There are two main drivers moving health technology, according to Simon Karger, Associate Director of Surgical and Interventional Devices at Cambridge Consultants: improving outcomes and lowering the burden on the healthcare system.
“This may be reducing staff in the OR, or the time a patient needs to be in acute care,” he said. “Making interventions simpler with less risk and pushing control to the patient is part of that.”
Many doctors probably think that dramatic changes in technology will not affect them in their lifetime. Things like artificial bladders, tracheas, and other simple body parts are currently being used, but artificial kidneys and livers are not yet able to support life.
But Kim Solez, MD, Professor of Pathology at the University of Alberta, said you need only look five years ahead to see advancements that may greatly change the landscape of nephrology and urology.
Neurostimulation is among the technologies that Karger considers exciting. This treatment has been used for years to treat conditions like chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease. But there is now a drive to use neural implants as a way to replace mainstream medications for incontinence and bladder and bowel control issues. “It is putting implant technology in the hands of the patient,” Karger said. “You can imagine neuroelectrical stimulation that gives the patient direct control over their therapy.”
Another treatment that will keep patients out of the doctor’s office is portable dialysis.
While the technology is now available, it is not commonly used, but Karger said it likely will be in the future. This will not only reduce the need for dialysis centers, but will change the way in which physicians interact with patients. Karger likens office visits in the future to taking a car in for a checkup.
“Doctors will zap the device to make sure it is working, tweak the regimen, and off you go,” he said. “And you may not even need to visit the doctor to do it; it might be able to be done remotely.”
David Scher, owner of DLS Healthcare Consulting, said remote patient monitoring could make routine visits a thing of the past. From home, patients are able to monitor thing vitals including weight, blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels.
“Doctors will be able to interact with patients in many ways that will give a picture and trend of what is going on instead of acting on a knee-jerk reflex of what they see in the office,” he said.
These kinds of technologies will impact physicians because, in lieu of regular check-ins, healthcare providers are going to be receiving data, and lots of it, Karger said.
“It could become unmanageable when they are receiving feeds on a daily basis from hundreds of patients,” he said. “Physicians and medical device managers are going to have to work out how to make sense of these data and use in ways that are beneficial to the patient. There’s a new ecosystem of care that is going to have to build up around these things.”