We’d all like to be able to predict the future, but some long-range forecasts are a matter of life and death.
Imagine your doctor could predict that you’re going to have a fatal heart attack five years before it strikes. Or suppose they could, in just 30 seconds, spot that you’re at risk of irreversible blindness long before the tell-tale signs of diabetic retinopathy emerge.
These are crystal balls of incalculable value. If we can predict the surprises that await us tomorrow, we can take steps to prevent them from hurting us today. Incredibly, the innovations to help us see into the future are no longer steeped in science fiction. This isn’t Westworld; it’s the real world. And thanks to artificial intelligence and pervasive technology, the futuristic machinery of predictive health readily exists. It’s time we made the most of it.
The tools of prediction are all around us. We are all too aware how technology can predict the boxsets we’ll watch, the content we’ll read and the products we’ll purchase. Predictive analytics is everywhere, helping diverse industries identify profitable segments, forecast behaviors and remodel experiences. However, its application in health has the potential to become the most transformative of all.
Of course, some people may feel nervous about giving their personal data to health organizations or doctors. That’s entirely understandable. The concept is not dissimilar to the vast amounts of data we already share through everyday apps. However, the difference in health, where companies are bound by strict privacy regulations, is pronounced: sharing data could save our life.
It’s not surprising then that predictive technology is the new battleground for global health. As data science makes it easier to identify people at risk of disease, healthcare AI is surging. Deep learning techniques are helping doctors spot the early signs of Alzheimer’s, eye disease and major cancers. And they’re accelerating the detection of advanced kidney injuries that lead to transplantation or death. Alongside them, emerging med tech is preventing diseases from happening in the first place. Nanobots are unblocking coronary ventricles in at-risk patients so heart attacks can’t occur. And nanotechnology is destroying pre-cancerous cells in people with a genetic predisposition to cancer.
These developments and many more like them are finally helping us deliver on the promise that prevention is better (and cheaper) than a cure. Until now, our health services have been set up to treat disease rather than avert it. But technology is rewriting the rules. Predictive innovation is laying the foundation for proactive health management and personalized prevention, and it’s creating a new frontier for healthcare.
However, technology alone won’t solve all our problems. If we’re to get to the disease before the disease gets to us, creative communications will be key. Innovation—no matter how good—doesn’t find its users by accident. We can’t just build it and hope that they will come; we need to signpost tomorrow’s world.
For proof that change is afoot, look no further than the current resurgence in measles, a regression largely propelled by misinformation about vaccinations and lapsed engagement because we thought the battle was won.
Everyone remembers the “Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign that transformed attitudes, behaviors and, ultimately, outcomes around HIV and AIDS. Today, campaigns like Royce Lingerie’s work to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and Movember for men’s cancers and mental health are saving lives, too. UNICEF’s 30-year campaign to eradicate polio in children has helped reduce the number of global cases by 99% and is on track to make Africa a polio-free region by 2020. Creative communications is also a key part of solutions to tackle the mental health epidemic. These examples underline the point: Communication is as much a factor in preventing disease as it is in helping to cure it.
So if we’re going to make the most of predictive tech and reap the human and economic benefits of more proactive approaches to health, we must harness the power of creativity. As technology forges a new battleground for healthcare, the innovations that shape tomorrow will depend on brilliant communications to nudge us in the right direction. In a world of surprises, that’s the safest prediction of all.