Without having an image of where we want or even think medicine is going, it is difficult to make progress.
We spend a great deal of time trying to develop our practices working on the now and focusing on the past. Did that schedule change help? Does this coding approach make a difference? Does using that EHR help our workflow?
But what about the future of medicine? What does your future in medicine look like? I think this is a valuable question to ask, because without having an image of where we want or even think medicine is going, it is difficult to make progress.
If we examine the current trend in our technologies outside of medicine, it appears that three themes emerge:
1.) The use of mobile self-metered devices and programs will become routine in our patients’ lives;
2.) The use of the Internet, iPads, and smartphones will change how we communicate with our patients; and
3.) The virtual world of gaming and online simulation will bleed into the healthcare arena.
Let’s briefly look at each of these three themes.
1.) Mobile technology and self-metrics: From heart rate variability to sleep-cycle monitors, we can use our smartphones to provide unique insights into how our bodies are functioning. We can now keep track of so many different variables on our phones. When you start to combine the use of GPS technology and these different monitoring capacities, it is not difficult to envision a time when we will all be checking in with our own personal stats: How well did I sleep? Has my basal heart rate changed over the last few days? When did it change and where was I when that happened? How are my blood sugars doing? I believe that it will not be too long until we are all keeping better track of ourselves using this mobile technology. After this happens, you can conceive of the time when patients will be sending us that information so that we can provide them more individual advice: “Well, Mr. Jones, it looks as if the past four nights you have not hit deep-wave sleep, so why don’t you try some Melatonin at 9 p.m. when you are lying down.”
2.) Smartphones, tablets, and social media will forever change how we communicate with our patients: Many physicians are embracing e-mail into their communication arsenal but texting will come next, as will more social media applications. Patients do not want to wait two weeks to ask questions. They no longer feel that they should have to make an appointment to interact with us. Outside of medicine this is becoming the norm. “Live chat” is now almost standard on any type of retail website. And think about how many people live on Facebook and YouTube. I can see a time when YouTube becomes much more personal with individuals using personal videos to communicate back and forth. As doctors, we would be wise to embrace this technology and not fear it.
3.) Virtual worlds such as video games and simulation play will enter into the healthcare arena: From Sims to Madden football, our children are growing up at a time when video games are more personalized and ubiquitous. These virtual worlds offer medicine many opportunities to interact with our patients. I foresee a time when we each have our very own virtual self that we utilize online. Using the mobile technologies for self-monitoring, we will be able to use real-time data to interact with a virtual self. For example, we may wake up and log-in to learn that our virtual selves have not slept well over the past week (this data was transferred from our mobile phones to our virtual self world). As such, we will be able to try playing out many different scenarios in our virtual world: Try going to bed earlier? Try taking Tryptophan? Try taking Ambien? We will then be able to see what happens to our virtual self and then make those changes to our real self. As physicians, we will have access to our patients’ virtual worlds and be able to interact with our patients, providing advice and support in personalized settings. It is short sighted to believe that the virtual worlds our children (and ourselves) interact with will not bleed into our healthcare system.
These are my three impressions about the future of medicine. I would love to hear about yours. It can be difficult thinking about the future when we have so much going on in the present, but I do believe that by doing so, we will help our current practices more than we ever imagined. The more you stay on top of how medicine might change in the future, the better prepared you will be to be an active participant in that change.
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