Every century, doctors and scientists have a breakthrough that changes the scope of healthcare forever. Often disruptive, these changes can come with speculation — and even rejection — from the medical community and the general public. Eventually, some discoveries will prevail and become accepted by the general public and medical community. Others, however, remain in the past and will only be remembered in history books and medical journals.
Regardless of how widely accepted new or old discoveries are, we can’t credit today’s modern medicine without paying tribute to the various healthcare revolutions of history’s past. No matter how revolutionary these breakthroughs were, we wouldn’t be where we are today had it not been for the disruptive and innovative ideas of doctors and scientists alike.
In the Eighteenth Century, British country doctor Edward Jenner tested his theory of administering an injection to prevent disease, specifically smallpox. The experiment was a success, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur developed this concept even further to what we know today as a vaccine. Although it was a breakthrough discovery that saved millions of lives, an anti-vaccination movement emerged in the nineteenth century because it was considered to be an intrusion of privacy and bodily integrity; the movement unfortunately continues today.
In the Nineteenth Century, there were several notable discoveries in the emerging age of modern medicine, but the breakthrough of the century was performed by Boston dentist William T. G. Morton. As the first person in the world to publicly and successfully demonstrate the use of ether anesthesia to render patients unconscious, Morton proved that patients could undergo surgery without experiencing pain. Today, an estimated 40 million anesthetics are administered each year in the United States alone.
In the Twentieth Century, modern medicine was starting to take hold. Clinicians laid the foundation for modern medical care by designing the physical layout and operational structure of hospitals, education, augmented training, and licensure requirements. Not only were hospital practices evolving, but halfway through the century Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins developed a general understanding of genetics and DNA. Fast forward to the end of the century, and the first genetically cloned organism — a sheep named Dolly — was created. The experiment sent waves of “future shock” around the world and led to numerous discussions if science had gone too far.
So where does that leave us in the Twenty-First Century?
Since the turn of the new millennium, we’ve transitioned from an industrialized civilization to an informational one. It’s an age where information is the key to unlocking heretofore unfathomable discoveries; technology is advancing at a pace so quickly that it’s hard to stay abreast of the changes; and disruption is occurring across every scope of study from education to healthcare.
In past year alone, there’s been an uptick in different healthcare technologies. From 3D printed prosthetic limbs to machine learning that can help predict the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer’s disease, the marriage of healthcare with the advances of information and technology is paving the way for a healthcare technology revolution.
Some say that this revolution is on its way. Others say the revolution is already here.
Dr. Daniel Kraft, faculty chair of medicine and founder of Exponential Medicine at the Silicon Valley-based Singularity University, says healthcare will be transformed by big data, constant connectivity, and machine learning. “This set of technologies, especially when meshed together, offers a real opportunity to reshape and reinvent healthcare around the planet,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.
However, Kraft argues that there’s still some progress before we’re officially in the digital healthcare age — especially since some hospitals and doctors only recently switched to electronic records. He believes that the key to health care technology is to have different technologies such as AI, big data, machine learning, and 3D printing interweave with each other, but that will only happen when businesses and healthcare companies start to collaborate more.
On the other hand, Dr. John Haughom, Senior Advisor at Health catalyst, believes the future is already here but it’s just not evenly distributed. Since the new millennium, we’ve seen the emergence of massive, dispersed, and increasingly cost-effective technologies. Coupled with advances in analytics, mobile technologies, and more, we’ve started to capture and analyze vast amounts of data-driven information.
Haughom believes that data-driven healthcare, which constitutes data collected from the health and wellbeing of millions of patients, will play a significant role in the healthcare revolution. In fact, some healthcare organizations are already demonstrating the results of data-driven healthcare.
For example, Texas Children’s Hospital used data-driven information for their appendectomy patients, which resulted in a 36 percent reduction in length of hospital stay and a 53 percent increase in the percentage of patients receiving recommended antibiotics. In addition, MultiCare’s data-driven approach led to reduced mortality rates for septicemia by 22 percent. Haughom notes that the list of such examples is steadily growing as more healthcare systems are adapting to technology. Like Haughom said, it seems as though the future of data-driven healthcare is now.
While there are scientific and historical breakthroughs in every century, it can be tough to determine a period of revolution when in it. Now that you’ve learned about various medical breakthroughs over the last couple of centuries and read both sides of the debate, do you think we’re in the healthcare revolution of the digital age?