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Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Future of eHealth

A Health Research Methology graduate course in the MSc eHealth program at McMaster University has a class on the future of ehealth. It was one of my favourite classes when I was a student 8 years ago, and I was asked to be the tutorial facilitator for it for the past several years. Part of the course content was a video scenario of what a future patient physician encounter will look like.  I will embed the video I just found on Youtube:

The encounter is very humanistic in spite of the technology and involves a lot of artificial intelligence in the form of voice interaction. There is also plenty of newer user interfaces - transparent augmented reality medical records - and instant appointment and medical record searching.

Another article to read for that class is by Vannevar Bush called "As We May Think", written in July 1945. Dr. Bush was the Director of Scientific Research and Development for the United States Government. He writes about something he calls a "memex" which would be very much like the computers we are using today.  At that time, there was an explosion of scientific knowledge around the world but there was no way to organize that knowledge or search on it. It is an interesting article to read if you try to imagine what someone writing the article today would have to say about technology or medicine 70 years from now, and actually coming to close to painting an accurate picture about it. If technology is changing exponentially, will that even be possible?

The explosion of knowledge has continued since then and we collect, distribute and analyze it daily as it arrives in our twitter and facebook feeds. A lot of the information that can be gleaned about the future of eHealth is thus kind of "grey literature" and not something that you can search and find on PubMed. These days I find viewing video stories on futurism.com the best ways I know to become excited about the future. "The pull of the future is greater than the push from the past" - I am still trying to find out which famous philosopher or scientist said that.

Here are just a few of the sources suggestive of the future of eHealth that I have been following with interest.  The first is Ray Kurzweil and his Accelerating Intelligence website.  Ray is a computer scientist and inventor who believes in transhumanism and indefinite life extension.  His group is always following the latest scientific advances and inventions of all kinds, and not just ones related to health technology. For example, I just read today a story they posted about a new kind of RFID tag for patients. This tag:
The RFID tags measure internal body motion, such as a heart as it beats or blood as it pulses under skin. Powered remotely by electromagnetic energy supplied by a central reader, the tags use a new concept called “near-field coherent sensing.” Mechanical motions (heartbeat, etc.) in the body modulate (modify) radio waves that are bounced off the body and internal organs by passive (no battery required) RFID tags.

The modulated signals detected by the tag then bounce back to an electronic reader, located elsewhere in the room, that gathers the data. Each tag has a unique identification code that it transmits with its signal, allowing up to 200 people to be monitored simultaneously.

A recent news feed I have been following is the Medical Futurist, Dr. Bertalan Mesko. Recently Dr. Mesko has had some involvement consulting with the Government of Canada, as you may read in his article: "Canada Brings Automation to Healthcare: An Example for Governments to Follow". Really worth following on Twitter or Facebook.

Another group that is interesting, but they are more about the current state and the breaking trends of Medicine and eHealth, is the Exponential Medicine group lead by Dr. Daniel Kraft- a part of the Singularity University. Similarly, there is the ongoing work and research of Dr. Eric Topol. Most of the students in my eHealth class that I was facilitating hadn't even heard of Dr. Topol so I was a bit taken aback.

In short, if you are not interested in the future of eHealth, I don't think there is any way that one would appreciate the changes that are currently going on.  In fact, the guest lecturer at the McMaster future of eHealth class, Dr. Ted Scott, Vice President Research & Chief Innovation Officer, did not talk about the future so much as he did about current innovations that are starting within the Hamilton Health Sciences. And this just made me think of something I learned when I was a student of anthropology many years ago, that yesterday's pseudo-science and magic is todays science.