Healthcare, as it exists now, is largely retroactive. You get sick, then you go to see a doctor to get diagnosed and treated – if you’re lucky.
The only tests done proactively are those for specific at-risk groups. Examples of this include prostate exams for men over 55, various vaccines, tests for newborns, mammograms, and routine checkups/blood tests. Unless there are presenting symptoms or other cause for concern, diagnostic tests are rarely done proactively. This can lead to undiagnosed illnesses, infections, or cancers.
In recent years, private health services that offer full body health analyses have become much more prevalent.
These service providers offer a multitude of tests, including:
- Blood and urine tests.
- Electrocardiograms and stress tests.
- Respiratory function tests.
- Ankle-brachial index tests (to determine artery health).
- Hearing tests.
- Vision tests.
- Analyses of muscle and joint function.
- Cardiopulmonary fitness tests.
- Dietary analyses.
- Mental health assessments.
Some service providers go even further and do genomic sequencing to determine your risk for certain conditions and diseases. An example of one of these services is Health Nucleus (Human Longevity Inc.). Their services include full body and brain MRIs, complete genome sequencing, as well as a battery of other tests. They provide their clients with personalized health reports that summarize their findings and insights. This sounds simple, but consider the fact when you go to the doctor now, access to your own data or files is not the norm.
The purpose of these types of services is to identify disease risk factors earlier. The more you know about your own body, the healthier you can be. However, these complete health check-up packages come under heavy criticism.2 They are currently too expensive for the majority of people and are not covered by most health insurance plans. Another point of contention is their potential to create false positives that result in needless intervention. This can cause more harm than good, and conversely false negatives can give people a false sense of security. While exact statistics are hard to find, it is known that benign tumours appear more frequently than cancerous ones. For example, breast changes in women are only cancerous 3-6% of the time.3
As technology moves forward, these issues will be mitigated by diagnostic tests that are more accurate. Costs also continue to decrease as technology improves. In the future, many of these tests may be able to be completed by sensors embedded in smart homes, wearables, and other smart devices. Already, smart watches are able to monitor heart activity, pulmonary-cardio fitness, and stress.
Healthcare is not only shifting from retroactive to preventative, but also to become more personalized. Personalized medicine will soon be a part of treatment for a multitude of conditions.4 This means that drugs and treatments will be selected for patients based on their genome to determine what will be the most effective.
In the popular book, “The Patient Will See You Now,” author Eric Topol outlines all the ways in which your health is being put back in your control. Smartphones have opened up a door to virtual health, where anyone can see a doctor whenever they need and do their own research. With COVID-19, many health practitioners have switched to virtual patient appointments,5 something that has been in the making for years, and in the future, we will see and more and more of this. There are a multitude of apps already in existence that provide access to doctors in real time, including: LiveHealth Online Mobile, MDLive, Lemonaid Health, Express Care Virtual, Babylon Health, PlushCare, Doctor on Demand, and Maple. In addition to these, more are on the way.
There are also start-ups around the globe that are creating new tools and techniques for you to monitor your own health.
Athos is a company that has developed wearable clothes that measure muscle effort using electromyography to help you train better. In the future, it might be commonplace to have clothing that can measure your pulse, body temperature, muscle activation, and any other number of metrics.
Livongo is a company helping patients monitor their own health conditions better with the help of smart technology and AI. Their products help people with pre-diabetes, diabetes, and high blood pressure make behaviour changes and monitor the status of their condition through sensors and a connected smartphone app.
The future of health will be holistic and personalized. You will be in control of your health, and the shift has already begun. COVID-19 has forced physicians to accelerate their switch to virtual patient care, and this trend will only continue. Diagnostic medicine will improve and soon these full body health reports will be made available to everyone. These shifts will mean earlier disease detection, more peace of mind, and better control over your body.