While age-related diseases, ability changes, and cognitive functions change as we get older, health-related technologies are enabling us as a society to find more ways of moving even as we age.
The orthopedic industry is particularly invested in mobility technologies, not only for proper aging but also precision aging(opens in a new tab). No matter what our bodies may experience as we age, the orthopedic industry looks to improve that functionality so that we can continue living happy and mobile lives.
Since the future of mobility healthcare is constantly changing, let’s take a look at what emerging technologies we can expect to keep us moving as we age.
Aging and Health Technology
Mobility has and will always be central to aging. Mobility is one of the biggest concerns of aging bodies(opens in a new tab), which is why new technologies and new research look to improve functional capacity when walking, moving around the house, and driving.
Because of decreased growth hormone, aging bodies tend to experience a faster rate of muscle fatigue, slower recovery, and lower energy levels. We might find that arthritis is building up in our knee so much that it requires a total knee replacement. Other things like simple muscle strains might take weeks to heal.
Much of the research around aging and health technology tends to focus on two main concepts: healthy aging and optimal mobility. According to the CDC(opens in a new tab), healthy aging refers to the “development and maintenance of optimal physical, mental and social well-being and function in older adults” and is likely to be achieved with safe physical environments and communities, and support from health services and community programs. Similarly, optimal mobility suggests that one can safely and reliably go “where you want to go, when you want to go, and how you want to get there” and is a key component of healthy aging.
Therefore, when we think about how our industry can improve mobility, recognize that the issue is multifaceted. Longitudinal studies and computer simulations have shown us the ways that public health(opens in a new tab) can contribute to improved mobility. What once made sense for our bodies at the age of 20 or 30 may need to change as we get older.
There are other ways that orthopedic surgeons are adapting to mobility and longevity issues. With the implementation of VR(opens in a new tab) and the adaptation of technologies like those involved with Pokemon GO(opens in a new tab), orthopedic surgeons can learn and train for complex surgeries, which allow for more complex surgeries to be performed later in life or at times when surgery used to be risky.
Through multiple avenues, we as a society can better address mobility concerns. With more sophisticated training technology for burgeoning surgeons, more athletes and citizens might return to pre-injury mobility parameters. Patients who go under the knife might emerge from surgeries with minimal to no side effects, and more individuals might feel comfortable undergoing orthopedic surgery when they know that it can be extremely precise and often safer when robot-assisted.
By using emerging technology in the operating room, in physiotherapy clinics, and when training doctors, the orthopedic industry as a whole can better guide patients to precision aging.
Technology in Orthopedics
As our technology improves, so do our technological applications. We know this is possible because of the technologies that we are capable of now.
Right now, we can replace a knee, hip, and shoulder completely, and the patient is walking around with improved gait function the day after. Supporting equipment is often attached to bones to support severe fractures or breaks. A few decades ago, this type of surgery was rather dangerous. And yet now, we can bring mobility and security back to people’s lives following an accident.
For me, one of the best parts of these new emerging technologies is that they will open up so many doors that we cannot even imagine right now. If you had told me 20 years ago that AI-assisted diagnostics would be possible in the year 2021, I would have first envisioned some Jetson’s-like future, but I also wouldn’t really believe it. That’s where we are now—at the precipice of a technological healthcare revolution(opens in a new tab).
When I think of mobility and technology, I think of how orthopedic surgeons can use technology to improve how we can move. And here are just a few examples of that:
- Improved gait control and knee stability due to accurate robot-assisted surgeries
- Personalized healthcare with AI-insight computer technology
- Advanced diagnostics with AR and VR computer technology
- Completely customized 3D implants, which will virtually eliminate implant rejections
- More people seeking technologies for improvement movement
- This 3D-printed device(opens in a new tab) for more accurate ACL replacement surgeries
Soon, orthos will be in demand to learn and provide these new technologies, relieving millions of individuals from disability work due to poor mobility and extending our aging bodies’ lives by allowing them to move better.
Technology Mobility in the Industry
We talk about mobility in terms of people’s bodies, but what about in terms of accessibility to this industry? Tech leaders like Deloitte have explored the ways that mobility within the healthcare industry can lead to more access to doctors(opens in a new tab). With apps that provide health care services and the rise of self-driving cars, Deloitte suggests that we will be interacting with our physicians in different ways than ever before.
And this is true.
The rise of emerging technologies has enabled all kinds of physicians, including Emergency Care facilities, greater access to helping technologies, and providing more ways to help our patients.
It will soon be commonplace that first contact with a specialized doctor will be through a custom app, which will have the capability of handling sensitive information and scheduling follow-up appointments. Sensitive medical documents like X-rays and diagnosis information could also be provided over the app.
Orthopedic surgeons will also be able to take advantage of new, sophisticated technology to provide better services for our patients. As more manufacturers secure funding, more clinics will soon be required to have robot-assisted surgeries and AI-insights around diagnostics and patient assessments. This means that more surgeons will have time to cater to the human-aspect of our care: you, and how you are doing.
Embracing the Future, Whatever it Holds
Some models might show a disjointed and ultra-technological future where humans are basically robots on the inside, and supported by computers on the outside.
But this isn’t how I see it.
The rise of new and innovative technologies like 3D printing in the medical industry, VR technology for training, and precision healthcare through the uses of AI and robotics is actually freeing medical professionals.
Moreover, more people can become qualified to operate advanced medical technology, without needing to rely on doctors. This opens up more time for academic doctors and researchers to find solutions to lasting problems, provide care for human concerns, and provide educational materials to more people globally.
The future for orthopedics is always centered in mobility, but now it is centered in orthopedics that is driven by technology. Without these technologies, as we know it, we’d still be in the dark ages.