Envisioning medical technology and the future of healthcare

In reviewing the ambitious graphic from Envisioning Technology, I find this overview of technology interesting for its attempt to capture a wide range of technologies and represent them visually, grouping current and future technologies into these six categories:

  • Augmentation
  • Regeneration
  • Diagnostics
  • Telemedicine
  • Biogerontology
  • Treatments

While the graphic’s details encompass a good range of important technologies that will sooner or later impact healthcare, the graphic has several key problems. First, there are a few errant placements (too early or too late) of technology. This of course may simply ensue from subjectivity, which one of the principals behind the graphic, Michell Zappa, acknowledges (“actual forecast of when certain technologies are likely to reach maturity [or the] mainstream is very subjective”).

Second, the segmentation of technologies by the six categories above artificially separates groupings of technologies that naturally belong together. For example, biogerontology is wholly and intrinsically linked with regeneration. Treatments and regeneration are too close to be considered distinct.  Telemedicine and diagnostics are initially one and the same, with emerging technologies expanding on the therapeutic aspect of telemedicine (e.g., remote surgery, remote inteventional medicine, and other telepresence capabilities).

Of course, all systems of categorization are at their root a simplified representation of a complex system for the purpose of identifying discrete sets of elements with common characteristics.  Also, the old adage is true that, “All forecasts are wrong; some forecasts are more wrong than others”.

What I fundamentally appreciate about this type of visualization is its attempt to reflect in some form — especially in capturing a macro view that understands both trees and forests — the relatedness, interconnectivity and otherwise dynamic interactions between elements that are otherwise seen disparately. The macro view captures chronology, sequential progression, functional associations and similar.

Therefore, the only limitations I see to these representations are the conceptual macro ideas that are intended to be represented and this is not stated or obvious in the Envisioning Technology graphic.  In other words, what understanding is being portrayed by segmenting technology by the categories of Augmentation, Regeneration, etc.?  Moreover, the implicit assumption that “now” is at the center of the graphic misses a fundamental tenet of medical technology development.

Let me elaborate.  Like a family tree, a representation of Now at the center reflects a view that, as we expanding radially outward, we are encountering an ever-widening circle in which there is continued proliferation and differentiation of elements (children, grandchildren, etc.).  However, one of the fundamental aspects of current and emerging medical technology development that makes it so stunning is the convergence of technology as medical science gains the ability to both comprehend systems more as a whole than disparate parts (cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, etc.) and intervene more comprehensively with therapeutic solutions that, minimally, do not produce collateral damage on adjacent systems and, optimally, leverage the body’s comprehensive physiology in recovering from disease and trauma.

Therefore, a more cogent argument can be made that, for a variety of reasons, including the convergence of multiple scientific disciplines, the financial limitations of healthcare expenditure and others, the center of the graphic ought to perhaps be the future, with trends and developments being driven toward a smaller number of more comprehensive healthcare solutions.