver a unique set of instructions to the human body. Those instructions led to the production and replication of specific virus-associated proteins—similar to the way a computer virus instructs an operating system to make copies of itself. In response to these foreign proteins, the patient’s immune system creates antibodies, which lead to immunity.
3. Data analytics
The coronavirus shined a bright and uncomplimentary light on chronic disease in the United States. According to mortality reports, 94% of people who’ve died from Covid-19 had a chronic disease and 88% had two or more. Health experts have long understood the consequences of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. In the United States, they account for 7 in 10 deaths and nearly 75 percent of aggregate healthcare spending.
And yet, prior to the pandemic, these types of illnesses were seen as something Americans just had to live with, like gravity or traffic. That misperception is started to change as a result of the current pandemic. The United States is on pace to reach its grimmest milestone yet—500,000 Covid-19 deaths—by this summer. The mounting death toll is helping Americans see chronic illnesses not as a common nuisance, but rather as a coconspirator, as guilty of death and destruction as the virus itself.
4. Patient decision tools
In 2020, our nation applied a one-size-fits-all approach to managing the coronavirus. As a result, we over restricted some groups, like elementary school children, and under protected others, particularly people in nursing homes. The consequences were lethal.
This kind of assumptive error happens in healthcare settings, too, where doctors fail to personalize their clinical approaches and treatments for patients. As a result, they overtreat some and undertreat others. Whether patients have high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation, their physicians are likely to see all of them on a routine basis, usually every three or four months. That model makes no sense.
What patients with a chronic disease need to know is whether they should continue taking the same medications at the same doses or alter them. If nothing needs to change, they may not need to see their doctors more than once a year. In contrast, if something is askew, they should be seen in a matter of days, not months. Technology offers a better and more precise approach.
5. Artificial intelligence
Like the other technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) has been talked about for years as a “game changer” in medicine. And yet, AI has not improved American healthcare so far.
It won’t stay this way for much longer. The Covid-19 crisis highlighted a problem for which AI offers a unique and powerful solution. There is a false perception among doctors that they treat all patients the same. The pandemic has proven otherwise. Throughout 2020, Black patients’ chances of dying were three times higher than that of white patients.
Part of the problem began in the diagnosis stage. When two patients came to the emergency room with symptoms equally likely to be Covid-19, the white patient was tested far more often than the Black patient, according to national studies. Biased treatment is not a new phenomenon in medicine. For decades, studies have shown that white physicians regularly undertreat Black patients for pain, prescribing less medication than they do for their white patients.
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