It can be easy to let the contentious question of who will pay for healthcare in our society distract from questions of what it will pay for. Trends consultancy PSFK shares its vision of where technology will soon take medicine.
The firm, which describes itself as a "trends and innovation company", has released its substantial "Future of Health" report, which details 15 trends it believes will define the near future of healthcare, both at home and in the third world. A common theme throughout is the decentralisation of care, putting tools for both diagnosis and treatment in the hands of patients and laymen, rather than doctors. PSFK reasons that the proliferation of cheap electronics will soon herald an era of the empowered ill, who can take more responsibility for themselves, rich or poor.
One of the most prominent predictions in the report is the rise of "SMS Consultation". PSFK explains that even the cheapest mobile phone has enough basic functionality to both send and receive information with a healthcare provider via text. This means sparing yourself a trip to the doctor (and a day away from work), or being able to reach one if there isn't a clinic nearby. The report cites programs in both Africa and San Francisco that are working to get people texting with their doc.
Of similar interest is the trend they identify as the "Handheld Hospital" - using simple hardware to accomplish a "good enough" approximation of sophisticated medical tech. This concept doesn't aim to replace the resources of a hospital, but rather to supplement in the field. This means outfitting a camera phone lens with a microscope, detecting cancer cells with a consumer digital camera and diagnosing pneumonia with mobile phone software.
The report also suggests that the continued innovation seen in data visualisation will make handling vast quantities of medical information more manageable. Applications such as the Bant iPhone app that tracks glucose levels and GE's Healthymagination map of healthcare problem areas illustrate the importance of being able to see medical issues before acting on them.
The rest of the report is available for free at PSFK, along with a lengthy response from leading advertising and design agencies. [PSFK]