Doctors today are constantly selling.

No, it didn’t start out that way, but a system has evolved that richly rewards members of the physician’s food chain if sales continue.

These sales include the selling of tests, pills, therapy, referrals, or simply selling the patient on their competency as a doctor.

Over the coming years, much of the selling will be replaced by data. Expert opinions get replaced by hard cold facts. Yes, this will unfold over time and the transition period will involve a multitude of probabilistic approaches that will eventually lead to a more factual-based decision-making process.

While many in the medical profession view this as taking away much of the doctor’s power and authority, it may be just the opposite. Big data is not the doctor’s enemy, but rather a hugely valuable important tool, perhaps the most important of all time.

Consider the following scenario.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, patients walking into the doctor’s office will first receive a full-body scan, creating a complete data model built around several thousand data points. Any area that gives even the slightest hint of troublesome activity will warrant closer inspection.

For any number of conditions, rather than prescribing medicine as a treatment, doctors will prescribe a device. Devices will have a wide range of purposes ranging from ingestible cams and monitors, to wearable super data-collectors, to body function amplifiers, to pulse correctors, to early warning indicators.

During the transition period it will be a combination of drugs and devices, but eventually most medicinal treatments will be replaced with devices designed around coaxing the body into repairing itself.

Over time, doctors will transition from being the experts on human biology and medicine to being the experts on biological data and biological devices.

Here’s why understanding this transition period is so important.

Digital modeling will soon replace labs and testing

Healthcare as a Battleground 

Yes, there are many things wrong with healthcare today. According to Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize Foundation and author of the best-selling book Abundance, it’s no longer healthcare. It’s sick care. It’s reactive, retrospective, bureaucratic and expensive:

  • Doctors spend $210 billion per year on procedures that aren’t based on a patient’s needs, but fear of liability.
  • Americans spend, on average, $7,290 per person on healthcare, more than any other country on the planet.
  • Prescription drugs cost around 50% more in the U.S. than in other industrialized nations.
  • At current rates, by 2025, nearly 1/4 of the US GDP will be spent on healthcare.
  • It takes on average 12 years and $359 million to take a new drug from the lab to a patient.
  • Only 5 in 5,000 of these new drugs make it to human testing. From there, only 1 of those 5 is actually approved for human use.

With so much negative press surrounding the healthcare space, each of these problems points to an equal and opposite opportunity, and inside these opportunities we can begin to see glimpses of what our future might hold.

Future Doctors 

It would be a mistake to assume that we won’t need doctors in the future. The deeper we probe into the inner workings of human biology, the greater our realization of how little we actually know.

It would also be a mistake to blame doctors for the system they currently find themselves in. Buoyed by the whims of big insurance companies, big pharma, and big government, doctors often find themselves the unwitting pawn of other, much larger, agendas.

That said, doctors are about to enter unfamiliar territory, with mountains of data replacing judgment calls, and former ways of doing business simply gone forever. Not all will survive this transition.

Data models will replace x-rays; sensors will replace labs and tests; devices will replace needles, blood draws, and pills; and people will gain control over their own data.

There may indeed be a bifurcation of old school and new school physicians, and universities that teach traditional medicine vs. those that teach bioinformatics, data-chemistry, genomic-roadmapping, and cellular manipulation.

But in the end, for those who want to continue learning, and continue probing the farthest reaches of future healthcare, doctors will have unlimited opportunities to make a difference in the years ahead.

Doctors assisting DaVinci robot in surgery

A Brighter Future Ahead

The tech world is making massive inroads into next generation healthcare. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Johnson & Johnson is working with IBM’s Watson computer to help it understand scientific research and determine the cause and effect relationship of treatments given during clinical trials. One of their systems is now consuming 27,000 documents a day, and has proven to be 90% accurate at diagnosing lung cancer, far superior to the 50% accuracy of human doctors.
  • Google has developed a smart contact lens that can do real-time monitoring of a diabetic’s blood sugar levels. Future versions of these lenses could include cancer-detection, drug-delivery, and come with super night vision.
  • Intuitive Surgical’s DaVinci robot has already performed over 1.5 million surgeries, using high definition 3D vision. This robot, with its precise micro-movements inside the human body eliminates the potential for hand tremors commonly associated with human surgeons.
  • Gene sequencing has plummeted in price 100,000-fold, from $100M per genome in 2001 to $1,000 per genome today. Human Longevity plans to create the largest genomics data set ever by sequencing over 1 million people. They believe accumulating a massive dataset like this will lead to cures for cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative disease, and ultimately a plan for extending human life.
  • When it comes to 3D bioprinting, tissue biofabrication is already a reality, and the next step will be to create precisely designed organs, and transplanting these organs into the human body. The company 3D Systems has already demonstrated how to create accurate dental and anatomical models, custom surgical guides, implantable devices, exoskeletons, hearing aids, prosthetics and braces for scoliosis and other applications.
  • 3D printed prosthetic limbs are showing up everywhere, many demonstrating superior design and functionality for less than $200. Traditional artificial limbs will run $50,000 to $70,000, and need to be replaced as a child grows or a person ages.

