Hippocrates, as Dr. Ogan Gurel pointed out at the Grand Hyatt in Seoul at the March 17 “What's Next” seminar put on by the Korea Business Leaders Alliance (KBLA), said that prognosis was the greatest of the medical arts. Today's western medical profession, in contrast, focuses on diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Gurel, a director in the Open Innovation Group at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, gave a presentation to the assembled members of the KBLA highlighting some of the changes in medicine and technology that will soon make it possible for western medicine to re-focus on prognosis.
The first point that Dr. Gurel made was that most advances in medical technology have been incremental in nature since at best the 80s. X-rays are still x-rays these days, and drugs are still drugs. The advances in medicine have been making new drugs, sharper X-rays, and not in creating completely new ways to diagnose and treat the body. And he also pointed out that while the amount of money devoted to research and development of new drugs and better x-ray machines increases every year, the returns continue to decrease. He pointed out that such a trend indicates that the medical field is reaching the end of the usefulness of these lines of pursuit.
But rather than ending the presentation on such a depressing note, Ogan continued, and outlined possible steps that the medical profession could take to engender a revolution in the way it approaches disease and unhealthiness in general. One of the most promising, but also most controversial, was the idea of the move from explicit to implicit logic in the way medicine interacts with disease. Dr. Gurel pointed out that while doctor-patient confidentiality is a “sacred cow” of western medical practices, if it were to be challenged in favor of Big Data processing of medical information, incredibly accurate medical trends could be identified in populations. With the installation of a sufficient number of monitoring devices a la the Internet of Things, and the centralization and analysis of this data in methods similar to market trend analysis, doctors could be aware of a patient's medical future even before the patient is. A doctor backed up by sufficient data could accurately predict his patient's next heart attack, when they will become diabetic, or even when they will reach the end of their life.
Then, armed with that data, healthcare professionals could begin to engage in comprehensive, population-wide preventative medicine. The current medical paradigm of reacting to something bad that has already happened to the patient, diagnosing and curing it, could instead turn into accurate prediction of a patient's future health line, with therapeutic and preventative medicine focused on avoiding disease becoming the norm.
The legal, ethical, psychological, and practical challenges involved in bringing about this possible medical revolution are daunting, of course. But Dr. Gurel thinks it would be worth it.