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The Future of Healthcare and Technology

Part 5: Evolving Medical Technology and the Future of Medicine

The examples of IoT, AI, and 5G introduced so far are only some of the technologies that are likely to be put to use in medical care. In addition to these, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to leverage VR, AR, and MR as well as robots. Let's take a look at what is needed for these technological developments, along with the challenges.

Author: Hiroaki Kato, M.D.

Dr. Kato develops surgical instruments and telemedicine services while maintaining a medical practice. In 2016, he joined the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), where he was involved in legislation and policy making as Assistant to the director in the Health Policy Bureau. Since leaving the MHLW, he has been practicing medicine and supporting the development of new businesses throughout the medical field, including co-founding an AI medical device development company. Dr. Kato is the author of several books, including Medical Care 4.0 (Nikkei BP).

The future of medical care combining VR, MR, Robots, and More

 VR allows users to experience video content as if it were real. Content that allows students to have simulated experiences of the key symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia has been developed and is used in medical training and education. MR can reproduce content in actual spaces. A MR tool has been developed to support surgical planning and communication among doctors during surgery by reproducing organs three-dimensionally in space based on CT images.

Similarly, the use of robots is gaining traction in surgical support. For example, a robot was developed that can operate an endoscope through the head movements of a surgeon fitted with a gyro sensor. While another doctor was responsible for holding the endoscope, this technology will free the hands of that doctor.

In the nursing care field, there are AI-equipped conversational robots to watch over dementia patients, and others that support mobility, such as by a caregiver wearing it or by moving beds. In addition, various other robots and devices have appeared, such as a toileting aid device that uses ultrasound to measure bladder size and direct the user to the toilet on time, and a medication support system to check if a drug was taken on schedule.

In this way, each medical instrument or device used has its own subdivided role. However, it is expected that by combining them with technologies such as IoT, AI, and 5G, single robots will be able to perform multiple roles and collaborate with medical institutions as needed. If this can be achieved, I believe that medical support by robots will gain significant traction. 

The Challenge of Identifying Issues

As we have seen, the medical field is making progress every day by using new technologies to solve problems. On the other hand, there are many situations where inefficiencies are encountered or problems occur when these systems are put into practice on the medical frontlines. In busy medical settings, there is no little time to stop and identify and solve issues. Consequently, problems tend to pile up, and may not even be shared with others. Going forward, what is really needed will be to properly identify the issues and develop new products and services to address them.

To achieve this, cooperation is essential not only among medical personnel, but also with companies that have technology, academic institutions that conduct research, and venture companies. I want us to think about the future of medicine together from our respective standpoints and collaborate on initiatives that will lead to a healthy society.

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