Whether or not we are interested in science, we are hearing repeatedly from scientists, business professionals and company executives that technology is increasing rapidly. What sounded like science fiction ten to twenty years ago has now become reality in many instances. The Health industry is certainly not being left behind in this development, so we need to focus on how these rapid technological changes are affecting us here in Antigua & Barbuda and indeed the entire Caribbean.
World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Health Technology as the application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve the quality of lives. The development of Endoscopies about four decades ago, includes Colonoscopy which we all know about, and these are tests which rely on the presence of tiny cameras attached to tubes inserted into the body via the mouth or rectum. Images are then directed to a monitor which the technician or Doctor can interpret. Laparoscopy not only makes use of these cameras, but now allows the Surgeon to perform selected abdominal surgery through one or more small incisions.
The inventions of the computer, cell phone, laptop, smart phone, i-phone and i-pad have resulted in a large array of inventions in the Healthcare Industry during the past four decades.
The Computer Tomography or Ct scan has been in clinical use for forty five years, and has now led to the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which provides 3-D imaging of the body’s interior and basically relies on signals from a magnetic field produced by the patient.
The PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan is quite a costly piece of equipment which provides even more precise analysis of the entire body.
There is increasing use of sensor devices which can be worn as patches applied to the skin in different areas of the body. They also come in the form of wrist bands, and rings. These devices are commonly referred to as wearables. Physical fitness activists would be familiar with some of these wearables which can inform you of the speed of walking or jogging, or whether you are on a level surface or an incline. There are also many creative apps to assist with daily exercise, athletic training programs, and even the outlining of individual dietary schedules. Currently under trial are coaching programs utilising voice commands so that, for example, the runner is constantly being advised by the electronic coach about his performance and how to function in his environment.
As Health Technology advances, research scientists continue to evaluate DNA and RNA sequencing with a view to analysing the immune system, repairing damaged body tissues, fingerprinting and understanding applications of stem cells among other important functions.
The use of sensors to collect data from a patient, sending this information to a central analyser via a mobile phone can allow different functions, for example, the participation of two or more doctors who are simultaneously in different countries to make decisions on patient care. Using the same method, a sensor applied to the abdomen of a pregnant woman is being tested to see if pregnancy tracking can provide constant information on her condition as well as that of the fetus. Innovations are also being made in delivery of drug treatments. These include implants under the skin to facilitate slow release of treatments, and nanoparticles in tissue fluids releasing treatments in a timely manner.
3-D imaging is an interesting concept which, as I mentioned, is one of the features of MRI. This imaging is being investigated by surgeons in a few countries as a highly efficient method in which certain types of surgery and particularly brain surgery can be performed.
Artificial Intelligence in Health Technology will probably revolutionise patient care as we know it today. It basically involves the use of supercomputers which are programmed to match human intelligence as well as they could. Their function would be to use the statistical data of the patient given to the system to monitor the patient’s condition, arrive at a diagnosis, and predict curative drug treatment. These systems can also be made to recognise images and report on CT and MRI scans.
Artificial Intelligence, which sounds quite futuristic, is actually in use in some hospitals in a few countries. However, I do not believe that such systems will replace doctors, but would assist them in providing health care more efficiently. At this point in time however, the cost would be quite prohibitive for most countries in the world.
In conclusion, the rapid increase in technology is introducing many possibilities which seemed quite unlikely just a few decades ago. We have to try and understand these changes, many of which are really excellent developments and for the sake of future generations keep pace with the changes so that we are not left behind in this global village. Driverless cars are already being built. Supertrains are already gliding along at unbelievable speeds. Let us educate ourselves about as many of these new technologies as possible, especially Health Technologies. •