Here are four ways new technology can change healthcare

Your toilet can monitor you and you can help making your own diagnosis – all while the shortage of healthcare workers and waiting time at the doctor disappears. Author and doctor Andreas Pihl gives his take on the future of healthcare.

The fax machine was invented in 1834, before the light bulb and colour photography. Today, it is still an essential part of the Danish healthcare system.

The reason? It is more reliable than many of the expensive IT solutions in the healthcare system, which can, for example, have difficulty attaching scan images in communication across regions.

The example of the fax machine comes from the book Doktor Hansen has seen his last patient by, among others, Andreas Pihl, who is a doctor in general medicine and medical manager at Roche Diagnostics. Therefore, it is perhaps a bit paradoxical that Andreas Pihl himself has a strong belief that the healthcare system can be transformed and improved significantly over the coming years with the help of advanced technology.

However, his optimism is due to two significant events in recent years.

"The first was the corona pandemic, where we saw that a public-private collaboration could move incredibly quickly and, for example, get the corona passport and video consultation implemented. The second is the launch of ChatGPT. I am surprised that this type of language model has so many functions in so many domains – including the medical field”.

Andreas Pihl is one of the speakers you can experience at this year's Driving Health Tech conference, and here he gives his take on four of the most important trends that new technology creates in the healthcare of the future.

1. You should not blindly trust the doctor

Doctors are again and again voted to be among the most trustworthy professional groups, but the relationship between patient and doctor is changing.

"100 years ago, the doctor was the all-knowing oracle. Today, the Internet has really shifted that division of roles”.

"The Internet has made it possible for everyone to access expert knowledge. And there is no doubt that patients have more time – and in a way also interest – than the doctor in finding the best possible solutions for themselves", explains Andreas Pihl.

He predicts that this development will escalate with the availability of language models such as ChatGPT, which users can ask detailed questions about their illness and treatment.
According to Andreas Pihl, one can imagine that the role of doctors in the future will be to guide patients to seek out knowledge themselves instead of being experts who have the final answer to all questions.

"I still have some colleagues who cling on to the role of authority and who think that their patients' Google searches are a bit silly. I think that is both unfortunate and an outdated way of thinking. Search engines are becoming much more qualified, and I have seen patients who know more about their illness than I do as a doctor".

2. You get more time with the doctor and the nurse

According to Andreas Pihl, one of the most important technologies should not be used to treat patients at all, but to solve administration and communication tasks.

Today, healthcare professionals are overwhelmed by stressful documentation requirements that steal time from patients. Andreas Pihl therefore sees enormous potential in using language models to handle such work.

"You can save more time than the Social Democrats dare to dream of by implementing language models such as ChatGPT to write posts, journals, epicrises and to handle communication with other staff and patients".

"It’s unimaginable how much time is wasted in writing journal notes that already exist. You sit and look through 100 A4 pages for information only to copy and paste it into your note. The same applies when you have to write certificates about a citizen to the municipality, which is the pet peeve of all general practitioners", says Andreas Pihl.

By automating the writing work, it is possible to secure far more resources that can take care of you if one day you end up in hospital.

3. Artificial intelligence diagnoses you

Who can best judge whether a birthmark is dangerous; an experienced dermatologist or an algorithm?

An American trial compared 21 dermatologists to an algorithm, and in the end it turned out that they were equally good. That is, an app that can be downloaded in an instant is as accurate as a doctor with years of training and specialisation.

In many cases, diagnosis is about pattern recognition – a core competency for artificial intelligence, and Andreas Pihl therefore points out that algorithms will in future assist doctors and other healthcare personnel in analysing everything from X-ray images to tissue samples.

"There is no doubt that different branches of artificial intelligence can help with diagnosis. At present, however, it is most effective if it is used as a support tool by a doctor, because errors continue to occur where artificial intelligence misses the mark".

4. Your toilet is watching you

When you have your blood pressure measured by the doctor, it provides a snapshot which may have changed moments later. But new sensors and measuring devices make it possible to form a much more detailed picture of your health and behaviour.

Today, fitness watches and Oura rings that can measure heart rate, oxygen saturation, activity and sleep are already widespread, and in the future data collection could become much more extensive, with clothes that measure your body temperature and toilets that perform daily urine and stool tests automatically.

This data can also be combined with information that is not directly linked to your biological health; for example, a very high power consumption can give the impression of low physical activity.

"There is no doubt that it provides a much better quality to have ongoing measurements. It is a form of personalised medicine. This means that we can distinguish between symptoms of illness or whether your heart rate is just a bit higher in the morning or when you've had a cup of coffee”.

"Therefore, I also think that we can live with the fact that the quality of the measurements will not be quite as good as in the hospital. Look, for example, at an Oura ring for measuring sleep: I often hear doctors say that the quality of a measurement with an Oura ring is not nearly as good as if you strap the patient into sensors and let them sleep in a laboratory.”

"And it isn’t, but on the other hand you can sleep with the ring for 2 years and get a much larger data set, so the two methods complement each other well".

The pitfalls: Surveillance society and greater inequality

Although Andreas Pihl is an optimist, he recognises that implementing new technology in healthcare is not without risk. The most imminent danger is that the health data collected on citizens is not only attractive to doctors, but also to companies and insurance companies with less honest intentions.

"We have to be careful with how much we let the tech giants and the products on sale decide. There is a need for those of us working in the healthcare system to build IT environments where it is possible to monitor with wearables such as smart watches. At the same time, it is absolutely crucial that the patients themselves own their data", says Andreas Pihl.

In addition, the already existing inequality may worsen if patients are left to play a more active role in their diagnosis and treatment.

"I know very well that if I give a watch to all my patients, it is those in social groups 1 and 2 who get the most out of it. Even if everyone gets the same devices, the result will be different”.

"In order to treat everyone equally, we must therefore have differentiated healthcare services, so that those with the greatest need and fewest resources receive a different and often more comprehensive service than those who can do it themselves".

"For those with the fewest resources, it is important that the collection of data can be done automatically. In principle, citizens or patients just have to charge their watch or Oura ring every five days, and then it is the doctor's responsibility to react to the data that is collected".