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Virtual Doctors – How Technology Is Changing Medicine

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Personal health-based tech looks set to undergo some pretty big developments over the next few years. We’re already slowly bringing digital technology into our personal medical world, and are likely to do so more and more in the future. The potential for using apps and devices to monitor and even improve our health is enormous, and there’s a lot in the pipeline.

Depending on how well we can integrate health-based personal technology with our lifestyles, our bodies, and (perhaps most importantly) our mindsets, here are just a few of the tech-based personal health advances we could see in the next few years:

Virtual Reality

Let’s start with the big guns: VR. Although virtual reality technology is generally thought of as a gaming gimmick, the potential for virtual reality to make a real difference to people’s health is huge. For a start, a well enough realised virtual reality scenario can give invaluable training to health professionals without endangering or compromising the privacy of any actual patients. Many medical schools already use virtual reality training to some extent, and, as the technology improves, this will only become more efficient and more effective. Then there’s the broader educational benefits of using virtual reality to teach people about positive health choices. Being able to put people into a scenario where they can play out the consequences of poor choices without having to actually live with them could provide the ‘Ghost Of Christmas Future’  style warning that people need in order to ditch unhealthy habits. Virtual reality could also provide a great ‘practice’ ground to enable people with phobias, substance abuse issues, or other mental health problems to face environments which they may find problematic, and safely build up the mental arsenal they need in order to deal with these environments without actually putting themselves at risk. The medical possibilities of virtual reality are endless – we’ve only just scratched the surface!

Wearable Health Tech

We’ve all heard of the ‘fitbit’ – a little, wearable device which tracks your activity levels and reports back to you via an app. Fitbits and other such devices have proven immensely popular, reflecting the public’s desire to know more about how their bodies are operating without having to go to the trouble (and, in America, expense) of seeing a doctor. In the future, it’s likely that wearable health tech will become both more ubiquitous and more sophisticated. Some companies are working on devices which could not only measure heart rate and activity levels, but also analyse blood for things like nutrient absorption, oxygenation, sugar levels, pressure, and even problematic chemicals. The technology to do this kind of thing comfortably and unobtrusively is still in development – but scientists are pretty confident that they can come up with it in the next few years. In the meantime, plans are afoot to integrate wearable health tech and their associated apps with healthcare systems. An NHS app, for example, could monitor things like your heart rate, and alert your doctor if anything abnormal is detected. Your doctor could then offer you an appointment if you and they think that the app’s alert was justified. Quite whether or not the public would welcome this as a valuable preventative and time-saving measure, or resent it as an invasion of privacy is something which needs to be worked out fairly thoroughly, however, before anything tangible comes of this.

Patient Power

The major theme in health-tech developments is that of greater patient information. Wearable technology and the bastion of information that is the internet (you’re ALWAYS advised to go and see a doctor rather than attempting to self-diagnose via Google, but it’s nonetheless worth noting that the big names in the internet are working extremely hard on improving and extending their medical repository) means that the patient has access to a whole lot more information about their health than they used to have. With some improvements and fine-tuning, this could render an awful lot of the current healthcare infrastructure we rely upon less necessary. With patients able to check their own vital statistics, the need for routine checkups will plummet. One scenario would see patients, armed with all the pertinent information currently garnered by doctors, able to make well-informed decisions about when they actually need medical attention. Potentially, this would free up GP appointments and hospital spaces for those who are actually ill. Of course, this theory doesn’t leave much space for the boundless hypochondria and human error which is bound to occur – but it is undoubtedly the case that patients will have access to a lot more information about the state of their health than they used to. Whether this proves a blessing or a curse for doctors remains to be seen…

This was a guest post written by Anne Garner.

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