What medicine will be like 20 years from now

I was asked recently 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, the arc begins by requiring consumers to go to Carnegie Hall, to buying players and music in stores, to eventually 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 this real-time data with the information riches of your own genetic profile. More than just you, this data will be meshed with several other informative contexts: your family’s genetic information; your friends and neighbors who share your environment; the demographics that enjoy your lifestyle. Last but not least, this machine that goes bing will be continually updated with the latest findings 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 or emphysema, all will have their medicines optimized and managed (your new meds arrive in your mailbox … will we have mailboxes?) before their diseases advance to a point that today’s medical system would even notice.

And yes, just as we get our music from our pocket devices instead of needing to go 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.

Aaron J. Stupple is a medical student who blogs at Adjacent Possible Medicine.

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