What Will We Learn and How Will We Learn it: Higher Education for the Augmented Physician

The Future of Operating Rooms

This article was originally published on Beth’s Website.

Today, the healthcare industry stands at a turning point. As we look towards the future, the horizon is dotted with impressive discoveries from the medical technology community. From a sponge-filled syringe that can seal a bullet wound in less than a minute to developing 3-D models of living human body parts, technology continues to solve healthcare challenges in innovative ways.

People are living longer lives because of these advancements, and there’s no doubt that we’ll continue to steer our energy to this avenue that has potential for exponential impact. We’re in the midst of developing ways to close healthcare gaps in developing countries. We’re increasing access to high quality care. And we’re able to connect with and treat patients in ways that keep them independent and high-functioning well into their senior years.

But larger questions remain for those who are administrators and practitioners of this care: what will we learn, and how will we learn it? How can we anticipate new, better trends in patient care and prioritize the content that needs to be learned to keep pace with the accelerating amalgamation of medicine, technology, and IT?

Creating the technology is indeed a substantial feat. But harnessing its power to serve the greater population is another. The ever-evolving field of technology-meets-medicine opens the door to new problems. How will current and upcoming generations of healthcare providers learn how to diagnose and treat patients using these new tools? Will existing continuing education programs be sufficient to support rapid adoption of new technology? Or will provider education need to be supplemented more substantially? To this query, we must look towards the world of higher education.

The educational focus will most assuredly maintain the same tenets: a deep understanding of the human body–how it functions, how it decays, and how it heals–and the accompanying technical procedures that can be included to enhance theses physiological processes. However, current and future students need to be equipped with more than the traditional training of the past. The tools available to treat patients are rapidly and vastly changing; thus, the manner in which we engage in and deliver care will need to adapt.

In short, there will be a need for a role that we currently do not see in the healthcare system: the augmented physician. An engineer of the human body. Someone who has intimate knowledge of the human body and associated biological systems but also understands and implements the engineering and software support capacity of medtech systems. It’s a role that’s critical for the industry’s future, and more importantly, for the future of patients who would benefit from this enhanced care system. And it’s not just limited to the augmented physician. The whole team will have to dial up their tech awareness to be maximally effect. Eventually, we should see the augmented nurse, the augmented dentist, the augmented physical therapist, etc. All providers at all levels leveraging the power of integrating medicine and technology will be powerful.

So…. if we agree that this is the direction, let’s talk about how the healthcare providers are being prepared.

Many programs around the country have already adopted technology into their formal curriculum, and thus, are able to attract top level talent accordingly. For years, Stanford University School of Medicine has successfully operated their high-tech simulation center to better train students. And they’re not alone. Simulations provide numerous benefits to students who are able to practice with more confidence, with more frequency, and with no harm to patients. These simulations along with artificial intelligence based education will supplement students to expedite their learning curve and ultimately free up capacity to explore seamless integration of medtech and patient care.

Virtual platforms will also become standard in all healthcare training programs. Additionally, students will utilize tools like the Biodigital Human. Touted as “the health education equivalent of Google Maps” by the New York Times, the Biodigital Human offers an interactive and comprehensive application of the human body. The cloud-based platform provides 5,000 3D models that students and professionals can manipulate to understand illnesses, surgical procedures, and anatomy more deeply.

Additional tools in the works like Google Glass Surgery enhance provider abilities, which allows the delivery of care to be based on more comprehensive information rather than relying on having the provider with the best experience. I would rather be a provider that understands how to harness these tools, such that I can use an algorithmic analysis of thousands of the same procedures with the same variables as the case in point to make a statistically-determined, best decision on approach, rather than the current alternative. Which, for a newly-graduated provider, that alternative is to rely on the few dozen times a he or she has performed a procedure in school with the guidance of the biased experiences of a handful of attending professors. It’s the equivalent of using Siri to get directions to a new, far away place that is under new construction vs. relying on your next door neighbor who has visited the same location a couple of times a few years ago.

While on this educational journey to becoming an augmented physician, the student will certainly be riddled with hurdles. Most notably, students will be limited by their rate of exposure to these advanced technologies. Innovation inception, clinical testing, regulatory approval, seasoned provider adoption, curriculum inclusion, and then student dissemination all take time. Delays at any point in this pipeline contribute to a delay in helpful technology getting to the patients that need it.

So what does the aspiring provider do? Do what we tell our patients. Take an active role in your plight. Don’t accept standards of the past. Ask questions. Seek knowledge. More specifically, consider the benefit of a pre-higher education program that is unconventional. Instead of a typical pre-med biology major, consider a background in software or biomedical engineering or information technology. When choosing a graduate school, pursue those that are capturing the opportunities associated with the advances in the medtech field. When practicing, participate in clinical studies and scientific advisory boards that will allow an augmented provider to understand the future vision and contribute to its execution. And, once an expertly augmented provider, mentor those up and coming.

We are beginning to see a dramatic shift in the pedagogy of medical education. It will most assuredly be an exciting thing to watch when augmented physicians are energized to treat patient ailments similarly to engineers participating in a hackathon.