onsdag 23 oktober 2013

Technology liberates the body

Medicine is a deeply technological endeavor, both using and driving the development of the latest science and engineering. As more and more people grow older and seek to take charge over their own health, technology advances faster and the core principles of life are being understood, medical technology is advancing at an ever faster rate. This technological change has profound implications for the organization of health care: new forms of organization become possible, and to make full use of many technologies the current centralistic health care organizations need to adapt.

The report Technology liberates the body: the medical technology of the future, the patients, and health care (Tekniken befriar kroppen - Framtidens medicinska teknik, patienterna och sjukvården) explains the recent developments in pharmaceutics and medical technology.

In the past we have had eras of mechanical, chemical and electronic medicine, dominated by particular relations between dominant technologies, health care systems and the patient-physician relationship. We are now entering an era of information and biotech medicine where new opportunities appear.

Information medicine holds the potential for a distributed, international health care market as well as potentially bringing much diagnosis and treatment into the home or to local care. Cheap, distributed sensors enable widespread health monitoring and diagnosis – including the self-diagnosis of many patients, undermining diagnostic monopolies and supporting a move from a client role of the patient to a demanding customer role. New imaging technologies enable both more thorough examinations of patients at hospitals, potentially shortening the diagnostic chain and improving the treatment but also changing the traditional workflow.

The biotechnological revolution enables new forms of pharmacology, both the use of genetic screening to find the best medication for a patient and radical new treatments affecting particular bodily systems. Many previously serious illnesses are becoming chronic diseases. In an ageing population with many chronic diseases preventative medicine becomes emphasized, but the new advances allow forms of prevention that amplifies normal performance. This often blurs the borders between palliative, curative, preventative and enhancing medicine. At the same time regenerative medicine promises cures for many infirmities, but requires new levels of integration between the medical professions, biotechnologists, nanotechnologists and materials scientists.

As medicine and the concept of health become more individualized, both due to patient demands, the individualization of diagnosis and treatment thanks to pharmacogenomics, sensors and imaging, the old centralized “one-size-fits-all” health care is being challenged. Whether the hospital of the future is a campus of hi-tech clinics or a network within an distributed health care ecology, it is clear that it will not be very like the current hospital system – assuming political, organizational and economical pressures are not sufficient to prevent the adaptation of the new technologies being researched. The irony is that while health care is a tremendous boon to both individuals and to society at large, only the costs are visible to the planners.

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