When it comes to innovation, it’s probably not surprising that medicine is leading the way. After all, healthcare and medicine isn’t just the business of saving lives but of making lives better.
But what is surprising, perhaps, is how far we’ve come in medical innovation, and how quickly. Medicine at the turn of the 20th century had scarcely advanced beyond what it had been a hundred years prior. Disease was little understood, and effective treatments were rare.
In most cases, the best a turn-of-the-century doctor could do was observe his patient, note the course of their disease, and give comfort while the illness did what it would. And while new advances in fields such as chemistry and epidemiology were laying the groundwork for modern pharmacology and public health policy, there was still a long, long way to go.
Fortunately, things are different today, and patients are reaping the rewards. And, yet today’s healthcare innovations, much like the rudimentary therapeutics of the dawn of the last century, are likely only a primitive preview of the incredible advances to come.
When it comes to modern medicine, the term “biohacking” is a bit of a catch-all. However you might define it, what biohacking comes down to is the manipulation of bodily systems to improve their functions.
And there are lots of ways to do it, depending on what kind of results you’re looking for. For some, biohacking involves things like intermittent fasting and daily morning ice baths to “rev up” the entire body, getting the blood, brain, and bowels working their absolute best.
Others, however, might take their biohacking mojo to the next level by using nootropics. If you’re not familiar with the term, nootropics refers to a simple concept that involves some big technology. Simply put, nootropics are custom-engineered substances that are specifically designed to improve — and we mean drastically — physiological functioning and cognitive performance in particular.
The science, though, is based largely in nature, particularly the use of herbs and other natural substances to produce a particular effect on the body, such as taking creatine supplements to build muscle mass or ginseng to boost memory and concentration. Even caffeine is considered a natural nootropic!
But synthetic, custom-engineered nootropics are promising to take things to the next level. They’re usually produced in the form of capsules and tablets, often referred to as “smart pills.” In addition to over-the-counter supplements that promise to produce enhancements in the functioning of the brain and/or body, nootropics are also very commonly used in prescription medications. Medications used to treat the effects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Ritalin and Adderall, as well as drugs designed to slow the cognitive decline of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are among the most popular prescription nootropics.
But the future of nootropics looks far bigger than today’s “smart pills.” In fact, implantable microchips designed to boost memory and cognition are already in the works!
Beautiful inside and out
When x-ray technology emerged in the late 19th century, it revolutionized patient care. With its advent, doctors could diagnose patients with far greater accuracy and efficiency than had ever been possible.
But today’s digital imaging technologies make yesterday’s x-rays look like a kid’s sidewalk chalk drawing. Digital x-rays are now making it far easier and faster to spot cancers deep inside the body. They’re helping doctors to detect life-threatening pneumonia. They’re helping dentists and oral surgeons detect and treat failing teeth with incredible precision. They’re even helping military surgeons treating soldiers with gunshot and shrapnel wounds.
The power of the printer
One of the most exciting advances in healthcare tech, believe it or not, involves something you might have sitting right beside you as you read this: the 3-D printer. But, of course, we’re not talking about just any old 3-D printer. These are 3-D printers on steroids.
These printers bring custom therapeutics to the next level. For example, these printers can be used to whip up hearing aids, dentures and dental inserts, and even prosthetics and orthotics on demand. Best of all, these prosthetics can be tailored to the patient’s exact dimensions, with no gaps and no tight spots. That means the prosthetic is less likely to slip or to irritate the skin or gums, which decreases the chances the patient will develop a potentially dangerous wound.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is discovering the incredible power of telemedicine. With states across the US under lockdown and infection rates surging, many clinics, hospitals, and treatment centers are closed to non-emergency and non-essential care.
Without the support of telemedicine, that could easily have left patients with both chronic and acute illnesses in a life-threatening predicament. Thanks to telehealth, though, patients can access care without ever leaving the comfort and safety of their home.
And because of the host of wearable and remote monitoring technologies now flooding the market, healthcare providers are no longer limited to just talking to their patients through a video conference or telephone call.
They can also order up prescriptions, and even over-the-counter, devices to allow them to remotely monitor patients’ vitals, from blood pressure to heart rate. M-health technologies can even perform at-home EEGs and EKGs, can monitor the quality of the patient’s sleep, and even keep track of their nutrition, medication, and physical activity.
For patients with diabetes, these technologies can provide continuous monitoring of glucose levels; for those with asthma, m-health allows smart devices to be transformed into spirometers.
The price of excellence
Of course, all this innovation doesn’t come cheap. With every new test, technology, and table that comes on the market, there’s a pool of patients and insurance providers who are footing the bill. But there are tradeoffs.
Because the new technology is proving increasingly effective in disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, there can be significant cost reductions when compared with older, more traditional approaches. After all, if a tumor is impossible to detect on less sophisticated imaging systems until it has metastasized, that’s not only contributing to greater risk, and suffering, for the patient, but it’s also going to cause the costs of their care to skyrocket.
Medical and healthcare technology has reached a state of innovation that we could not have imagined even a few short decades ago. And yet, as researchers and clinicians continue to inquire and explore, it seems that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. The future of medicine holds incredible promise, not only for the diagnosis and treatment of some of humanity’s most feared diseases but also for their prevention and cure. From biohacking and nootropics to 3-D printing and telemedicine, modern technology is helping patients today live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Likewise, innovations currently in development will grant future generations a lifetime of vitality that today’s generation can only dream of.