Emerging technologies give hope that healthcare can solve some of the world’s most challenging health-related issues.

And, patient-focused healthcare research has enhanced our ability to create technologies that solve real-world problems. There’s a lot to look forward to!

Here are five remarkable facts about the future of healthcare.

1. Surgical Robots Will Not Only be Mainstream but They Will Also be Portable

Surgical robots have shown to be less invasive and more capable of managing maneuvers that require fine motor skills. But, less than 3% of the world’s surgeries(opens in a new tab) are being done using robot assistance. This is most likely because, right now, owning a robot for surgery is extremely expensive. The robot mechanisms might also be hard to fix if they break, and they might be too large for a given room or be unable to be moved to other rooms.

For now, the introduction and utility of medical robots(opens in a new tab) are slowly on the rise. But once the above problems are solved, robots will be as prevalent in operating rooms as x-ray and MRI machines.

Innovators in the space, like Medtronic, are solving these issues.

Tracy Accardi, VP of R&D for Surgical Robotics at Medtronic, has hope for the future development of robotics in surgery. In a recent interview, she remarked, “…one day we won’t say robotic surgery, we’ll just say ‘surgery,’ and it won’t seem like a big divide between the two spaces. I look forward to that day.”

And I do too.

Accardi is part of Medtronic’s surgical robot development, aiming to create more affordable robots for clinicians with a modular design that can be moved throughout rooms in a medical ward. With a goal to lower procedure costs while also increasing patient access to care, we will see more companies like Medtronic working hard to reduce the negative impacts of surgical robots and make them more mainstream.

Medtronic’s surgical robot is not yet at the point where it is portable, but Virtual Incision’s(opens in a new tab) robot is. Taking a different approach to surgical robotics, Virtual Incision has created MIRA, a handheld design that can perform complex surgeries in the abdomen. The technology has been found, so far, to reduce surgical recovery time, blood loss, pain, and complications overall. Serving the underserved 80% of the market, MIRA increases access for patients who have to wait significant times for an important surgery.

While MIRA’s design is limited, and the device is handheld and still presents some risk, the evolution of these two technologies suggests that we are well on our way to portable and affordable surgical robots and more accessible and safer surgeries.

2. We’ll See Improved Quality of Life, and Potential Recovery, for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

The risk of impaired mobility and reduced quality of life is still significantly high following a spinal cord injury. But, new technologies are showing a breakthrough in the recovery options for patients with these types of injuries.

Electrical stimulation(opens in a new tab) is the harbinger for this breakthrough. Commonly used to treat muscle issues in the physical therapy setting, electrical stimulation has been recaptured in a minimally invasive modulation technology known as the ARC system. The ARC system is available as an implant and an external system, and it has shown signs of improving arm and hand function in individuals with spinal cord injuries.

Dave Marver, CEO of ONWARD, sees the significance of solving this problem: “Spinal cord injury (SCI) results from damage to any part of the spinal cord. Depending on the severity of the injury, it becomes challenging or even impossible to transmit signals across the lesion and the injured person can lose muscle control and sensation.”

Marver agrees that it’s common to associate SCI with paralysis, but there are other significant ways that spinal cord injury patients are impacted. Difficulty breathing, swallowing, modulating temperature and blood pressure, incontinence, and loss of sexual function are all impacted by SCI and can affect a patient in a significant way.

Bringing any type of neurological control back to patients would drastically improve quality of life. Even more important is that there are nearly 300,000 people in the US living with SCI today; so what can we do to help them?

Collaborating with leading science partners in Switzerland, ONWARD technology has groundbreaking pre-clinical research that shows their technology could help people regain the ability to walk. Amazing.

The implanted and external ARC, mentioned early, work slightly differently, but both systems send a programmed electrical stimulation to the spinal cord. The stimulation can be pulsed (as in the internal ARC) and can actually be controlled by a smartphone.

When given at appropriate dosages, we know that electrical stimulation can improve many aspects of our life and reverse some physical discomforts. In other recent studies, it has been shown to manage pain in spinal cord injury patients(opens in a new tab) as well, and patients did not experience tingling (which was an issue beforehand).

Nonetheless, stimulators show great potential for spinal cord injury patients, and could potentially be used for other injuries as well.

