The landscape of information technology (IT) is rapidly advancing, propelled by COVID-19–generated needs for telemedicine, computer capability to collect massive amounts of data, and artificial intelligence (AI) and nanotechnology that can analyze it all in record time. What does this mean for us as patients?
As Prof. Yoram Weiss, director of Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, explained in the January 28 “2041: A Healing Odyssey” webinar, hosted by Hadassah International, telemedicine capability will soon bring us and our primary care physician closer. Consider the scenario Prof. Weiss described, which is already possible at Hadassah: An individual is hospitalized. The patient’s family physician receives a message about the hospitalization. The physician accesses the patient’s medical records on a computer and virtually joins medical rounds at the hospital as the patient’s medical team is visiting. “The idea,” said Prof. Weiss, ”is to create a connection between community medicine and the physicians in the hospital.”
Prof. Weiss noted, too, that Israel has centralized its patients’ electronic medical records. Through a system called EITAN, both patients and health care providers can access all medical records at one electronic destination.
AI and “big data,” Prof. Weiss reported, already make it possible for patients to find out what is wrong with them much sooner. For example, as soon as a person undergoes a CAT scan, AI can analyze the image, comparing it with a “big data” collection that stores countless images, along with clinical symptoms of various diseases. With the analysis complete, the physician receives a diagnosis, conveyed directly to the physician via smartphone.
Nanotechnology, with its ability to examine the tiniest of molecules and determine an abnormality or pathological process way before an individual experiences any clinical symptoms, enables physicians to alert their patients to potential medical problems and intervene much earlier. As Prof. Weiss expressed, “Pre-emptive intervention is the key to the future of medicine.”
Because of all the new technology, the physician-patient relationship is more personalized. Devices available now enable a physician or nurse to monitor a patient 24/7 to see how the patient is doing medically. As Prof. Weiss related, “Smartphones are becoming small medical devices. I have software on my smartphone that enables me to monitor myself or a patient. I can measure heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen and glucose levels, diagnose an ear infection, and even perform an electrocardiogram.” In addition, telemedicine gives patients access to more health care providers because they can interact with them remotely, even if they live in another country.
Will all the technology soon replace the human brain? “No,” Prof. Weiss said. “Artificial intelligence will help physicians perform our tasks in a better way, allowing us to provide better medicine to our patients.” In addition, AI will save the health care system billions of dollars as it streamlines diagnosis and facilitates preventive intervention.
Prof. Weiss emphasized that “a huge change is coming upon us in personalized medicine.” For example, Prof. Weiss sees cancer becoming a chronic disease that will be individually managed for each patient, depending on the genetics of that individual’s cancer. In addition, “in the next few years,” he said, “stem cells will be used to create new livers, kidneys, and lungs for our patients.”
As with any new technology, there are challenges and downsides. Prof. Weiss explained that the huge surge in medical data brings with it the need to protect patient privacy and each individual’s medical record. For example, if insurance companies gain access to data that reveal a person is at high risk for contracting prostate cancer, they may decide they don’t want to cover that individual for prostate cancer.
Perhaps more intimidating is the risk that hackers will attack a hospital’s computer network and lock out hospital personnel. As Prof. Weiss noted, hackers can attack the “critical infrastructure of a hospital.” Or they can get into the computer system and manipulate the data, turning off a defibrillator or changing the dosage of a patient’s medication. The more physicians remotely provide treatment—as in regulating a medicine pump remotely, for example— the more hackers can intervene and even cause patients to die.
On a more comforting note, telemedicine, AI and nanotechnology offer the promise to improve our longevity and the quality of our lives, as we enjoy more streamlined remote access to our health care providers, personalized medicine, and the information to intervene early to prevent a medical condition from sealing our fate.
This webinar, moderated by HI Board member, supporter, and health innovation expert Dr. Shai Misan of Italy, is episode 5 in Hadassah International’s Winter Live Series, “50 Shades of Health,” which provides a window into the latest advances in the frontiers of medicine, as practiced and envisioned by Hadassah’s visionaries.