Some of these ambitions, while sounding futuristic, are in fact within reach or have made it to the market already. A few years ago, Aktiia worked with Team Consulting to develop a 24/7 blood pressure monitor wearable device, that has since been used for over 30 million readings. Next generation sequencing providers, such as Oxford Nanopore Technologies, who to-date have predominantly served the scientific research community, are now increasingly investigating diagnostic and healthcare applications for their technologies. The UK’s most powerful supercomputer, Cambridge-1, was also launched by NVIDIA a couple of years ago, with the purpose of advancing healthcare by “unlocking clues to disease and treatments at a scale and speed previously impossible”.
These advancements in diagnostics and monitoring are not anomalies. According to some estimates, the global market for wearable medical devices will reach $19.4 billion USD by 2029, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 16.4% from 2022. Similarly, the molecular diagnostics market is estimated to be worth $30.2 billion in terms of revenue by 2027, up from $23.2 billion in 2022.
Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking these advancements sound too good to be true and are mere ‘wishful thinking’. We must also consider that there could be unintended consequences from each of these technological advances. These advances could rapidly repaint our image of a utopian future of diagnostics into a dystopian one. For example:
- Getting rapid diagnostic capabilities to the masses could mean far more efficient treatment for everyone. However, could it also mean a lot of diagnosis for diagnosis’ sake, creating a population of the ‘worried well’?
- Will ‘big data’ unlock whole new strategies for prevention and treatment? Or will data breaches create a privacy nightmare, or worse, place great new powers into the hands of oppressive regimes?
- Can we expect truly personalised medicine or just selective medicine? Will limited access to expensive genetics screening further exacerbate the inequalities in our societies?
- Could machine learning and AI mean we no longer need to rely on fallible humans? Or will the systems we create be just as, or possibly even more, biased than us?
So, what will the future of diagnostics look like, a utopia or dystopia? Of course, much like the nature vs nurture debate, this is not an either/or situation at all – the answer is somewhere in between. The good news is that we have control over which end of the spectrum we move towards.