NJIT Distinguished Professor and electrical engineer Atam Dhawan hits the lecture trail again this summer as a distinguished speaker for an IEEE life sciences lecture series. His focus will be how "Point of Care Healthcare" can reduce illness, improve the quality of life, and stop spiraling healthcare costs. Dhawan, who will stop at conferences in Japan, Colombia and Croatia, tells audiences about the following.
If you aren't already using a "wearable" sensor-whether it's a watch that reads your blood pressure or a temperature strip for your child's forehead-you soon will be. Such devices offer a fast, inexpensive and efficient mobile health information communication system plus used the right way they can become application-based smart decision support systems for patients and healthcare providers. They provide quality healthcare at affordable costs in developing economies and for developed economies, they can avoid or reduce extended hospitalization and in-patient costs to reduce sky-rocketing healthcare costs. For managing quality healthcare in epidemics and disaster situations, they could be critical in providing vital medical attention to those first, who need the most, he said.
Such devices, which rely on hidden electronic sensors, will soon thanks to newer and better software applications, communicate important information about your health to your smart phones. Such devices in tandem with video-conferencing would be available in rural areas where less trained individuals can provide good quality healthcare; and more, may soon even be able to replace physician office visits.
"Why wait to be seen in a medical office and then followed up with additional costly visits for tests at different places, if technology can enable instant conversations, send immediate information and more," Dhawan said. The savings can go beyond improving healthcare, to encompassing lower transportation costs and improving the medical infrastructure.
Big data is coming next in tandem with preventive healthcare. A burgeoning industry is developing around recoding and using big data, such as electronic health records and patient-centric health information from genome to physiom levels. "There are enormous amounts of data from sub-cellular to behavior levels that would allow preventive and personalized medicine practice and early therapeutic intervention before serious problems start," said Dhawan. "Why put the financial burden into treatment when it is hard to fight against low survival rates and maintaining good quality of life in critical diseases such as heart attack, hypertension, strokes, cancers, diabetes and more. Just put the money into preventive care."
Thanks to technology, using stem cells and regenerative medicine may not be too distant. From tissue engineering to organ implants, the technological challenge is to have the body regenerate healthy cells and tissues and accept implants for proper functions without other side effects and damages, he said. This is not the same challenge as a skin graft for cosmetic surgery to treat cancer cells. Rather such applications require tremendously complex biological systems modeling and analysis, which means that technology, must be able to exist in a clinical environment. However, that capability is fast approaching.
Surgical robotics will continue to make their mark. "Precision in invasive neural or cancer-related procedures is critical to improving prognosis and quality of life after the procedure," Dhawan noted. "Surgical robots are capable of delivering this goal."
What isn't yet available are better rehabilitation technologies and prosthetics. "It will be here soon, but we need more work in this area," Dhawan said. Life expectancies are improving worldwide but not the quality of life. "Technology must improve so we can better deal with affordable global quality healthcare, and how technology can compensate for accidental or pathological bodily damages such as loss of limbs and mobility, stroke, neuro-degenerative disease and more," he said. "There is a need for effective rehabilitation protocols to restore physical and mental health ranging from mobility to behavior functions and this need is expected to increase exponentially worldwide as people mature towards higher elderly populations, which will be more stressed and more accident-prone."
Quality global healthcare at an affordable cost is the key to a healthy society, added Dhawan. But it will not be achieved in the traditional practice of medicine today. Technological innovations with information and communication systems will take the driver's seat for providing quality healthcare across the globe. For security and health reasons, you will be asked to share information and lose privacy. And you will undergo a transformational and new relationship with your medical doctors. They will ask you to monitor your health and to learn and respect your risk assessment. In short, you will be held more accountable for maintaining your health. In exchange, however, physicians will finally be able to give you an early diagnosis so that you and they can avoid costly and far less attractive outcomes.