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Design & Technology March 26, 2019

The paradox of tomorrow's health care

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At SxSW this year, design and tech ethics were well-represented. Many sessions covered how to handle data and content with care and responsibility. In previous years, themes such as climate and sustainability were discussed thoroughly, and now social consciousness had the stage.

Health care, in particular, is on everyone’s mind. How can we improve the world as well as our health care using new technology? This question was the focus of many sessions. The risks involved were also in the spotlight. How do we handle all the data that’s about to become available? How can we enrich people and systems alike with what we’ll be able to do in the near future?

NEOPHILES VS. NEOPHOBES

Tech has been a hot topic in health care in the United States (but in Europe as well) and it’s got tempers running high. The electronic patient file has been a topic of discussion for years. This debate usually centers around opinions driven by fear and hope and is held between neophiles and neophobes.

Neophobes view technology as an uncontrollable entity that will take over their jobs, violate their privacy and impact human connections negatively. Neophiles, on the other hand, are watching possibilities arise in the job market and believe in a more efficient world where human contact can actually improve thanks to technology.

Usually, the majority finds itself somewhere in the middle, which brings nuance to this debate. But within technological developments, that isn’t really the case. New technology is after all usually produced by neophiles with a vision focused on the future. But in health care, almost everyone is convinced that good care is provided by people. Various studies have shown that when a doctor has more contact with a patient, that patient’s chances of recovery increase and they will make less use of the health care system. So more contact between doctors and patients would eventually lead to cheaper health care.

HUMAN CONTACT X TECHNOLOGY

If we’re to believe the neophiles, the combination of new technology and human contact really does make health care more efficient. What that would look like? Dr. David Feinberg, who spearheads Google’s health team, explained his vision on tech and health care during a discussion session. Google processes 70.000 health-related queries every minute: almost a billion a day. All the data Google is gathering makes it the biggest health database in the world.

Because Google can scan infinite amounts of content using image recognition, they have now gotten to a point where they can distinguish a birthmark from melanoma. Pictures of eyes can be connected to immense amounts of data. Who’ll get Alzheimer’s, who’s at risk for high blood pressure or diabetes – these things too can be discovered in an early stage. It’s all dependent on your DNA, where you live, and where you were born. Google’s diagnoses have proven to be more accurate than doctors’. To optimize this process, vast quantities of personal data are needed. Personal data that facilitates personalized care. So this too can make health care more efficient and more personal.

THE HAPPY MEDIUM

But is Google really going to improve our health care system? Google is convinced that they are. They just want to know everything about you first. And the fact of the matter remains that despite all their efforts to improve health care, Google can’t do this alone. Not even with medical professionals. The solution mostly lies with the system’s watchmen. Health insurance companies and politicians are responsible to find the balance. As long as insurance companies need to turn a profit, pay salaries, and limit medication costs all while providing the best personalized care, not a lot will change. That’s where politicians can play a part.

Various parties are currently working on their own vision for health care. More efficiency, cheaper medication, lower costs. The ideal format lies somewhere in the middle. That said, health care probably won’t get cheaper. But it could definitely be more efficient and more compassionate. With more attention and more knowledge when doctors focus on contact and use data to provide customized care.

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