During a holiday, I visited a nearly 500-year-old pharmacy – located in Kolozsvár, Transylvania. This facility today is a museum and gives us a glimpse what healing meant in those days. Medication covered in gold leaves, powders and substances of unknown origin (to us), oddly shaped glass vessels, laboratory instruments, old pharmacy furniture, recipes of long-forgotten drugs, medieval officinal stamps – everything that was used daily. Alchemistry was closely related to pharmacology, no wonder that the periodical table of alchemist’s elements was on display. It felt strange and chilling at the same time to witness a glimpse of this history.

Let’s fast forward from our days 50 years into the future. AR and VR technology is commonly used to visualize internal organs, to make a better diagnosis. Imaging technologies yet to be developed offer a colorful 3D scan of our body, composed layer by layer, so every tissue and bone could be examined rigorously. Personal medical data is gathered with the help of built-in implants; data is uploaded every second into the cloud. If data readings forecast a possible emergency, the patient is directed to the nearest medical robot, where urgent care is provided.

Medical students are learning in full virtual environments, where emergency situations, rare and contagious illnesses are experienced first-hand. Doctors are using a myriad of IT tools and analyzing the daily personal health data of the patient, providing lightning-fast analytics. Surgery is performed every day in remote villages – with the help of telerobots installed virtually in every place where humans live. Healthcare professionals have enough time to focus on challenging cases.

Nurses are partially replaced by artificial intelligence systems, which fill out the necessary paperwork, order supplies and churn out data upon request. They can focus on the human side of caring, interacting more with patients, spending quality time with them.

This digital transformation is happening now. Technology is coming, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to be prepared, to embrace best practices, and to build in proved technologies into our daily praxis. Doctors are becoming skilled IT professionals to serve better their patients living in the digital world. Doctors must become IT professionals to understand what technologies can be easily integrated, what areas are more likely to become automated and where the human touch is needed.

Not just the medical profession, medical education is also changed by IT. A school in the US is providing specialized training, using engineering principles to the teaching of medicine, bringing analytics and problem-based learning to every aspect of the curriculum. Rather than going to medical school to learn about the human cardiovascular system and engineering school to learn about fluid dynamics, here students will learn about both at once. Every course will have three instructors, to cover the biological science, clinical applications, and engineering aspects of the topic. So to make the leap from passive IT technology consumers to active enablers of the change.

Author: Laszlo Varga