I was asked yesterday to predict the practice of medicine in 20 years. After stating that any such prediction is massively speculative, I indulged because it is massively fun.
I am persuaded by Clayton Christensen’s arguments in “The Innovator’s Prescription” that healthcare will go the way of other massively disrupted industries, wherein healthcare will follow the arc of decentralization.
Using the music industry as an example, Christensen's arc begins with consumers going to centralized experts like those at Carnegie Hall, then to buying players and music in local stores, and eventually to using a mobile device to purchase and listen to music in the back of a taxi. Similarly, much of the publishing and retail industry have traced this arc. It is only a matter of time until healthcare does the same.
Here’s how I think it’ll be done within the next 20 years:
Most of what goes on in a doctor’s office will be carried out by Eric Topol's legions of wireless devices measuring our blood chemistries, heart function, vital signs, and many more parameters that modern medicine isn’t yet even currently aware.
All these devices will be networked with a central database and processing unit, a machine that goes bing. This machine will correlate real-time data with the information riches of your own genetic profile. But, more than just you, this data will also be meshed with several other informative contexts: your family’s genetic information; the behavior and habits of your friends and neighbors; the demographics that enjoy your lifestyle. Last but not least, this machine that goes bing will be continually updated with the latest findings of the medical science world. (It might have a lot to do with Archimedes Outcomes Analyzer.)
With some beeps and whirls, it will churn through data streams that would overwhelm the most cognitively capable of today’s doctors.
In twenty years, the patient with diabetes, the victim of congestive heart disease, the smoker with emphysema, all will have their medicines optimized and managed (your new meds arrive in your mailbox... will we even have mailboxes?) before their diseases advance to a point that today’s medical system would even notice that something's up.
And yes, just as we get our music from our pocket devices where once it necessitated a trip to the music hall, we will get today’s medical care from our personal devices without having to go to the doctor's office.
Before you jump down my throat for predicting the demise of the medical profession, hear this: I do not predict the demise of the medical profession. While I do think that the practice of medicine as we know it today will be largely irrelevant, doctors in the future will be doing fantastic things that we can’t conceive.
I’ll leave it to someone else to speculate what that’ll be. Instead, I’ll cheerfully admonish against the assumption that technological growth will leave us all milling about with nothing to do.
*Addendum: Some of the machines that go bing: Check out Daniel Kraft's TEDXtalk: "Medicine's Future? There's an App for That."