Technology has long played a crucial part in medicine. Whether it's the development of the microscope back in the 17th-century or the development of any number of surgical tools, the health industry wouldn't be what it is today without constant innovations in the field.
Developments today promise to take things an exciting step further. Here are some of the most fascinating examples of health technology that may well shape the medical industry of the future.
1. Virtual patients and video games
Developing technologies aimed at curing patients is incredibly important, but so is the need for developing new methods for training doctors. Virtual patients, it turns out, will be a big part of this.
Companies like Cyber Patient are already providing virtual medical training. Essentially, Cyber Patient takes the concept of the flight simulator into the medical realm. While the simulations might not be as detailed as state-of-the-art flight simulators today the platform, and others like it, will only improve.
Levelex, meanwhile, creates videogames that help training doctors to experience real-life situations in a virtual setting. There's no doubt that the simulation of medical situations in the virtual world will be a huge part of the medical practice in the future.
2. Bleeding robots
Digital simulations aren't the only futuristic methods being developed for training doctors. As Gaumard VP Jim Archetto recently told Fast Company, "learners need to learn in their own environment." In other words, the virtual world might not be enough.
That's why Gaumard is building robots for medical training. These, impressively, include robots that give birth, robots with traumatic brain injuries, and robots with infected limbs and even gunshot wounds. They even call one of their robots Pediatric HAL — let's hope it doesn't take after Stanley Kubrick's famous AI character from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
3. Bionic cyborg eyes
Last year, researchers at the University of Minnesota 3D printed an array of light receptors onto a hemispherical surface. The work is being touted as a significant step towards the existence of functioning bionic eyes that could help blind people to see and the sight-impaired to see better.
The 'eye' made by the researchers contains photodiodes that were shown to convert light into electricity with 25 percent efficiency. Next, the scientists aim to create an eye with more light receptors and a softer surface.
It sounds like something out of sci-fi, but if we might soon have working bionic eyes, what other human organs could be replaced by a bionic structure?
4. 3D printing and prosthetics
3D printing has shown great promise in many areas of medicine. Just last year, one company, BIOLIFE4D, showed it was capable of 3D printing a mini heart.
It also has great potential for lowering the cost of products that can otherwise be far too expensive for the average person. One such example is the prosthetic limb. While companies like Bristol's Open Bionics (picture below) are already working to lower the cost of prosthetics, 3D printing can take this one step further.
As National Geographic points out, many people worldwide don't have access to prosthetists. 3D printing could go a long way to making prosthetics accessible to people all over the world.
5. Medical contact lenses
A team of researchers, affiliated with UNIST recently introduced a new biosensing contact lens that can detect glucose levels in patients with diabetes.
According to the research team, these medical, or smart, lenses, can monitor glucose levels from tears in the eye. The lenses contain built-in pliable, transparent electronics meaning they are not bothersome to wearers.
Though the lenses are not close to being released, the team's work is a fascinating insight into medical innovations of the future.
6. Virtual reality and augmented reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is already showing great promise in various applications across the medical industry. It's already being used as a form of training doctors by helping them to simulate real-life situations.
VR is also showing great potential as a form of treatment. Last year, a study showed that it could be used as a surprisingly effective form of pain relief. It can also help people overcome phobias and can treat disorders such as PTSD with exposure therapy.
Innovations such as the Teslasuit VR glove will help VR to be even more immersive and effective as a treatment and training method.
7. The selfie self-diagnosis
University of Washington smartphone app BiliScreen has been developed to allow users to take a selfie in order to screen themselves for a range of diseases, including pancreatic cancer.
The app is trained to focus on the whites of the eyes. It can detect a slight yellowing of the eye, an early symptom of pancreatic cancer before the naked eye is able to do so.
“What the app does is it screens adults for jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and eyes,” Alex Mariakakis, a doctoral student at the University of Washington’s school of computer science and engineering, said in a press release.
Could we soon be able to diagnose ourselves for all sorts of ailments using our smartphones?
8. Exoskeletons helping paralyzed people walk
Just a few months ago, researchers revealed that a paralyzed man, who was immobile from the shoulders down, was able to walk again. He was able to do so thanks to an exoskeleton and an implant in his brain.
The findings, published in the journal The Lancet Neurology, show how the man underwent a two-year trial in which he was able to gradually train a robotic system to interpret his thoughts as movements, allowing him to use the exoskeleton to walk.
9. Robot health workers
Robot health assistants can be used to help keep an eye on the health of people in a household. Imagine a HAL-like robotic system that — hopefully — doesn't turn on its creators.
In fact, Samsung unveiled its Bot Care robot health assistant at last year's CES, a care bot that can talk, monitor blood pressure, monitor other key health indicators, and give family members ane medical professionals insight into a patient.
Samsung isn't the only company developing health robots. Oz Robotics have also built their health assistance-providing ZoraBots. Robot healthcare workers could be about to enter the workforce.
10. Brain implants (BCIs) that can treat brain disorders
Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) have the potential to change the health industry as well as our lives. Elon Musk is a big proponent of BCIs. Tesla, SpaceX, and Boring Company founder has, in fact, also founded a BCI company, Neuralink.
With fanfare typical of any Elon Musk venture, Neuralink announced last year that its system is "a thousand times better" than the current best system.
The company believes that, in the future, BCIs will be able to allow us to control computers with our minds, allow us to mitigate the threat of AI, and help us to better understand and treat brain disorders. All you have to do is have a microchip surgically implanted into your brain.
Technology is changing our world at an incredible pace, and healthcare will undoubtedly see a great benefit from these innovations. What do you think? Is healthcare tech a case for stating that the future isn't all doom and gloom? Be sure to let us know.