Could digital technology make doctors of us all?
Advances in virtual reality, artificial intelligence and diagnostics could prompt a revolution in how we access healthcare. In this article we’re diving
While there is a lot of optimism that technology will provide more effective care in the future, there are some who have warned against being too excited about developments that have yet to deliver proven results.
“There’s a lot of fly-by-night, ‘look at this whizzy gadget I developed’, but not measuring the use of it,” says Cambridge University’s Lydia Drumright, a specialist in medical data analysis.
There are some developments however that are reaching the medical front line, and their effectiveness is being tested in hospital-based trials.
One of the first patients to test VR in a medical setting was Lt Sam Brown, who had suffered severe burns on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. The goggles transported him to a wintry landscape, where he could hurl snowballs, which helped to distract him from the excruciating pain of daily dressing changes.
In hospitals and medical schools, VR can also be used to enhance doctors’ training, allowing them to virtually “walk through” complicated surgical procedures, such as separating conjoined twins.
“The entire structure of healthcare, as well as the roles of patients and doctors, will fundamentally shift from the current status quo,” predicts Bertalan Mesko.
AI is already being used by scientists in research that could provide lifesaving treatments. The deadliest forms of ovarian cancer have been detected using the technology after scientists created a tool that seeks out clusters of tumour cells with unusually shaped nuclei.
Dr YinYin Yuan, who led the study at the Institute of Cancer Research explained:
Using this new test gives us a way of detecting tumours with hidden weaknesses in their ability to repair DNA that wouldn’t be identified through genetic testing.
Several European companies have trained artificial intelligence to detect signs of breast cancer, in the hope that a breakthrough will help hospitals contending with a shortage of radiologists.
A trial is to be launched this month at a trust in Leeds, and the technology will also be tested against tens of thousands of historic scans in the East Midlands to see whether it can identify signs of breast cancer.
Doctors say that AI will become a common way to read scans. Nisha Sharma, director of breast screening services at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, commented:
There are several companies that are developing algorithms to read mammograms – it’s something that we will see happen in the next five years.
Although some of these possibilities could be groundbreaking, Dr Andrew Goddard, President of the Royal College of Physicians in London, worries that some digital innovations are in danger of serving only part of the patient population.
The worry with this technology is that it will create a greater division in healthcare. It’s empowering to some patients, but not to others.
At Inchora Health we embrace technology and improving the healthcare experience. Although the tech that we employ is currently of a small scale compared to that described in this article (we offer online GP appointments via Cignpost Health and are developing our app technology) we must bear in mind that 10 years ago these developments were just not possible. Even now they are a step away from the traditional model of seeking health advice that many use. Technology moves fast and as it does we are keen to embrace the possibilities developing our own initiatives and embracing the tech that is starting to be used in the sector.
Gabbatiss, J – Independent. (2019). Artificial intelligence used to detect women with deadliest ovarian cancer. Accessible: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/ovarian-cancer-ai-artificial-intelligence-deadly-tumours-research-study-a8724611.html. Last Accessed: 14 January 2019.
Hooker, L. BBC News (2019). A radical prescription. Accessible: http://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/the-disruptors/a-radical-prescription/. Last Accessed: 11 January 2019.
Ram, A – Financial Times. (2019). National Health Service trials AI software to diagnose breast cancer. Accessible: https://www.ft.com/content/281e0a5c-158a-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e. Last Accessed: 14 January 2019.