Illustration by George Folz, © 2019 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
Technology has played an integral role in the evolution of modern healthcare, from the development of the first vaccine in 1796 to investigating 3D-printed organs today.1,2 In recent years, technological advances seem to be accelerating at an exponential rate.3 Ray Kurzweil, a famous inventor and author, proposed the idea that technological advances extend beyond the mere invention of tools but, in fact, each technological advancement builds upon previous innovations to create an even more powerful technology. The end result is constant acceleration in the speed of innovations. Kurzweil predicts that, in the 21st century, we will see approximately 20,000 years’ worth of progress in only 100 years.4 This phenomenon is easily illustrated through the evolution of the phone. The first telephone, invented in the late 1800s, required a human to operate a switchboard. Nearly a century later, over 5 billion people have a mobile phone, drastically increasing connectivity throughout the world.5
New technological developments will likely impact healthcare in ways that are beyond our imaginations. If past is prologue, as the saying goes, what we can be sure of is that these advances will disrupt traditional ways of delivering care. Changes in technology require various professions and specialties to adapt and expand services or pivot to another focus. Just as the industrial revolution displaced many workers, it is predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) will impact nearly every job on the planet. Approximately 25% of US jobs will face high automation exposure, with 70% of current tasks at risk for substitution.6 Historically, for example, skin cancer has been visually diagnosed by a dermatologist. Now, a technology called deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs), a form of AI called machine learning, is emerging as perhaps a more precise and accurate approach.7–10 That said, it would be inaccurate to paint a picture of the future of healthcare as all doom and gloom. Just as the industrial revolution created many jobs to augment mechanized manufacturing, the same may very well be true regarding modern automation and AI.
The latest generation of new technologies is expected to produce many innovations that will be integrated into healthcare. Healthcare has entered an era where the amount of data being produced is outpacing our ability to analyze or interpret it. As the complexity and amount of data available within the healthcare system continues to increase, the need and role for AI is becoming increasingly clearer. AI has the potential to enhance the delivery of healthcare through improved diagnoses, treatment recommendations, medication adherence, and streamlined, more efficient administrative activities.11
Machine learning, one of the most prevalent forms of AI, is most commonly applied to a healthcare field called precision medicine, which is defined as using an individual’s specific ...