Medicine will likely change as much in the 21st century as it did in the 20th – and possibly more. We’re moving away from an era of scientific discovery and into one of mastery. The medical industry is going to start benefiting from new working practices in a big way – probably far more than it recognizes right now.
Future Working Practices In Medicine
The majority of commentators are extremely optimistic that technology will be able transform the face of medicine in positive ways. It is nearly twenty years since scientists first successfully mapped the human genome, and now many gene-based therapies are available. Many more are in clinical trials.
But it’s not just genetics that are leading a revolution in healthcare. It is also the combined force of multiple technologies developed elsewhere.
On the backend, for instance, software is now automating mundane tasks, such as quality reporting, data control, clinical documentation and bill coding. Nurse scheduling software is making it easy for managers to define who they need in the clinic and when, without relying on spreadsheets.
Data-based technologies are also making it possible to quickly analyze patient information from multiple sources to derive insights. Unified portals give medical practitioners high level overviews that simply weren’t possible before.
The range of data available will also increase. Traditionally, medical records only contained measurements and findings recorded by doctors. However, with the advent of patient monitoring technology (wearable devices), that’s changing. Records need to connect to this data, and patients require control over what they share, and what they don’t.
Taking this further, some medical providers are also looking into whether they can record purchasing and consumption data. For instance, recording the foods that people are eating and the amount of exercise that they are taking. Even data, such as local pollution levels and temperatures could play a role.
As such, the fourth industrial revolution in healthcare is blurring the lines between the biological, digital and physical spaces. Multiple breakthroughs are making it possible to deliver a new kind of healthcare, regardless of whether the underlying medicine improves or not (which it likely will).
New Roles For Physicians
The majority of physicians believe that their roles will change considerably over the coming thirty years. Many believe that they will have to train in new specialties to remain relevant to patients’ needs.
Interestingly, roles traditionally done by physicians will be taken care of by other people. Injections and even diagnosis may be done by nurses or machines.
How precisely physicians’ role will develop is still an evolving subject. However, the old-fashioned role of GP will likely become less important going forward.
Physicians, for instance, may become complex care managers and integrators. These professionals don’t treat patients themselves, but rather lead a team of people who do.
Physicians may also transition to digital fields, becoming consultants. For instance, they may work to improve processes and identify new technologies for use in their practices. They may also provide specialist insights for other physicians working in medical settings, training them as they go along.
Some physicians will become informatics specialists. These individuals will interpret and apply data to population and patient health issues. Researchers will develop cutting-edge treatments for others to implement and deploy.
Educational physicians will also take a front seat. Their job will be to tell patients how they can improve their health right now and put off getting sick for as long as possible.
Hence, there are multiple ways that the traditional physician role will develop. Doctors will become facilitators of health, not just people who administer treatment. The value-added there is actually much lower.
Addressing Aging, Not Disease
Today’s medical system has a fundamental flaw: it attempts to cure disease, not prevent them from happening in the first place. Over the coming two decades, that’s going to change, not just because of improving technology, but also out of necessity.
The number of people over the age of 65 is going to double in the next 30 years. If medicine continues as normal, it is going to have to manage more sick people with fewer staff.
The key here is to find ways to keep people healthier for longer. If medicine can compress morbidity at the end of a person’s life, then it will improve patient outcomes and reduce pressure on strained public health systems.
Already there are multiple small molecules – both supplements and medicines – shown to boost lifespan. In the future, that’s going to accelerate. Researchers are uncovering the factors that cause aging, and developing treatments to deal with it.
Researchers are also learning how to reverse aging in cells using gene therapy. Human trials are already underway, testing to see whether the therapies that work in the lab also apply to living human beings.
So far, attempts to cure diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes have mostly failed. Modern medicine is getting the cart before the horse. It is trying to treat conditions that result from aging, instead of addressing aging itself. However, with these new approaches, that is set to change.
Physicians Will Change The Way They Work
Physicians’ skills will also change considerably over the coming years. The skills that were critical in the past won’t be as important in the future.
- More knowledge of medical economics. Physicians will need to become adept at figuring out where best to divert resources. Once they understand cost, revenue and profitability, they will be able to make better decisions. Currently, most doctors focus exclusively on patient outcomes. And while that sounds like a noble strategy, it leads to waste which deprives other patients of resources.
- More understanding of prevention. Many doctors are of the belief that disease and aging is difficult to prevent. But advances in nutrition, exercise, stress and sleep science show that’s not the case. Most people can lead healthy lives if they get the basics right – and they’re not hard to achieve. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep, manage stress and move more. Just obeying these basic principles can potentially extend human lifespan by 10 to 15 years.
- Better understanding of algorithms. Physicians will need to comprehend how the software they use works in order to adjust it to make better decisions. How they do this will depend on a case-by-case basis.
- Improved leadership skills: Physicians will need to marshal entire teams to deliver appropriate levels of care to some patients. For that reason, they will require new and improved leadership skills. The challenge here is in the transition. Doctors are used to acting autonomously. It will require a cultural shift to get them to behave more like members of cohesive teams.
- Better empathy: Lastly, doctors can add value for their patients by showing them greater empathy. Physicians need to be able to communicate with people of different backgrounds. Furthermore, they need to get better at storytelling to encourage behavioral change (such as lifestyle improvements). In many cases, simply showing patients understanding of their medical conditions can improve outcomes.
Changes In Education
Of course if working practices are going to change, so too does education. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that physicians do not attach much importance to learning, particularly when it comes to training related to new skills, such as empathy. Only 19 percent of young physicians believe that empathy training is important, compared to nearly half of those in more senior roles.
How education will change remains to be seen. Organizations will have to deal with both clinical and social barriers that are getting in the way.
It is important for physicians to find ways to deal with the problems that they face.
For instance, right now, doctors receive relatively little training in how to deal with end-of-life issues. It is a tough subject for both medical professionals, patients and their families, but it is one that they have to broach. Without proper training, it may be difficult for them to navigate these situations effectively.
Doctors also need to learn more about why patients sometimes refuse to take their medications and how they can address these issues. Failing to take the doses prescribed can put patients at risk and lead to worsening outcomes overall.
Vaccinations are another thorny subject these days, thanks to growing mistrust between government, patients and the medical community. Physicians are very much on the front line, explaining to patients why they should receive a vaccination to prevent illness.
Education will also need to cover the topic of personalised medicine. Physicians need to understand the ways in which patients are different and why it matters. Some patients may benefit enormously from changing their lifestyle, while, for others, it’ll hardly make any difference at all.
New and future working practices are going to change the face of medicine. Yes, technology will play a role, but in many cases, adaptations will simply be a response to new situations. Aging will become more of a focus, and physicians will work on their personal skills, not just technical medical knowledge. When algorithms make drug recommendations, doctors will need to find other ways to add value.