The year is 2040. You go into hospital foe a routine surgery, but unlike today, this is performed by a surgeon operating remotely from a different continent, using new blood generated inside your own body without the need for a blood donor, using medicine specifically designed to match your own DNA.
These are just some of the ways futurologist Ray Hammond envisions healthcare will change over the next 20 years and beyond.
Although it is impossible to know the extent to which medical care will have changed over the next two decades, Hammond, who has written 14 books on the future, has envisioned a tomorrow in which medical care is increasingly personalised, digitally focused and data-driven.
Part of ‘The World in 2040’ futurology series, Hammond’s report outlines five main ways the healthcare landscape might change: personalised medicine, stem-cell medicine, nano-scale medicine, gene therapy and editing and digital health.
Although these advances are already having an impact on healthcare, they are still at their early stages, but due to advances in AI, the falling cost of gene sequencing and personalised medicine, they are fast becoming key parts of diagnostics, drug development and patient care.
Over the last few years, the world of healthcare has become increasingly focused on what cutting-edge technology can offer patients and physicians. In 218, the UK government launched The Future of Healthcare, a commitment to advancing the NHS’s digital services and IT systems.
But how will this continue to change over the next 20 years?
Future of healthcare: “The next 20 years will witness profound change”
In the next 20 years, the current “one size fits all” approach to medicine could be replaced, thanks to advances in personalised medicine or precision medicine. Analysis of individuals’ DNA may mean that doctors can start to treat patients with drugs tailored to their own DNA .
DNA sequencing will also have an impact on disease diagnosis and prediction. The report explains that by 2040, 2040 medical science will have collected DNA sequencing data from tens of millions of patients, shedding light on associations between particular genes and diseases.
By 2040, Hammond predicts that every newborn baby will have their DNA routinely sequenced.
Stem-cell medicine, which is at the early stages currently, will become an important tool in mainstream medicine. For example, rather than relying on donors for human organs will be grown on demand from stem cells in the lab.
Hammond also predicts that in the future, medical care could be taking place at a nano-scale. Nano medicine, the use of nanomaterials for diagnosis and drug delivery, will have advanced beyond the early stages it is at today. In 2040, scientists may be able to manipulate cells at a molecular level, allowing for an even greater level of personalisation.
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Although currently an ethical grey area, gene editing, in which the genes responsible for certain medical conditions are deactivated or rewritten, will likely remain a central debate in the medical field for years to come.
As the internet of things connects a growing number of objects, “smart bodies” are predicted to become a common part of patient care. Sensors in or on patients’ bodies will allow physicians to monitor patients in real-time for things such as blood pressure, blood glucose levels, or potassium levels, and will provide early warnings if something goes wrong. The data this will generate could then be used to further personalise treatments for individual patients.
Another trend that is accelerating rapidly is digital healthcare. In 2040, Hunter predicts that ‘chatbots’ utilising deep learning will be on-hand to assist patients with medical queries, relieving GPs and A&E services in non-emergency situations.
As costs fall and capabilities advance, by 2040 it may be common for surgeries to be carried out by machines under human supervision. With improvements in the speed of network communications, this may eventually mean that a surgeon could perform surgery on a patient thousands of miles away.
Advances to fuel rise in healthcare spending
As prevalence health-related technologies grows, so will healthcare spending. The annual global healthcare market is currently estimated to be worth around $8.1tn, with annual global spending on healthcare forecast to rise to $18.28tn by 2040.
However, Hammond believes that the future of healthcare is dependent on the willingness of the medical science field to embrace change:
“Healthcare is one of the few arenas in which every one of us has a stake. The next 20 years will witness profound change in healthcare, all the more notable given that medical science and healthcare delivery tend to be conservative, slow-moving sectors that are highly resistant to change.
“We have a collective responsibility to ourselves and to the next generation to determine what that change will look like and the impact it will have on all of us.”