Oddly enough, most futuristic images of healthcare still have
doctors wearing a 100-year old stethoscope around their neck

Final Thoughts

If I were on the board of a pharmaceutical company today, I would be advising them to study, research, invest, and acquire some of the emerging device companies because that’s where the future lies.

Healthcare is an industry involving complicated politics, irrational decisions, and legions of people looking for their next paycheck. However, the sheer volume of money in the system is making it a prime target of entrepreneurs all over the world.

But for those thinking that emerging tech will enable them to circumvent the entire healthcare system completely, it may, but only for a very tiny subset of the population.

We are on the verge of crossing over from science hype to science reality, with the prospects of creating a tremendous upside. Yes, there will be more than a few battles fought along the way between doctors and health industry executives, insurance administrators, and government officials but in the end, it doesn’t have to be a win-lose situation.


By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything


3 Responses to “Disrupting Healthcare – When Devices Replace Medicine”

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  1. <a href='http://ISIS6Group,BirthingNewEarthModels' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Suni Pele Nelson</a>

    Hi Thomas, In agreement that devices will be most helpful; however, firstly, Doctors are Teachers, not Healers; most pharmaceutical drugs are toxic to the human body & environment & do not do what they say they do (Lynne McTaggart's WDDY site, Dr. Deepak Chopra....), Epigenetics has shown the environment can effect our genes, DNA (Dr. Bruce Lipton....) & still science is not addressing the human subtle energy field around the body, in the body where dis-ease blockages of energy start (Dr. Korotkov's GDV camera, the beginnings of the fMRI & setting metrics to the energy field). When the life force, energy, light, flows freely through the subtle energy body & the physical body, the body is perfectly capable of healing (rebalancing the life force flow). Thus no pharma drugs necessary. We are energy (light, sound) & rechargable holistically. Some day the scientists will catch up & we will be self healing; dis-ease will be non existent. How's that for a future!
  2. Lisa Lehndorff

    Thomas, I was really wishing my Dad could see the progress over the last decade and decades to come. He was an anesthesiologist and pain doctor who was ahead of his time. If we take your hotel of the future article and apply it to medical care, we could make it more efficient,safer, more proactive, and cheaper. Right now with each new doctor, procedure, and medication pertinent patient and family history must be collected,coded, and interpreted. What I like about the hotel, the minute we arrived the history, conditions, genetic code, and medications were known the life and cost savings including malpractice would be amazing. Right now devices which can be implanted help the patient be part of the care team from everything from medication pumps to TENS machine to control pain http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/devices-for-relief-from-chronic-nerve-pain-may-be-considered-if-conservative-options-fail/. Doctors and patients would be on the same team rather than playing detectives and collecting clues! Rather than being controlled by illness healing of society would be enabled! All that energy released would enhance our future.
  3. Michael Cushman

    Agree. If you look at it holistically, behaviors (diet, sleep, exercise, smoking) and infectious diseases (caused by viruses and bacteria) have the biggest impact on health. Simple monitoring devices are moving from wearables to invisibles, and this access to timely and relevant data combined with apps can provide most people with information and motivation for healthier behavior. These same devises will provide data to large data analysis systems, when serious problems emerge. Doctors might not be able to compete with machine diagnostics soon, but doctors will still be involved in surgeries, adding more intrusive devises, and collecting samples and data when necessary, as you suggest Tom. As for infectious diseases, the lowering of the cost of genomic testing is the key to customized cures. Sampling the RNA of a specific infection within a person leads to inserting missing proteins in the person's T-Cells, which can then be multiplied by the millions for a killer cocktail. Clinical trial are starting for several forms of cancer using this technique, where tiny bots insert proteins in T-Cells without human intervention. Within 10 years, it is possible that not only will we have the technology to kill any infection within anyone, but we will have devices that detect the minutest amounts of viruses and bacteria in our systems, long-before symptoms appear. Eventually, nano-bots floating around in our bodies will automatically aid T-Cells in "evolving" to combat the latest genetic variation of viruses and bacteria. As innovation rolls forward, doctor's roles will adapt to provide new skills tied closely to pervasive use of medical data and devices.

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