The coming months will mark 100 years since the peak of the 20th century’s most deadly catastrophe: Spanish Flu. Considering this, I would like to explore how IT has shaped modern medicine and may help prevent a future disastrous outbreak with technology in medicine.
Spanish flu was probably the worst catastrophe of the 20th century. Today’s estimate is that the plague killed at least 50 million people, perhaps as many as 100m. Influenza took nearly three times as many lives as World War One which was in the region of 17 million lost. Could modern technology mitigate the horrifying effects of another outbreak?
The History of Technology in Medicine
Most early applications of IT in medicine were geared towards number crunching. The emphasis was on mathematical and statistical purposes and its impact on modern medicine was minimal.
This emphasis shifted when it was realised a human can become more productive and efficient with the help of IT. Medicine became the ground for development, including systems for computer-aided history and diagnosis.
Today, IT is hugely efficient in administration and networking and shows no sign of slowing down. Just refer to our ‘The Time AI to A&E’ blog to see how far it is going.
An Example of Current Developments
There are many examples of how technology in medicine is influencing modern medicine; however, I feel it would be most beneficial to provide one in detail.
The growth of air travel means a potentially pandemic pathogen could spread around the world in days. Few countries authorities are keen on admitting travellers who might transmit disease to those already there. However, currently there are not enough precautions to monitor health.
Individuals infected may not show symptoms, an aspirin could lower body temperatures to not be caught on the infrared monitor and it is simple to lie on a questionnaire.
Dr Dirk Kuhlmeier believes he has a solution to stop airports being the gateway for infection. Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS) is already used in airports to sniff swabs taken from baggage, clothing and personal items in searches for those carrying drugs and explosives. IMS is also used medically in terms of screening a patient’s breath for lung cancer. Therefore, it makes sense for the technology in medicine to be used in both fields at once.
Dr Kuhlmeier reckoned he could extend IMS to detecting signs of respiratory bacterial infection. In theory, IMS could quickly determine illness such as TB or diphtheria from a sample of breath.
Although viruses are not exactly living things, Dr Kuhlmeier and his colleagues are also trying to extend the technology.
Therefore, this is an example of how technology influences medicine and detecting illnesses a great deal faster than 100 years ago.
If these airport trials prove the technology to be reliable, the group hope to offer the technology to hospitals and clinics for the rapid analysis of infectious diseases. This can only benefit the detection of pathogens.
The Future of Technology in Medicine
But what about the future? If there was another deadly outbreak, how could we deal with it? More importantly, how could technology aid the situation?
There is lots of information surrounding the intrusion of AI in the medical field. Even some scare blogs that Doctors may see a future decline in jobs because of emerging technologies such as Robotic Process Automation. Caution surrounding RPA and emerging technologies is also mentioned by respondents in our ‘Beyond the Cloud’ report.
The most extreme is that there may be AI nurses. If this is the case then in theory, there is no fear of contagion. Imagine AI doctors and nurses 100 years ago. There is an overwhelming amount of doom and gloom on the Internet surrounding the intrusion of IT in all fields, especially medicine and security.
However, in my opinion, emerging technology needs to be embraced. It is the 21st century and to keep up in terms of infrastructure and IT, the UK needs to be employing emerging technologies.
Although there have been some extreme examples used in this article, these are all ideas from what I have read. With new technologies there are new jobs. In terms of modern medicine and preventing contagion, I see no problem with progressing with technology in medicine to benefit the field.