With rapid improvements in people’s health occurring already, researchers want to take medicine to the next level. So, the future of medicine seems bright, or does it? Medicine is a fragile area of society that’s open to risks and medical advancements are possibly one of them – a decision that could make us rethink the future of medicine. Treatments like organ donation have already sparked many issues amongst the public; there are currently doubts about the security of electronic health records. Could the future hold any better? Medical professionals fail to work well with aspects that are more than just effectiveness lying at the heart of treatment; this may make the majority of the public in the future more insensitive to social and cultural issues, for example.
The health sector must maintain its goal of promoting betterment in the entire population and prevent the NHS’ structure from collapsing. To achieve this, they must avert too much progress from happening too quickly before the future of medicine approaches its downfall.
Modern medicine – a danger to health?
Medicine today is based on a cure-obsessed culture where drugs are overprescribed without looking into the root causes of the disease. However, the root cause of the disease can’t be cleared if the patient’s preferences and values are not taken into consideration. Many patients suffer side-effects and have little to no health improvement in the long-term because this is often ignored when it comes to deciding on a treatment. For example, before prescribing various drugs or pills, the doctor needs to consider if the medications are really suitable (and necessary) for the patient. In the UK, use of prescription drugs is at an all-time high, with almost half of adults on at least one drug and a quarter on at least three – an increase of 47% in the past decade. It’s instructive to note that life expectancy in the UK has stalled since 2010 (Malhotra 2018). If the future puts more pressure on the use of drugs to treat disease, life expectancy will only continue to decrease.
Instead, medical professionals should focus on using evidence-based methods. This involves the use of medication only where it is necessary, but places an emphasis on using evidence-based medicine. This is the integration of clinical expertise, the best available evidence and – most importantly – taking patients’ preferences and values into consideration (Malhotra 2018). Rather than increasing the number of medications, this practice should be prioritised in the future; the collaboration between patient and doctor leads to more effective treatment.
Additionally, doctors should advise patients to make improvements in their lifestyles to target the root cause of the disease. The reality is that lifestyle changes not only reduce the risk of future disease, their positive effects on quality of life happen within days to weeks (Malhotra 2018). However, with people in the health sector planning to make the future of medicine intensive on artificial methods, it is almost certain that they will come with more side-effects and lead to less healthy lives in the long-term.
Despite coming from a newly found area that’s open to mistakes, technological systems do not undergo testing as meticulous as other medical devices. This hasty desire to implement more technology into healthcare puts a patient’s life at risk, as the system is prone to leaving out data or false positives, for example. Technology has led to an increasing rate of overdiagnosis, where smaller issues without symptoms are detected, masking those that are more serious and require urgent treatment. With that in mind, unnecessary tests and procedures are carried out with an adverse effect on the patient’s health. Doctors need to take more responsibility to protect their patients, rather than depending on the effortlessness of technology.
To be able to understand a patient’s problem and how to deal with it in a better way, a doctor needs to have that emotional element. Technology dehumanises the relationship between patient and doctor; there is a lack of body language and eye contact, so communication suffers. Tuning in to patients’ emotions does not necessarily mean the practitioner must feel the emotions, but it involves listening intently, usually with minimal questioning (Occhiogrosso 2019). Being able to talk about emotions and have human senses are absent with AI, so it is difficult to establish empathy and trust with a patient. Ultimately, no matter how advanced technology becomes in the future, it must not eliminate our current perspective of a doctor-patient relationship, where empathy is key.
Advances in medicine have resulted in uprisal of many disputes. Despite the many ethical concerns out there, the most heated controversies are related to shrinking the importance of “first, do no harm”, which doctors should try their best to follow. Embryonic stem cell treatment is a transplant that involves deriving pluripotent embryonic stem cells from an embryo; the stem cells can then differentiate into any type of cell used for tissue or organ repair. However, there is a common and even international ethical controversy surrounding the act of destroying the embryo to obtain stem cells, which is seen as an act of injustice towards humanity. For some people, life starts when a baby is born, or when an embryo develops into a fetus. Others believe that human life begins at conception, so an embryo has the same moral status and rights as a human adult or child (Railton 2019).
The level of difficulty at which this issue already stands makes it easy for advanced treatments in the future (that can be just as harmful) to be subject to ethical dispute. With this expectation, researchers must come up with alternative treatments that are, at the very least, less harmful. Luckily, there is currently research on induced pluripotent stem cells, which can function and be used in a similar way to embryonic stem cells. With this and other recent advances in stem cell technology, attitudes toward stem cell research are slowly beginning to change (Railton 2019). It is discoveries like this type of stem cell that prove that there are safer ways of providing the same treatment and the future should leverage its scientific technology to do the right thing- create treatments that balance the responsibility to prevent human suffering and the duty to protect human life.
Surely, the medical field will revolutionise itself in the future, but if this all happens too fast, its long-term vision will come crashing down. Perhaps the health sector could sustain the benefits that medicine has served in the past and will serve in the future by merging the old and new practices to produce an efficient healthcare system.
Written by Momina Arifeen Khan
1) Malhotra, A., 2018. Why Modern Medicine Is A Major Threat To Public Health | Aseem Malhotra. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/30/modern-medicine-major-threat-public-health> [Accessed 1 August 2020].
2) Occhiogrosso, D., 2019. Empathy In Healthcare: Is There Room For It In The Technological Era?. [online] Dimins.com. Available at: <https://www.dimins.com/blog/2019/04/08/empathy-healthcare-technological-era/> [Accessed 2 August 2020].
3) Railton, D., 2019. Stem Cells: Therapy, Controversy, And Research. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/200904#ethical_issues> [Accessed 3 August 2020].