Automation is no longer just a problem for those working in manufacturing. Physical labor was replaced by robots; mental labor is going to be replaced by AI and software. ~Andrew Yang
It will be a long time before a robot will be your primary care physician (PCP). In the near term, however, advanced technology, often powered by artificial intelligence (AI), is becoming your PCP’s most valuable assistant.
There is a worldwide shortage of medical practitioners who will likely never catch up with the growing demand. I don’t need to remind you of the increasing cost of healthcare provided by the for-profit healthcare-industrial complex. Of course, there is a growing cadre of healthcare technicians who take care of functions that used to be carried out by your PCP. You are lucky if your doc spends more than five minutes with you these days.
Telehealth has been around for decades, pioneered by the military. Here we are talking about how technology is assisting physicians and their healthcare technicians and even replacing tasks usually requiring a personal touch.
In this issue, you will learn about robots that can take your blood, a device that prints new skin, and how digital health is empowering physicians (e-physicians) and transforming the doctor-patient relationship.
New Robot Does Superior Job Sampling Blood
Venipuncture involves inserting a needle into a vein to get a blood sample or to infuse fluids. In this common task, clinicians fail in 27% of patients without visible veins and in 40% of patients without palpable veins. Ouch!
Repeated failures to start an IV line boost the likelihood of phlebitis, thrombosis and infections, and may require targeting large veins in the body or arteries — at much greater cost and risk. As a result, venipuncture is among the leading causes of injury to patients and clinicians. Moreover, a hard time accessing veins can increase procedure time by up to an hour, requires more staff and costs more than $4 billion a year in the United States, according to estimates.
Good News: This new ultrasound image-guided robot draws blood from veins, is quick, and has a better success rate than physicians (overall success rate of 87% and even higher for those with palpable veins). Hopefully, this would allow healthcare professionals to spend more time treating patients.
Handheld Device “Prints” New Skin Directly Onto Wounds
Skin grafts are used to heal extensive wounds, burns, skin loss due to infection, and for specific surgeries, such as those that remove skin cancers. As you can imagine, this is a painful process.
However, for large burns that cover much of the body, finding enough healthy skin to cover the wounded tissue can be a challenge. “With big burns, you don’t have sufficient healthy skin available, which could lead to patient deaths,” said Marc Jeschke, a researcher involved in the project.
Good News: This new device consists of a printhead with a soft wheel roller that deposits bioink onto the wound surface. The bioink contains mesenchymal stroma cells, which helps to promote wound healing while reducing the development of scars.
It’s Time For The Rise of E-Physicians
Our physicians are facing serious burnout. While electronic patient records have the potential to improve care and lower cost, it has added to the clerical burden of our docs, driving burnout and depression. Technology has offered more benefits to us than medical professionals. Who has not arrived for an appointment with our PCP with printouts from the Internet? (My father did when he first got WebTV back in the ‘90s.)
Patient empowerment, the spread of digital technologies and the widening access to medical information coupled with global doctor shortages, rising life expectancy and the ever-higher numbers of chronic diseases call for a change in the practice of medicine. The centuries-old approach to the medical profession cannot deal with the waves of the 21st century. Physicians should experience a shift from the lone wolf to the curious team player, from the rule follower to the creative and from the demigod to the guide in the jungle of digital health. That’s the main argument of the latest publication of The Medical Futurist Institute entitled The Rise of the Empowered Physician in the Digital Health Era published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Good News: A paradigm shift in healthcare called digital health is underway, leading to empowered physicians (e-physicians).
With the rise of digital technologies, such as artificial narrow intelligence, robotics, virtual reality/augmented reality, telemedicine, 3D-printing, portable diagnostics, health sensors, wearables, etc. the entire structure of healthcare, as well as the roles of patients and doctors, will fundamentally shift from the current status quo.
Digital health is a cultural transformation that is leading to a balanced doctor-patient relationship with shared decision-making — the democratization of care.
There are numerous challenges to healthcare throughout the world, as highlighted recently with the Coronavirus outbreak. You may have already experienced the early stage of the digital health transformation, noting that your PCP spends more time typing on his workstation than communicating with you. I’m confident that scene will improve as the digital health transformation continues. Now we need to transform our health insurance system to assure that everyone is covered!
Dr. Rod Murray