Updated: Aug 23
Since the pandemic affected the whole world last year and even now, it's safe to say that there's no better time to discuss what's happening in the medical industry. While COVID-19 got most of the attention in 2020, and rightly so, there are several more challenges that the medical industry is facing as we move through 2021. Obesity continues to be a serious issue, particularly in the United States, with a 17% increase in the last 5 years. Kidney and liver cancer rates have gone up, as well as sexually transmitted infections. That being said, advancements in technologies have started gaining more traction because of how they can help medical professionals in their research and treatment. Technologies such as 3D printing for pills and artificial organs, wireless brain sensors, robot assistants and artificial intelligence programs to aid learning, are some examples of innovations that are helping the medical industry advance.
These are just a few reasons why we should know what the medical industry is up to. But again, this was merely a scratch on the surface. As far as medicine as a study area goes, what university students learn could possibly be entirely different.
To help expand, I'm joined by a special guest. She's a fourth year medical student, studying in Sofia, Bulgaria. When she's not occupied working on new medical projects and research, she can be found making content for her YouTube channel where she uploads videos on lifestyle, productivity, wellness and travel, as well as tips and insights into the lives of medical students like herself. I'm pleased to welcome Aroosa Malik.
Artificial Intelligence in the Medical industry
There's little to miss when it comes to artificial intelligence and its usage in today's world. Recently, we uploaded a blog discussing some new business & technological trends to look forward to in 2021. The medical industry is no different, and has its own fair share of tech examples that are helping doctors and researchers with their work.
For example, Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine learning (ML) technologies are being used to identify diseases, diagnose health conditions and provide treatment solutions for doctors. AI algorithms are able to mine medical records, design treatment plans or create drugs way faster than any current medical professional in healthcare!
More recently, Google’s DeepMind created an A.I. for breast cancer analysis. The algorithm outperformed all human radiologists on pre-selected data sets to identify breast cancer, on average by 11.5%!
Another growing technology is that of 3D-printing, that's introducing all sorts of innovative solutions to healthcare. We can now print biotissues, artificial limbs, pills and blood vessels to name a few. The pharmaceutical industry is also benefiting from this technology. FDA-approved 3D-printed drugs have been a reality since 2015 and researchers are now working on 3D-printing “polypills”.
The list goes on. In fact, McKinsey estimated that big data and AI can help save $100 billion a year for medicine and pharmaceuticals. Similarly we have robot assistants helping doctors with operation tasks and surgery. In 2019, a surgery in Europe had a man controlling an exoskeleton with his brain. These technologies are being used to assist paralysed patients with spinal cord injury for instance.
"There's a lot of pros and a lot of cons with AI. A pro is that it can save time, where machines can diagnose slides much faster than a pathologist or physician. They can use that time to do something of greater importance. A potential downside is that there would be a significant gap between the treatment for those who can afford the medical services with AI and those who can't. There's already a gap existing between those who can access good healthcare and those you can't; this might exacerbate that. Machines also have a tendency to have a one-way diagnosis approach to treatment. It's possible for doctors to completely trust machines with their judgments and lose faith or trust within themselves since machines have a low margin of error."
There's been a lot of speculation around whether machines and AI will take over human jobs in industries. With regard to medicine, the 'human element' that comes into play with doctors and healthcare professionals is imperative and cannot be overlooked in this discussion. The interpersonal skills required to be a medical professional, i.e. active listening, empathy and emotional understanding aspects are important in the doctor-patient relationship. This isn't something that machines can do....as of now at least. Given the complexity of the matter, it could take years if not decades for that to happen.
AR & VR
The market for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) is expected to be valued at over $5 billion by 2025. The two are inherently different though. AR allows the user to project digital information onto the real world/environment. For example, using an AR app to place digital furniture in an empty room, viewed on a smartphone or iPad. Surgeons are using AR to project potentially life-saving information into their eyesight during operations.
Alternatively, VR allows the user to 'shut out' everything else in the real world and provide an entirely new simulation, where the user can interact with everything in the new reality. For example, VR headsets used for gaming, where you can picture yourself in a simulated battlefield, dance floor, etc. Medical examiners and psychiatrists are using VR to treat different kinds of phobias efficiently, helping women in labour to have an easier, less strenuous child delivery.
Another example is the Microsoft HoloLens, which opens up radically new ways for medical education by projecting the human body in its full size for med students. The lens allows the organs, veins or bones to be visible accurately in 3D. Thus, future medical professionals can analyze their shape, and remember characteristics better than reading off a book for instance.
As incredible as these technologies sound, it might take a while for hospitals and medical schools to seriously incorporate them into practice given the current healthcare climate we operate in. Until most countries and university can effectively switch from online classes to in-person teaching, it seems difficult to see students actively using such programs to learn and apply.
"Because of COVID-19, even going to the hospital has become difficult for medical students. Having to watch surgeries online rather than in person can be quite stressful, particularly for final year students. For upcoming medical students, I feel that teaching them about coding languages, specifically for AI and Artificial neural networks for example. Learning how these technologies work will help in the future when the time comes to use them in practice; so that's something I feel should be incorporated into our degrees and for future students.
A Holistic Lens
Often at times when we think of going to the doctor, or taking a pill, or treating a disease, we're isolating a particular body part or organ. Viruses, conditions, injuries, and so on. However, our body is a complex system with hundreds of functions it takes care of. Here's where a holistic lens can help change our perception, as we consider our bodies to be one entire unit.
"Nutrition is really important when we're talking about medicine, and it's something I would want to be incorporated into medical degrees and teaching. As practicing doctors, we learn about pharmacology and how various drugs work, but we don't learn about the foods that we're consuming and how they affect us. Knowing about the vitamins, minerals and nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy and fight diseases is a huge part of the process. It's not something that replaces medicine, but rather one that should complement it.
Medical procedures and medicines will remain prominent, no question. However, nutrition in this case can act as an extra bit of hope for patients and families. The feeling of doing what the doctor prescribed, while changing things on our end to help even further. It's not always as simple as taking antibiotics or pills. Most of these antibiotics are broad spectrum antibiotics, and could potentially cause side effects and affecting other bodily functions.
The medical industry is evolving at a rapid pace, to the point where it's difficult to estimate the scope of growth in medicine and healthcare. Because of this, it's all the more important for aspiring medical students to know whether or not they really want to pursue this field. It's one that requires years of study, research and work before becoming a practicing doctor. Like every other industry, having a purpose is key to driving forward.
Pair that with some experience along the way, and you have a recipe for success.
I'd like to offer my sincere gratitude to today's guest- Aroosa Malik. Check out:
Aroosa's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2iLZa6ADhYd6NtRYUK2N0w