Technology’s impact on medicine is undeniable. In fact, the importance of technology in healthcare and it’s advantages are pretty obvious to any layperson, especially given the vast number of immediate benefits that electronics, computers, and digitization has had on every aspect of our lives.
But for healthcare specifically, this goes beyond just making things faster, more accurate, and more efficient. Technology development in healthcare today represents potential major changes to how we perceive medicine, physiology, and human life itself.
It all starts with untold possibilities, progressively advancing technological concepts in medicine of the current era that would have been practically inconceivable just a century ago.
Healthcare Technology Directing Population Growth
The industrial revolution, or more specifically, the item production boom associated with it, is often cited as the most important technological event that influenced current population growth. That being said, our broadened understanding of medicine and physiology, as well as the devices and machines developed within the context of these concepts, also played a major role. In fact, while more familiar technological concepts in healthcare today were not introduced until the 20th century, its foundations can actually be found as early as the 19th century.
Take electroencephalography (EEG), for example. Bioelectric signals have been independently observed and studied in many different fields since the mid-1800s. Most notably in the 1840s, through British physician Richard Caton and his electric signal observations in exposed rabbits and monkeys.
Today, global population growth continues its exponential streak thanks to many different technological innovations in healthcare. Basic quality-of-life improvements like antibiotics and better medical procedures aside, modern machines such as dialyzers, and newer enhancements like internet-connected wearables also help maintain health and longevity. This is to the point that human lifespan stays on its upper average no matter what age or social group certain population samples belong to.
Healthcare Technology in Preventing (Unneccesarry) Death
Up until the mid-1950s, Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) was one of the leading causes of premature deaths for newborn infants. However, this all changed with the invention of the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Designed to keep lung alveoli filled with air enough to allow natural surfactants to sustain breathing, it increased babies’ survival rate with RDS from 25% to more than 75% by the 1990s. Artificial supplements that act as surfactants were then developed to reduce infant RDS mortality rates even further.
Direct technological innovations in healthcare like these, for the most part, help in improving our survival rates as individuals. It is still pretty much a work in progress, of course. But compared to several centuries ago, many of the afflictions that would have been instantly lethal to a person can now be treated or prevented. This perhaps, is the essence of the importance of technology in healthcare, more than electronic health/medical records, more than chatbots, more than service automation.
Other pointers to the importance of healthcare technology in reducing mortality rates are as follows:
- Machine Detection – technology, in general, has allowed the development of devices, machines, and tools that provide adequately precise measurements and observations of the human body. More basic ones like sonographic imaging (ultrasound) can observe child activity in the womb. MRI scanners can detect foreign objects, which could also be potential tumors or cysts. Even powerful electron microscopes can be used to peer through the smallest of biological invaders: viruses.
- Early Warning – if a device constantly connected to the patient sends out a warning notification, medical professionals can immediately take action to prevent complications or death. Modern networking technologies like Wi-Fi or even standard wired local networks can constantly relay patient data within the same facility or on a focused hospital section.
- Remote Monitoring – a variety of different hardware and software options are now available to extend the use of medical measuring devices outdoors. On the simpler end would be fitness trackers, while more advanced examples include pocket EEGs. More conveniently, current telecommunications infrastructure can allow for face-to-face medical consultation even at significantly far distances, aiding in better preventive lifestyles.
- Advanced Diagnosis – compared to earlier eras, doctors of today have access to a plethora of modern academic knowledge, collated information, tools, and hardware resources to develop more accurate and detailed diagnoses for patients. On the experimental end of the spectrum, deep learning AI can even generate an initial diagnosis, although this too, is pretty much still an incomplete concept.
The Importance of Technology in Healthcare and Advantages of Granting a Normal Life
During the worst period in the awareness of AIDS around three decades ago, it was often considered that contracting the disease was a death sentence. In an era where tuberculosis is no longer considered a death sentence, people still died due to similar complications, although this time it was caused by AIDS. With the exception of certain near-miraculous cases, no person could escape the disease’s worsening effects once HIV sets in, regardless of social rank.
Today, there is still no definitive medication against HIV. Nonetheless, people with AIDS today can enjoy relatively normal lives thanks to the development of modern antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications. With consistent compliance, AIDS patients’ life expectancy can now be extended to the point that it is often indistinguishable from a normal person’s lifespan.
This is the second greatest importance of technology in healthcare. If the affliction is incurable, a novel medical innovation may be able to mitigate its effects to the point that people can still potentially live to a ripe old age as if not suffering from the illness. People with chronic medical conditions like diabetes would no longer have to significantly risk their everyday lives, thanks to a balanced combination within these development fields:
1. New Drug Synthesis and Treatment Development
As a work in progress, medical research is always at the forefront of developing new medicine and treatment methods to cure illnesses and improve quality of life. First, by focusing on yet-to-be-discovered treatments. But, even more so on developing more efficient drugs or procedures to already existing treatments.
