I think it’s been at least fifteen years since I first began hearing that one of the major benefits of broadband will be improved health care. Yet, except for a few places that are doing telemedicine well, for the average person none of this has yet come to pass. But now I think we are at the cusp of finally seeing medical applications that will need broadband. Following are some areas where we ought to soon see real applications:
Letting the Elderly Stay in Their Homes Longer. This is the holy grail of future medicine products because surveys have shown that a huge majority of Americans want to stay in their homes as long as possible, and die in their homes when it’s time. There is no one solution that can solve this problem, but a whole suite of technologies and solutions working together – and the good news is that there are now more than a hundred companies looking for ways to make this work.
All solutions for the elderly begin with smart monitoring systems. This means video cameras and sensors of all sorts that look for problems. Medical monitors will monitor vital signs. Smart sensors will track an elderly person and alert somebody if that person doesn’t move for a while. Reminder systems will make sure medications are taken on time. Virtual reality will help homebound elderly to keep in touch with caregivers and to have an active social life from home. Robots can help with physical tasks. The key to a good product is one that ties all of these things together into a package that people can afford (or that is at least less costly than the alternatives). My guess is that we are only a few years away from these packages finally being a reality.
Medical Diagnosis with Artificial Intelligence. IBM’s Big Blue has already demonstrated that it is better than most doctors and nurses at diagnosing medical conditions, with the added benefit that Big Blue generally catches rare diagnoses that doctors tend to not consider. There are already a number of companies working on integrating this into clinics, but this is also going to be taken online so that patients can be screened before even coming to see a doctor. IBM isn’t the only possible solution; companies like Google and Microsoft are now selling time on their AI platforms.
Virtual Reality and Telemedicine. One of the biggest drawbacks today to telemedicine is that a doctor can’t really get a good look at a patient in as much detail as they can in a live visit. But with big bandwidth and virtual reality technology doctors will soon be able to see patients in 3D and in close-up detail, which is going to make telemedicine a lot more accurate and usable. And combining this technology with some sort of medical monitor to supply vital signs can allow for easy treatment of most problems. But this is going to require big bandwidth at homes as well as a big data pipe between the remote community and the doctors.
Nanobots. A lot of future treatment of diseases is going to involve nanobots in the bloodstream. These will be tiny devices that deliver medicine specifically to the areas of the body that need it, are engineered to attack specific viruses or germs, or that monitor ongoing health issues closely. There are researchers who believe that we will carry nanobots with us at all time – to fend off cancer, treat diseases like the common cold before we have any symptoms, to rejuvenate cells, and to act as an early warning system for anything unusual. There are already nanobot treatments for cancer being tested. We clearly will need to monitor nanobots and that means a reliable broadband connection and specific kinds of sensors.