For a medical practitioner, these are as exciting times to live as any. The advancements and discoveries happen on a weekly or monthly basis, and there's no time to make a “fuss” about each of them like we did, say, back in the day of polio vaccine discovery.
This is a double-edged sword. The fact that the field is moving so fast is, without a doubt, a good thing. The flipside of the medal is that it's not getting any easier to keep up with it all and, just as important, it's easier to fall prey to inaccurate news.
Take the hype surrounding the first head-transplant that was building up all through 2017 and was supposed to reach fruition towards the end of the year. It didn't happen. If you dig a bit deeper, you'll find that much of the hype was created by media outlets twisting and adding words to what Dr. Sergio Canavero who first made the claim (or something along those lines) in his TED talk in 2015.
The head-transplant and similar overhyped news are not helping spread the word about the real advancements happening every week or month. The leaps might be smaller but, in the big picture of things, they're just as significant.
In the short post below, we'll look at a rundown of some life-altering technologies that are entering the medical mainstream swiftly, at least in the Western world.
“Printed” Body Parts
The discovery and evolution of 3D printers go way beyond making household items or art. Applied in the field of medicine, 3D bio-printing can produce small miracles.
The use ranges from blood vessels to an artificial human ear (printed at the Cornell University back in 2013). The early report about the bio-printing of the ear on Smithsonian.com read that the organ, “works like the real thing.”
Bio-printing only got more impressive with the introduction of microchannels and blood vessels supported by hydrogel to support and maintain the growth. You can read more about the latest developments in this release on EurekaAlert.org.
Changes in the Way We Care for the Bed Bound
The field of personal care hasn't seen any giant leaps, but it deserves a mention because the technology used to prevent pressure injury (ulcers) and wound development has been so finely tuned that we should soon start seeing a dramatic drop in the cost of caring as well as in the life-quality of those affected.
The reason that it still didn't happen (to the extent of “dramatic”) probably lay with the human factor. We're yet to fully master new systems of low-air-loss airbeds and alternating pressure pads and mattresses and, more importantly, reduce the cost to make them widely available as hospital beds. You can see some of the newest models that tested best at TheSleepStudies.com.
It's self-evident that Nanotechnology is the future of main medicine fields, but up until a few years back the most talked about aspect was the potential for minimally invasive surgery using the Nanobots.
The news, if you will, is the use of these “tiny helpers” in dealing with the most persistent bacterial infections (like MRSA).
The Nano germ-killers, for the lack of a better word, run on batteries and do their job by releasing a low-intensity electrical charge to neutralize the bacteria. It does sound like a scenario for a sequel for one of the “Alien” movies, but it's happening. Today.
Prevention at its Finest
If you took a survey, you'd find that one of the most common causes of lack of better prevention and check-up practices is time and money. Both factors are influenced by the fact that a full check-up usually involves multiple trips and tests.
That's changing and one of the milestones in the process is the development of a diagnostic chair (first developed by Sharp) that would make the whole thing easier.
Making the means of prevention easily accessible is probably the No. 1 way to cut the cost of medical insurance. Any MD keeping up with the developments is, to say the least, excited about how far we can move the line of prevention.
Automation of Small Hospital Tasks
The topic of automation in hospital care is touchy because it implies taking away human jobs. So, let's make something clear – we don't see robots fully replacing the personal touch of a human orderly.
With that said, they can make the smaller tasks like linen delivery and waste management much easier. The change is tangible and it's happening as we speak.
First reports of a small fleet (about two dozen) of robot orderlies operating at the UCSF Center at Mission Bay (reported by the Wired Magazine here) raised a lot of dust back in 2015. Things have settled a bit since then but the work in the field continues with promising results.
The Short and Long-Term Changes We can Expect
What we can expect to see in the short term is the use of technology to come up with new ways to make our lives easier (we being both professionals and patients).
In the long run, we'll probably see the tech leaps freeing up some time so that MDs can dedicate more of it to research and less to day-to-day tasks of caring for their patients.
The bottom line is, as we said, we live in exciting times and we shouldn't shy away from technology but work with it with a single goal in mind – increasing the % of people we can fully “heal” and improving the quality of life of those we (yet) can't.