This can be as simple as developing highly-advanced prosthetic limbs, the likes of which include providing a level of experience for the recipient that is not functionally different from using organic limbs. Or, it can be as critically important as quickly developing a working vaccine during a worldwide pandemic.
2. Healthcare Viability and Availability
At least in more developed countries, access to healthcare has never been easier now than in any preceding. First, there is an established infrastructure that can offer medical services. Second, information is readily available thanks to the internet. And third, modern telecommunication systems give access to medical professionals at any given time.
Depending on the country, low cost also drives the level of healthcare and its related technologies. This is not limited to cheaper fees and payment, by the way. Low cost healthcare also includes a host of different concepts and hardware that makes medical procedures overall more efficient. For example, using a more compact, wearable form of once larger diagnostic machines.
3. Updated Medical Information Management and Access
Computers have evolved significantly since the 1970s. Hardware devices that at one point in time cost hundreds of thousands of dollars are now accessible in our pockets. Those that do stay on desktops and in data centers are even several times more powerful. This means that keeping electronic medical records is now the standard, and accessing them is (more or less) universal across all types of medical facilities.
Artificial intelligence and software automation also helps to further optimize how doctors use medical data today. Chronic disease patients that require regular consultations may now simply stay updated online, and have the facility to to access information about their health status at the press of a button (if a proper setup is present).
Healthcare Technology and Age Extension
The average lifespan of upper-class citizens during the late medieval period was around thirty years. Healthier (and perhaps luckier) people during that time, of course, could live up to seventy to eighty years old even in that era. But today, barring any accident or premature cause of death, we now expect that most people from around the world would be able to reach such an age. This is due in part, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, both academically and technologically.
In fact, the slow but consistent extension of life expectancy per year is perhaps where our ultimate goal in medicine lies. The word “eternal life” may sound almost religious with spiritual inference, and comparable to a term exclusive to the false claims of an overeager medieval alchemist. However, modern research has shown a lot of promise in revealing the path towards a similar goal. At the very least, we are now starting to understand the mechanics of aging better than ever before:
(DISCLAIMER: These concepts are at the forefront of current scientific research and are thus still subject to change. What’s important to learn from these are the background ideas that they support.)
1. Anti-Aging Medications
Scientists have known for quite a long time that (controlled) caloric restriction can extend certain animal groups’ lifespans. Caloric restriction mimetic drugs, as the name suggests, attempts to replicate the same physiological mechanisms to achieve the same effect. Another idea in this category is the research towards developing a drug that could successfully control telomere shortening (the primary aging mechanism in most living creatures).
Both are currently in the experimental and evaluation stages, so practical applications are still far from reality. But the determination of researchers’ towards both concepts gives an idea that there may be something beyond its initially intended goals.
Gradually replacing the human body’s more fragile components with artificial ones is a more straightforward path towards life extension. We are already capable of doing this at a basic level today, with pacemakers, prosthetics, portable dialyzers, and the like. But in the future, more advanced design and fabrication methods could allow these devices to function well beyond the average lifespan of a human being.
The use of programmable “smart” microscopic particles has been conceptualized since the early 1900s in science fiction novels. But today, it is being taken seriously in many fields of medical research. In particular, nanotechnology’s inherent advantage to pinpoint “cells of interest” could allow for very precise medication strategies. For example, cancerous tumors can be accurately targeted with virtually no damage to the surrounding tissues, or to the overall health of the patients themselves.
In addition, nanotechnology could also foster the development of internal sensing bots that can provide more detailed patient vitals measurements. Successfully introducing one to the human body could significantly improve and extend all remote monitoring and medical data functions that we have today.
4. Gene Editing
It is technically the holy grail of life extension, should it become widely practical and ethically regulated in the near future. To anyone familiar with DNA and RNA, its concept requires no introduction. Gene editing is basically the power to modify any physiological characteristics of any living organism at will.
For example, if you want better resistance to certain diseases, want to have a higher metabolism, or better yet, if you want to alter the genes that affect aging. Of course, “designer babies” remain the stuff of science fiction today, though revolutionary gene-editing tools such as CRISPR (Cas9), TALENs, and ZFNs already hold the promise of getting us there sooner than we might ever imagine.
A World of Zero Birth-Related Deaths
Just around two-hundred years ago, during the 1800s, at least 1.26 million mothers worldwide died of childbirth every year. Within the same time period, at least 43.3% of all infants also died. Living conditions were the main element of these statistics, but a significant portion of the cause mortality rates can be attributed to the era’s primitive awareness of healthcare best practices and lack of sophisticated technology.
Today, our understanding of modern medicine and healthcare technologies have managed to drive down the numbers completely. From 1.26 million, down to just 300,000 maternal deaths, and from 43.3%, down to just 3.4% infant deaths per year.
But you what is even more uplifting? Humanity can absolutely do even better. We can still strive to ultimately achieve zero birth-related deaths before the dawn of the next century. Thus in life and in death, the importance of technology in healthcare remains undisputed for the foreseeable future.