Bertalan Meskó, MD, PhD
Summing up 2020 I was asked many times about the changes COVID-19 have brought about in healthcare. Well, throughout the past year, here at The Medical Futurist we were continuously posting about the technological advancements in the medical field: telemedicine, at-home lab tests, robotics and even doing sports have changed dramatically.
Most of these changes are likely to stay with us even after the pandemic is gone (I mean after we all got vaccinated), and in 2021, some will bear more fruit than ever. Let’s have a look at the 7 most promising trends in healthcare.
1. At-home lab tests
Case: It seems that I cannot stress enough: this advancement is one of the most important coming of age in medicine. Although people have been using at-home tests since the 60s, the real breakthrough arrived when testing started to pose a threat to both the tester and the patient. Having a lab test done in the comfort of one’s own home made testing safer. But it also helped in the democratisation of healthcare, as such testing possibilities offered a chance for uninsured Americans to finally access healthcare.
As the number of reliable and even FDA-approved tests will grow exponentially, you can be sure that this year there will be more at-home COVID-19 and Antigen test kits available, everywhere around the globe.
2. Healthcare misinformation
Case: 2020 (and the years leading up to it) has clearly shown that we need to deal with the rising tendency of misinformation. As blogs became the media and Instagram celebrities the thought leaders, a single post can make up the minds of millions of followers.
In 2021, more misinformation will be available and be discussed in social media and online in general than ever before. In order to keep track of the facts, we must ensure to keep our heads above this water. Prepare for a myriad of new resources, while the old ones such as WebMD and Medscape will fight for the attention in the new jungle of medical channels.
I’d recommend you pick your sources wisely and make sure you don’t get lost in the jungle. We all need to become smarter and avoid clickbait titles, unreliable websites or sites that are funded with an agenda. Yes, this might come with some discomfort, or looking after, but believe me, it’s worth it.
3. Immunity passports
Case: a so-called immunity passport is a concept wherein the individual can officially prove that s/he’s vaccinated against the particular virus. Originally the concept included people who had the virus but recovered, but as it can get caught more than once, the idea was ditched. Such passports or certificates (QR codes, or whatever form it might take) should allow us to live more normal lives, travel and work.
This idea has been on the discussion table since early Spring, and there already are several uses of the concept: for example, they were using rapid tests on Emirates Airlines as early as in April. More recently, NHS created a vaccination card for those who have already been vaccinated in the UK.
We can expect to see digital health solutions like applications being used to carry this data; and even more hardcore methods such as including vaccination data in electronic passports and national identity cards.
4. Further expansion of telemedicine
Case: after 2020, 2021 will be about telemedicine becoming mainstream and widespread. Remote care will be the safe norm in more and more countries. It will also reach more rural regions, and we will see video consultations added to care options. Telemedicine will become more widespread in hospitals, GPs’ offices and in specialist clinics.
We will see a generation getting used to telemedicine as the initial line of primary care – so much so that maybe even the word “telemedicine” will not be used so much as it’ll become part of the new norm within medical care. This is definitely a trend I’d bet on.
5. Amazon gets closer to healthcare
Case: news that rose over the last weeks of 2020 about Amazon’s move onto the pharmacy market. It is a clear indicator of the tech giant’s plans for the future. This still stands even though they failed to become a healthcare service company – at least they did fail as a member of a joint venture. Through Amazon Care (a service the company currently only provides for its employees) the Tech Giant will still try to position itself as a front-runner in providing healthcare solutions. This is definitely a trend that’ll continue in 2021.
Somebody sure must save healthcare. If it will be Amazon or another player from among the Tech Giants, we don’t know yet; and we probably won’t see the end of this race in 2021. But as much as we know of why Haven discontinued, maybe Amazon got what it wanted to get out of this pilot and now goes on transforming healthcare alone.
Case: self-monitoring devices and sensors have been on the rise since the beginning of the epidemic. Wearables can help in the detection of the virus’ symptoms, either as a form of devices or applications. From smartwatches to pulse oximeters, patch sensors or even online voice analyses – the demand for smart support is huge and will continue to grow in 2021.
As the Medical Futurist team envisions a future where patients actively take part in their healthcare aided by modern technology, I am a strong supporter of these solutions.
Self-monitoring after a COVID infection or a vaccination gives this trend extra spotlight. It’ll be interesting to see whether it can efficiently contribute to the monitoring of people after getting the vaccines. A post-vaccine, at-home monitoring program that delivers continuous vital sign monitoring will be crucial for vulnerable patient populations and seniors.
7. A.I., on and on
Case: From forecasting disease outbreaks to helping in new drug discovery, the potential of A.I. in healthcare is just …Brobdingnagian. Although it’s a relatively young field, there are already masses of studies and uses for artificial intelligence in healthcare; so much so that in 2020 we wrote numerous articles about its use in medicine, what we can and can’t expect of the field, its role in the expansion of a doctor’s office and even had two scientific papers published in Nature on the subject; one of them is an online database of medical devices and algorithms. But there’s always space for more.
What I expect:
From diagnostics to public health, I hope to see more prospective studies, more recommendations from medical associations about explainable A.I. And, of course, I’m still waiting for the FDA to create a functional database on A.I.-based, FDA-approved medical technologies, as they didn’t want ours.
Dr. Bertalan Mesko, PhD is The Medical Futurist and Director of The Medical Futurist Institute analyzing how science fiction technologies can become reality in medicine and healthcare. As a geek physician with a PhD in genomics, he is a keynote speaker and an Amazon Top 100 author.
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