"Already today, you don’t need to go to your physician in many cases.... We’re now in the era of virtual visits."|
Dr. Daniel Kraft
In the last challenge, we explored military technology, an area where innovation plays a major role. We saw how new inventions changed warfare and later became important for civilian use. In this challenge, we’ll turn our attention to another area where daily use of technology is essential: healthcare.
Medical technology affects nearly everyone in the United States, and new technology trends continually cause our healthcare system to evolve. This makes exploring healthcare a great way to examine the impact of technology. We can learn how people have typically adapted to new technologies and how we can apply that knowledge to our own lives.
Our healthcare system is far more complex today than in the past, largely due to technology. For most of history, medical care was centered around the home: doctors regularly made house calls, and hospital visits were rare. Now we have access to preventive care in doctors’ offices or urgent care centers, advanced hospitals with teams of specialists, and a wide range of options for services and treatments.
Communication between providers and patients is also faster than ever, with virtual patient portals, online test results, and digital records. We are beginning to see the possibilities of remote treatment through telehealth, where doctors and nurses diagnose and advise patients over the internet. These improved opportunities for communication allow medical providers to be more agile by integrating more up-to-date information and feedback from patients into their treatment plans.
Agility: Skill Reflect
In spite of fear and uncertainty, many people coped by using their agility skills. They began to ask questions of their eye doctors about how they could protect their eyes. This focus on eye health led ophthalmologists to develop new diagnostic techniques and improve existing treatments, like eyeglasses or "spectacles," as they were known back then.
As cars became more common, both pedestrians and drivers showed agility as they adapted to the change. They managed their stress and improved safety by creating traffic signals and wider roads. Soon, a growing number of gas stations and a nationwide highway system led to more travel, exploration, and comfort with cars!
Luckily, people showed agility by staying open to the potential of x-rays to change medicine for the better. As medical practitioners did research about how to make treatments more effective, they eventually found new safety measures, like lead shields that patients and technicians could wear for protection.
Fortunately, agile computer scientists kept an open mind to AI’s potential, even as they urged caution and regulation around security and ethical issues. By the 1970’s, a speech recognition system called "Harpy" could understand 1011 words, approximately the vocabulary of an average three-year-old. Today, speech recognition AI has given us virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa.
|Instead of printed newspapers, people now get the bulk of their information on screens. That hasn’t eliminated fear of eye strain! To address concerns about the impact of screens on our vision, eyeglass companies have developed lenses that block blue light from screens.||
Man coding on laptop surrounded in a glow of a blue light
Bill Hinton/Getty Images
|Car||We don’t need people walking in front of our cars with flags any more. But with over 280 million cars on American roads, manufacturers are addressing modern fears about pollution by designing more fuel efficient vehicles, like the electric car.||
Charging electric cars
|X-Ray||Today, x-rays are used for imaging in medicine, astronomy, and security, but concern about radiation overexposure remains. So, scientists have developed machines that deliver higher-resolution images…without the need for increased radiation.||
Surgeon and team position patient under x-ray machine
Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images
|AI||While movies about killer robots still occasionally hit theaters, we as a society have grown more comfortable with AI and have begun to incorporate it into our everyday lives. Many of us use digital assistants on our phones and smart speakers in our homes. Concerns about privacy remain, which is why developers are constantly creating new precautions to safeguard user data.||
Voice controlled speaker
Medical technology includes everything from lifesaving medicines and research tools to digital record-keeping systems.
If you were to visit a healthcare center today, it’s possible that you wouldn’t see a single piece of paper during your appointment other than the magazines in the waiting room. You might check in on a tablet and be examined by a nurse who enters your vital signs into your medical record on a laptop. Then you might speak with a doctor who sends a prescription over the internet to your local pharmacy. What’s more, the drugs, surgical techniques, and other therapies available today would have been nearly unthinkable only a few generations—or even a few decades—ago.
These kinds of technologies are making the process of receiving healthcare easier and often safer for patients. Technology can streamline healthcare systems and even help to limit human error—for example, when a doctor sends prescriptions to a pharmacy online, no one has to decipher the doctor’s handwriting.
The big question the United States is grappling with today is not whether to use these new technologies but how to pay for them. Technology is making healthcare more affordable in some ways, such as by streamlining administrative work with computers, but advanced treatments and new drugs are expensive, and healthcare costs are on the rise. As we look to the future, understanding the economic effects of using new healthcare technologies will continue to be an issue that requires critical thinking and thoughtful problem solving.
At the end of 2019, the coronavirus evolved and made the jump from one species to another -- specifically, humans. This is known as zoonosis. When the coronavirus affects humans they develop a disease known as COVID-19. In March of 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Because of its infectious nature and deadly effects, governments around the world responded by encouraging/forcing people to shelter-in-place. While this had devastating economic effects, it is believed to have helped save millions of lives as it slowed the spread of the disease and helped hospitals and medical suppliers prepare for more patients. Despite these efforts, COVID-19 continued to infect more and more people. Within four months of being declared a global pandemic, COVID-19 had killed more than half a million people worldwide. Within three months of the first declared case in the United States, more Americans had died from COVID-19 than died fighting in Vietnam -- a war that lasted 19 years.
This existential threat created an unprecedented medical and technological focus. Medical labs and researchers around the United States and world focused on creating cures and vaccines for this deadly disease. Within three months of the coronavirus’s spread, scientists had sequenced its entire genome and made the results public. Within four months of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic, drug companies and universities were moving dozens of potential vaccines through clinical tests at unprecedented rates.
A rapidly changing healthcare system requires a great deal of agility from the people who are involved in it. Remember, agility is having the ability to embrace change and adapt to new circumstances. An agile mindset will help both patients and practitioners as they respond to new systems, evaluate and apply new types of treatments, and keep up with new communication tools. Just as patients need agility to navigate new medical systems and insurance policies, healthcare providers need agility to keep up with the latest in medical and administrative technology.
Patients and doctors alike also need critical thinking to evaluate new technology and news about the latest medical research. This will help them decide when to adopt new practices or change medical advice and when to wait. And even for those who aren’t currently employed in the medical field, meeting the changing healthcare system with agility might mean recognizing new career opportunities; the healthcare field is growing, and it offers career options ranging from office administrators to medical practitioners.
As we’ve done in previous challenges, we’re now going to jump into the past to examine some moments in the history of healthcare technology and observe how individuals have responded and adapted to change. Then we’ll use this knowledge to draw conclusions about healthcare today and in the future.
Source: Strategic Education, Inc. 2020. Learn from the Past, Prepare for the Future.