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The future of medicine: Patches, drones and AR

We concoct a fictional story about the future of medicine. But is it really too far-fetched? Those of you into sci-fi have a read and let us know your thoughts about our little attempt at the art form.

Prashant’s phone was ringing. He didn’t need to look at the corner of the AR display in front of him to know that it was his mom – it was about time for her to call anyway.

“Did you eat your lunch, son?”

“Yes, mom. How’s dad doing?” They had just started him on CloudPan, an artificial smart pancreatic sticker from Biothica.

“I won’t say he is exactly happy. But you don’t worry about that beta, I’ll take care of him”

“No mom, that’s not how this works. Give the phone to him”

Prashant’s dad didn’t like the idea of these stickers. But then he didn’t like the automated insulin drip either and that’s what got him in the shape he was in right now. It wasn’t optional for him to like this or not.

“Hello”

“Hello, Dad. Mom was mentioning you aren’t exactly fond of the stickers?”

“Of course beta. Now, who is fond of medicine? You tell me.”

“They prescribe it for a reason you know. Not for likeability. If your opinion on whether you should take a medicine or not mattered to your health, you would be the healthiest man on the planet right now. But it doesn’t.”

“I know, I know, where am I saying I won’t take it?”

“But that’s what you’re going to do. That’s what you’ve done with the insulin injections, then the inhaler tablets, then the automated drip and now it’s going to be this. But not on my watch. You live under my roof now and if necessary I’ll make you use it myself.”

“There won’t be any need for that beta. Don’t worry.”

“Great. Now get some rest. We have to go for the checkup today”

“Okay. See you later”

Prashant was already on the Biothica website before the call had ended. Not many people knew about this technology so it was still available quite easily. But as more and more people were seeing the advantages of bio-stickers compared to automated drips, their demand was gradually rising. The ease of use was also another factor. Compared to the servicing that was required on the automated drips, with its sensor array and bio-printed capillaries, the stickers were like….well, stickers. He double checked the appointment time – 7pm. Four more hours.

Future of medicine
Smart patches are a strong candidate for the future of medicine delivery Source: NewAtlas

He looked at the watch. 6:45pm. They were probably already there, waiting for him to arrive to get things started. This was usually the earliest the doctor was available, and Prashant has made sure that they got the first appointment. Walking up the slope to the clinic door, he felt a slight creak on his right knee. His own foot needed looking into. It was replaced after an unfortunate accident a few years ago on the expressway, and it has been a while since it has been due for an upgrade to a bioprinted alternative. But right now, bioprinted limbs didn’t come cheap and his dad’s health was priority.

He spotted his dad dozing at the reception as he was signing his name at the entrance. There were a few things that us humans aren’t in a hurry to cure, and dozing at receptions was one of them. Even though there’s was the first appointment, some others were already there. Virtual presence markers indicated that the queue was full for the day.

“Number 101, please proceed to room 3C.” That was their call.

Future of medicine

The OPD section looked fairly similar to the ones of years gone by, albeit with a couple of bionic limbs and partial exoskeletons here and there. Since the advent of bioprinted organs, there has been a rapid visible decline in external medical augmentations like exoskeletons and bionic limbs. The new thing was almost as good as natural and apparently lasted for ages – without needing maintenance. As long as the long term costs were down, people like him would be thankful for any medico-technical advancement that came their way. Even though bioprinted organs weren’t there exactly, the dropping prices indicated that they would be there soon, just like exoskeletons and bionic limbs before them.

“Welcome, Mr. Gupta. How have you been?” The doctor addressed his father while simultaneously bringing up his case data on the wall to their left. It was a rhetorical question as she could see exactly how he has been since their last visit, thanks to the pre-authenticated network connections between her terminal and his father’s identifier chip. The faint green glow behind his ear indicated the same.

“He’s been getting irritated about the CloudPan stickers.” Prashant told Dr. Anindita, knowing quite well that his father would say anything to get this over with as soon as possible.

“Ohho Mr. Gupta, don’t you remember what happened when you stopped activating the automated drip because you didn’t like it? It is only going to mess with your own sugar levels and that is not something we want to happen, right? Right now, the stickers are the best, state-of-the-art medical technology when it comes to diabetes. Sure, it is not as great as the 3D printed internal organ replacements that are being tried abroad, but those things are still dicey anyway, if you ask me. Moreover, this method is unintrusive, and it doesn’t even require you to do anything except changing the sticker every couple of days when it changes colour. Technology is here to help you, not to hurt you. I’ll give you an example”

She tapped a few buttons on her screen and the entire setup changed to throw up a hologram of Mr. Gupta at the centre of the room. The hologram showed a complete biological assessment of his body.

Future of medicine
Medical holograms are already helping doctors greatly

“This is you, right now. With a few swipes, like this, I can check information that would have required me to wait for at least a few days even 5 years ago – your lipid profile, sugar levels, even orthopaedic and neural data is accessible. I am sure you remember the time when lives were lost because reports were delayed. It is because of technology that we are beyond that right now.”, Dr. Anindita said while signing off on renewals for the patches on the screen before her, which would get them delivered by drones by the time they reach home.

She was right. Prashant remembered his final year project on the evolution of wearables. Once the initial hype about the wrist had died down, companies had focussed on more important and efficient zones like the ear, the chest leading to discrete, accurate wearable devices that ensured the category’s survival. Heck, even smartwatches and fitness trackers survived once the ability to set dynamic, person-specific goals were added to them. Medical education itself was changed over the years to incorporate more technology specific knowledge to doctors.

“Back in my day, we had to put some effort into taking our medicine – remembering timings, dosage and all those things. It’s just making us lazy”, complained his dad, gazing at the now receding hologram with an air of suspicion.

“Correction, Mr. Gupta. Now, even the lazy ones among us can’t escape healthcare.”, a smiling Dr. Anindita slid a marker on her desk, indicating that the next patient could be brought in and that this session was over. As they got up to leave, the door slid open and the next patient glided in on a hoverchair. The lady was easily 6+ months pregnant, as indicated by both the bulge and the pregnancy wellness tracker on her belly.

On their way out of the clinic, Prashant swiped his hand over the payment terminal for the doctor’s fee. As they boarded the cab, the display up front, along with the map, was also showing the notification that the stickers would be delivered in about 23 minutes. Looking at his dad next to him, he wondered if his inherent distrust of today’s technology would ever be cured. Not everything had a cure… yet.

This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee

A former tech-support desk jockey, you can find this individual delving deep into all things tech, fiction and food. Calling his sense of humour merely terrible would be a much better joke than what he usually makes.