In the majority of writing on Convergence in Healthcare, authors focus on what the groundbreaking approach could do for medicine as a whole. Industry experts speculate on the innovative effects of the fresh information and new technologies that can result from the widespread application of Convergence in Healthcare. This integrative research model relies on the combined power of the life sciences, physical sciences, chemistry, mathematics, engineering and computing sectors.
While a look at the broad implications of Convergence in Healthcare is important, an equally valuable perspective to consider is the benefits it may hold specifically for future generations of patients. There are many ways scientists believe the patient experience could be changed through convergent research, but the following three examples stand out as some of the most valuable.
Higher levels of control and involvement in personal healthcare.
Since the early 2000s, the entirety of the healthcare sector has debated the costs and benefits of empowering patients and engaging them more fully in their own healthcare. One of the primary suggestions for doing this is to provide patients with full access and control over their personal medical data. Experts believe control over personal health data would decrease the rate of medical errors stemming from a lack of comprehensive information about a patient’s health history. It would also make it easier to transfer files and other critical health information between medical offices and specialists.
The convergence of the life sciences, engineering and technology sectors has led to the creation of a number of personal health devices and smartphone applications to meet this exact need. Some of the most prominent examples from the last year include wearables such as the Apple Watch Series 4, capable of collecting data on a person’s heart rhythm via electrocardiogram technology. In addition, hospitals have begun to widely integrate the Apple Health Records app with their systems, allowing patients at participating hospitals to view, store and transfer a wide range of health records. Information in the Health Records app includes data on allergies, clinical vitals, immunizations, lab results, conditions, medications and procedures.
Wider availability of personalized medicine.
Throughout the history of medicine, physicians have sought to treat patients through universal practices accepted to be the standard or “best practice” for a particular disease or condition. Often, any available alternative treatments are considered by physicians only after the standard treatments failed. In the best case scenario, ineffective treatments allow a patient’s illness to progress or worsen. In the worst case, they can cause strong, negative side effects that further complicate and imperil the patient’s condition.
With the growth of Convergence in Healthcare, scientists are addressing this issue through precision medicine, which focuses on creating a personalized approach to each patient’s health based on medical history, genetic makeup and test results. Precision medicine is being explored in a number of medical specialties, but one of the most exciting is how scientists hope to use it in the treatment of cancer. Cancer immunotherapy is an especially promising area that focuses on leveraging the power of the patient’s immune system to fight off disease. By tailoring immunotherapies to each person’s own immune system, scientists are hoping to use precision medicine to reconfigure each patient’s natural immune response to allow the body to recognize and attack cancer cells.
Increased access to quality, affordable healthcare.
The sharply increasing cost of healthcare and the growing health needs of the American people are two of the most pressing challenges in our country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of American adults live with a chronic health condition. Of the $2.7 trillion annual cost of healthcare in the US, 86 percent is spent on people with either mental or chronic health conditions. Experts contend that healthcare costs at their current rate could bankrupt the country within the next three decades. These facts speak nothing of the situation many lower-income families are trapped in; they are often unable to afford the cost of medical care, or rendered bankrupt by it.
A growing group of academics from the country’s leading research institutions believe Convergence in Healthcare is one of the country’s strongest tools to address this crisis. The primary way the movement stands to reduce the cost of healthcare is by encouraging innovation. Current research methods are not capable of creating knowledge and innovations fast enough to keep up with the growing demands of the healthcare sector. For example, new ideas are urgently needed to make diagnostic tests more affordable, create more cost-effective disease treatments and more fully illuminate the connection between lifestyle and chronic illness. Advances made through convergent research in these areas include paper-based urine tests for cancer, novel imaging techniques for more comprehensive study of brain function and nanotechnology-based cancer treatments relying on combination therapies.