Technology is fuelling advances in medical sector innovation at an exponential rate and the implications for our society are likely to be profound and far-reaching. Drones, medical tourism and brain-based cognitive research are just three of the key developments at the forefront of this advance, and each of them has the potential to deliver dramatic improvements to our health and well-being over the coming years.
It is however important to fully understand the implications of these advances to ensure they do not also bring with them unintended negative consequences alongside the benefits, as Dr Pippa Malmgren explains in the latest episode of Kevin Lamb’s podcast In Our Hands.
Dr Malmgren is a former financial markets advisor to President George W Bush, economist, author, and founder and CEO of H Robotics, a company which builds AI led drones for a wide range of industries.
She believes that drones have a valuable role to play as air ambulances in delivering medical supplies to remote areas in low income countries. She says drones are increasingly able to travel large distances, making it possible to use them to transport supplies from one hospital to another for a fraction of the cost of normal transportation.
The big constraint on using drones for deliveries has so far been the limitations laid down by regulations, which prevent drones being flown beyond where you can visually see them, but Dr Malmgren suggests that regulators are becoming more comfortable with the technology being used.
There will be strong growth in medical tourism over the next few years, she says. This will be fuelled not just by patients travelling to highly developed countries such as the US to access specialised treatment, but increasingly, it will be going the other way, with patients from the US travelling to places such as India and Singapore to get treatment for elective surgery such as knee surgery. She suggests that older people who can’t get healthcare benefits from their companies will seek out clinics where they can get the highest quality care at the least cost, no matter where they are located in the world. India, for example, is already the number one place in the world for elective cardiac surgeries, not just because it’s the cheapest, but because it provides high quality treatment, with new hospitals, sophisticated equipment and highly experienced surgeons, most of whom are Western educated.
This rise in medical tourism is also fuelling the development of luxury hotels as recuperation venues near to clinics as people opt to stay within easy reach to access aftercare.
Dr Malmgren suggests that medical tourism could even shape the way that older people decide to live their lives in the future, with retirement homes replaced by membership clubs around the world which offer not only accommodation and restaurant facilities, but access to the best medical facilities.
This does however raise concerns about the creation of a two-tier society in which there is a big divide between the wealthy who can afford high level medical care and the poor who cannot. She points out that medical inequality has the potential to be even more divisive than income inequality because it is so brutal from a humanitarian perspective.
Another area that will come under increasing focus over the next few years, she suggests, is brain-based cognitive oriented research, from medical marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs being used to treat conditions at one end of the spectrum to the use of electrodes inside the brain at the other, something that Elon Musk is exploring with his Neurolink.
There are clearly interesting times ahead for the medical sector, with considerable implications for all of us.