Safer, better, earlier – technology looks to be a more and more prominent feature in the future of healthcare, enhancing the skill of doctors, the effectiveness of physician diagnoses, and the safety and satisfaction of patients.

Here are 7 of the most promising medical advances so far.

1. Encouraging patient compliance through games

Most are fond of games, although when it comes to compliance and adherence to medication plans and healthy living, the same cannot be said. The solution: gamify pro-health behaviour change, such as the role of Pokemon Go in encouraging players to walk more, thus burning more calories and possibly combating the problem of obesity. Many solutions have emerged to improve the chances of patient adherence, including tiny digestible sensors in pills which provide pill digestion information to physicians and family members, and a pill bottle which monitors all adherence data in real-time, and helps patients by glowing blue when a medication dose should be taken, and red when it is missed.

2. Medical cyborgs and robotics

The idea of using robots to administer clinical treatment has been around for a while. Besides IBM’s world-famous robot named Watson - an AI which learns vast amounts of medical data available to diagnose patients with high accuracy and speed, there are others. The surgical robot, da Vinci system and Verb can help in delivering better surgical outcomes; with machine-learning and advanced imaging to enhance surgical precision and components such as robotic arms to get into hard-to-reach places, reducing surgical damage and allowing for a faster recovery time.

3. New diseases

With advances in areas such as travel infrastructure and technology, new diseases are expected to emerge while old diseases will spread more easily. The recent Zika epidemic is one example. Many scientific papers have been published, naming virus candidates for the next big epidemic, which include Utsusu, Rift Valley Fever, and Chagas, all of which are spread by parasites.

4. Crowdsourcing through social media

The earlier epidemics are pinpointed, the fewer people are affected. Digital media presents a swift method for sharing, crowdsourcing and storing of medical information if appropriately used, allowing the global health situation to be monitored and for disease outbreaks to be caught earlier. Websites like Healthmap, ProMED-mail and MediSys are some examples.

5. Augmented reality (AR)

Scientists are looking into developing tools using AR – interactive 3D simulations – for healthcare purposes. Microsoft is changing medical education through the development of Hololens, goggles which project a life-size, accurate 3D model of a living human body to the wearer to serve as a learning aid for aspiring doctors in anatomy and surgery class.

A clinic in Germany has also experimented with the use of AR in an operating room on an iPad application. It enables surgeons to see through anatomical structures without having to cut open organs or have their view limited, thus allowing more precise procedures.

6. Real-time diagnostics and monitoring

Often, for a disease to be diagnosed, a number of samples from blood and tissue must be extracted from the patient, and brought to a laboratory for analysis, which is time-consuming and costly. Hence, tools for real-time diagnosing purposes have been developed, such as the smart patch which saves diabetics a needle-pricking in order to monitor their blood sugar, as it detects the levels of glucose from a person’s perspiration, and can even deliver the diabetes drug metformin through the skin.

Another example is the iKnife, a smart surgical knife created by Zoltan Takats from Imperial College London which can identify whether tissue is malignant, on the spot. It uses an electrical current to heat tissue – the vaporised smoke is analysed by a mass spectrometer to detect chemicals in the biological sample.

7. 3D printing

3D printing is a new way of manufacturing products which confers unique advantages, such as the production of designs that cannot be produced by traditional manufacturing methods. Already, it has found multiple uses in medicine, from the generation of body parts like blood vessels and bones for patients requiring surgical reconstruction to medical models and customised prosthetic limbs to aid in the success of traditionally invasive surgeries to bettering the quality of life of those living with limb loss.

The possibilities have not been exhausted yet; for example, it could restructure the pharmaceutical industry as patients print their own drugs at home. However, there are many barriers in regulation, cost and acceptance, to overcome before the potential uses of 3D printing can be harnessed. MIMS

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