To doctors and nurses working 75 years ago, when the UK’s National Health Service was founded, a modern service would be completely unrecognizable. Fast forward to the future, and hospitals will likely look very different again. These are some of the changes you are likely to see in the years to come.
Fully autonomous surgical robots
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are developing a surgical robot capable of performing operations completely autonomously. The robot is equipped with 3D vision and a machine learning algorithm that allows it to plan and adapt during surgery. Last year, the robot, called Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, performed a laparoscopic procedure on porcine tissue models by successfully suturing the ends of a pig’s intestine.
Smart toilets to monitor and detect diseases
In March 2023, smart home company Withings announced the U-Scan, a 90mm pebble-shaped urinalysis device that can be attached to a toilet bowl, from where it monitors biomarkers in urine such as ketone and vitamin C levels. The device, which lasts three months between charges, can also track women’s monthly hormonal fluctuations by measuring luteinizing hormone levels and pH.
Virtual reality therapy
In a study published in the medical journal The Lancet, researchers from the University of Oxford and health technology company Oxford VR found that VR therapy was more effective than standard therapy in reducing symptoms in agoraphobic patients. The therapy, called gameChange, places patients in a simulated environment, such as a cafe or a bus, and is now being used at Greater Manchester Mental Health Foundation Trust.
3D printed organs
Last February, a woman in San Antonio, Texas received a 3D-printed right outer ear implant. The ear was made from cartilage cells taken from his left ear, which were then multiplied into billions of copies, and ultimately produced by 3DBio Therapeutics’ GMPrint bioprinter. It was the first implant of its kind, but a number of labs around the world have also successfully 3D printed skin, bones and mini-organs.
A team of Australian and Iraqi engineers have developed a monitor capable of measuring a patient’s blood pressure without contact. The device first films the patient at close range for ten seconds, then analyzes the video using an image processing algorithm capable of extracting vital health signals from two regions of the forehead. The same team also developed similar non-contact monitors for temperature and oxygen saturation.
More than half a million physicians already use voice recognition software to quickly navigate operating systems and access patient records. In March 2023, Nuance, a Microsoft-owned speech recognition company, released an updated version of the software that allows medical staff to automatically generate clinical notes during a patient’s appointment. The software, called DAX Express, uses ambient AI and OpenAI’s GPT-4.
Portable MRI scanners
Healthcare technology company Hyperfine makes the Swoop, a portable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. The Swoop can be carried into a patient’s room, plugged into a standard wall outlet, and used to perform a brain scan in about 30 seconds. The scanner uses magnetic fields 25 times weaker than conventional MRI scanners, so the results are lower resolution, but with a price tag of $250,000, it’s also six times cheaper than a full-size machine.
A knife that “smells” tumors
Smart surgical instruments, such as the iKnife, can detect diseases such as cancers in seconds. The device combines an electrosurgical blade with a mass spectrometer and was developed by researchers at Imperial College London. It works by delivering an electric current to the biopsy tissue and chemically analyzing the smoke that emanates from it. In a recent study, the iKnife achieved an 89% diagnostic accuracy for uterine cancer.
This article appears in the July/August 2023 issue of WIRED UK magazine.