3. Most Surgeons Won’t See Real Patients Until They’ve Graduated from Medical School

Maybe this was instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic and forced physical distancing, but remote and tech-focused learning was long on the rise. And with increasing advancements and uses for Virtual Reality (VR)(opens in a new tab) and Augmented Reality (AR), medical students in orthopedics can get actual hands-on experiences while not seeing a single patient.

VR and AR are assistive technologies that allow surgical training to continue despite COVID limitations, a lack of training resources, and limited access to instructors.

OssoVR(opens in a new tab) is one company that has brought this training technology forward into a usable capacity. The VR technology follows CDC guidelines and uses the Oculus VR headset to teach the surgical steps, accuracy and perform surgery with efficiency.

Surgeons are expected to go know how to complete hundreds to thousands of procedures. And the increase in surgery options for patients means that surgeons are required to continue learning even in a demanding profession. VR helps with continuing education and allows surgeons to train and hone their skills.

OssoVR has partnered with a number of resources and partners, including Apple, Microsoft, and Industrial, and Light & Magic to produce interactive and real-life imaging. On top of that, they also follow Oculus guidelines, physician guidelines and work in partnership with Johnson and Johnson Institute to perfect this process.

As of late, OssoVR has seen its tool as a need-to-have resource in over twenty residency programs(opens in a new tab), including Marshall University. Dr. Bullock at Marshall University said that they “have integrated Osso VR into [their] curriculum for resident rotations including trauma, pediatrics, and arthroplasty.” By using this technology for the past two years, OssoVR has become integral to training and has probably saved the medical schools in time, money, and expended resources.

VR will become one of the primary ways surgeons learn, and I would not be surprised if many surgeons (if not all) will not have seen a patient until after graduation. With the high quality of VR and training tools, this should not negatively impact the procedure.

4.The Cranial Implant and Ultrasound Imaging Will Improve Brain Surgery

Another remarkable emergence will be our improved ability to perform brain surgery. With more in the health community focused on the holistic approach and neural research, we can expect patient-centered care that improves tissue-related brain issues.

The need for improved technologies for brain surgeries will only come when surgeons begin to seek cutting-edge technologies that can address neurological dysfunction or reduce surgery. CEO of Longeviti ClearFit believes it takes a medical revolution of sorts to gain these technologies.

Following the footsteps of how breast cancer treatment has improved, Longeviti hopes to spark public interest(opens in a new tab) in developing brian improvement technologies. The Longeviti ClearFIt is a tool that has the capability to reconstruct patient’s craniums, giving patients solutions that are more advanced than ever before.

This technology is an implant that is customized to each patient’s cranium. Using CT scans and 3D printing, the ClearFit fits the patient’s precise contouring. The implant is a benefit to both patients and surgeons.

The implant offers reconstructive properties as well as functional properties. So surgeons can use imaging to better map brain issues. This technology is using ultrasound, a safe modality that has been used on babies for decades.

And with this tech in place, surgeons and researchers can better understand the goings-on of the brain, including the growth of tumors and cancers, and help researchers with modality technologies and therapies.

Current post-neurosurgical imaging modalities carry a high risk of radiation exposure. CT scans, the main imaging modality, carry a risk of 29,000 possible future cancers. The use of this implant would reduce the number of CT scans that certain patients need to have, and it can improve our knowledge of brain issues.

5.Doctors Will Become Portable

It’s not news that healthcare in the US has met with adversity. A lack of available and accessible care and a rise in health care bias(opens in a new tab) means that millions of Americans cannot afford health care and aren’t receiving the treatment they need.

To mitigate this issue, I believe that doctors will soon become portable. This comes in tandem with the rise of portable technologies, like portable MRI machines(opens in a new tab) and portable x-ray machines(opens in a new tab).

On top of this, many diagnostic tools will be available with a smartphone. From monitoring cognitive performance(opens in a new tab), including the reports from the ClearFit mentioned above, to the smart ring(opens in a new tab) and the development of a medical tablet(opens in a new tab) (from Philips), suggests that patients won’t be required to visit the technology or medical knowledge that they seek.

Instead, this medical knowledge will come to them!

This will improve the efficacy of health care services and, in giving these mobile technologies to more people, encourage the level of care that we can provide.

The future is full of remarkable technologies. As an industry, we focus on patient-centered care, so surgeons and patients need to remember to address patients’ needs first and then take advantage of these sophisticated technologies.