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Medicine and health care will be transformed in the Shift Age. The New Health Age has just begun, in which humanity has entered a new age of health just as we enter the Shift Age. In this chapter we look at the fundamental changes about to occur and the medical miracles that are around the corner in this New Health Age.
In the book The New Health Age: The Future of Health Care in America, published in early 2012, my co-author Jonathan Fleece and I wrote about this new age of health and medicine with an orientation to the United States. The analysis we made in that book and the research that we did for is so current and accurate still today, so I feel it’s important to reiterate the developed thinking from that book. While the United States is at the beginning of an entirely new stage in health care thinking, delivery and economic models, there is much global consistency to the fundamentals of the New Health Age.
Health care and medicine are relatively recent in the 150,000 year time span of modern humanity. The first mention of either was in 4500 B.C. in ancient Babylonia. Modern medicine is only about 150 years old since the discovery of germs. Today in 2012, we stand on a threshold of a new age in medicine and health care.
Medical Miracles around the Corner
As discussed in earlier chapters that examined the merging of biology and technology and technological advances, new technologies are coming to the marketplace that are and will affect medicine. In addition there are social forces and infrastructure developments that will also affect great change. Here is a list of what will change the face of medicine, just in the current Transformation Decade:.
- Human life span on the rise—Life expectancy in the developed countries of the world increased by 50 percent the twentieth century. People born in 1900 had an average life expectancy of 50 years at birth. By 2000, that average had increased to 75 years. This increase was more than that of the 3,000 years prior. Numerous medical thinkers, researchers and scientists think there might be that same percentage increase in the next 15 years! This means that someone born in a developed country in 2025 could have a life expectancy of 100 years or more This means that many of the children of the Shift Age Generations will be alive into the 22nd century. There is a small but growing group of scientists and thinkers that look at aging as something that can be cured. Think about that: aging as a treatable condition!
- Low-cost genetic mapping—It took more than $300 million dollars over 13 years to fully map the human genome by 2003. By the year 2015 of not sooner, it’s highly probable that any individual will be able to have their entire genetic map done for $1,000 or less. This will transform health care. Think about being a 25 year old woman in 2015 whose genetic map shows the reality of early onset of Alzheimer’s. What would she do? She would go into active disease prevention mode to do whatever might lower the risk of her developing it. Genetic mapping will allow us to use preventive measures to manage our own genetics The knowledge that we have a genetic disposition for a disease or condition can be known in advance and can therefore be anticipated and perhaps treated.
- DNA pharmaceuticals—Instead of using the current lowest common denominator drugs of today with all their long list of side effects and with sometimes iffy treatment results, we will begin to develop and use specific, targeted and personalized pharmaceuticals. In other words, drugs become personal, targeted to our specific conditions and illnesses, which will result in fewer side effects.
- Bionics—As discussed in both the Biology and Technology context and the technology chapter, bionics are here and will rapidly grow in complexity with ever more integration into our neurological systems. In this New Health Age, for the first time in history, many of our replacement parts will be superior to those that we were born with.
- Robotics—Robotics will impact medicine and health care in three ways. First they will allow for technical life improvement with such things as exoskeletons for paraplegics and quadriplegics. Second, they will greatly expand surgical capabilities by providing greater exactness and ever more microscopic precision than the human hand. Third, they will help to lower health care costs for the aged, by providing assistance and monitoring in the home.
- Tissue regeneration—Currently in laboratories around the world there has been significant success and progress in the regeneration of human tissue. Scientists have successfully regenerated fingers and such internal organs as bladders. Think about the true probability of having your heart regenerated if you know from you genetic map that you have a high genetic risk of heart disease. You will have a replacement heart ready. These early successes will spread in scope and degree.
- Human cloning—In the last two decades humans have successfully cloned animals. These breakthroughs combined with tissue regeneration point to the real possibility of cloning humans in the next decade. This leads to the discussion about the definition of life. What if your loved one is dying? Might you not want to clone him so that you could continue a life with him? Would he still be himself? It also will confront us with the moral dilemma of what to do with the failed efforts along the way. Cloning may never become socially, morally or legally acceptable but the science will be successfully developed.
- Creation of artificial life—As discussed in Chapter 13 about the merging of biology with technology c this one is a science just beginning and with great implications for health care and society. We might well soon have ways to generate life as yet unknown in 2012. This of course will raise huge moral issues.
- Socially engineered health—This is taking our knowledge of health and embed it into our education, culture, habits and infrastructures. Think about the fact that we all know that walking is good for us but that there are suburban communities that have no sidewalks. In the Shift Age, when we are retrofitting the 20th century and creating smart cities, humanity will design its new landscape with the intention of maximizing health.
- Connectivity—Increasingly the global health care systems will use connectivity to bring efficiency and lower costs. In 2012, less than 30% of all medical records are digital or electronic. Compare that with any other industry. In 2012 we all regularly go on-line to research major purchases before making them. That is something we cannot do with the non-connected, opaque health care system. When was the last time you could compare price and performance about a car on-line? Perhaps yesterday. Are you able to do that for a hip replacement surgery? Not today. Simply put, all the connectivity we expect in the rest of the economy is coming soon to health care. Rather than going into the doctor’s office when not feeling well, you can dial into the office via a video Skype –type service to interact with a health care professional. This would be after taking your own various vital signs with your mobile devices. Then in the Era of Big Data discussed in Part Three and Chapter 13 your personal data would be compared to all the people who had the same symptoms in the prior year. So the technical and connective world will more fully enter the world of medicine and health care.
A general way to look at these coming medical miracles is to realize that it is very important, particularly to people over 40 reading this book, to stay as healthy as possible until 2025. By 2025 I forecast that there will so many new ‘miracles’ in medicine that the possibility of living decades longer will become a reality for many.