How Technology Will Shape Tomorrow’s Health Care Jobs
Imagine being at home, perhaps getting ready to sit down at the dinner table, when you receive a phone call from your doctor’s office. Your blood pressure is high, the voice on the other end of the line tells you, and your breathing patterns and stress levels look worrisome. You might be at immediate risk for a heart attack — can you come into the office right away for an evaluation?
It sounds like Big Brother, albeit a more benevolent version than George Orwell’s. Still, this close monitoring of health indicators is exactly where many believe the health care industry is heading. Wearable devices are already gathering more and more users’ personal health data around the clock, and gadgets to hit shelves in the near future will collect even more. Using all of that data in the service of health care is simply the next step.
“The way communication is moving, it’s quite foreseeable in the near future that your health care providers will have all that data you’re collecting on yourself in real time every day,” Dr. Richard Biehl of UCF says, “and will reach out to you when the data shows a potential problem. Rather than going to the doctor when you have symptoms, you’ll be pulled into the doctor by your data.”
Using wearable device-gathered data to treat patients is just one example of a technology-driven shift toward “the use of information to predict rather than react,” Dr. Biehl says. As that shift transforms the industry’s approach to patient care, we’ll also see a shift in the type of health care jobs needed.
The good news? Dr. Biehl believes that technology will create more health care jobs, not fewer. They may just look slightly different from the health care jobs we’re used to imagining: less direct patient care and more data.
What can an aspiring health care professional do to prepare for tomorrow’s career landscape? The first step is understanding the technologies poised to bring big changes to the industry and the kinds of career opportunities they’ll create.
Virtual reality is generating a lot of buzz about its potential to change the way we consume entertainment, but it also has many medical applications. VR has been used to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, help stroke patients recover faster, and let children in the hospital visit their families at home. Perhaps its most popular health care application is as an educational and training tool for medical providers, as an intermediate step between textbooks and real-life patient interaction.
As the VR industry expands, we’ll likely see more career opportunities for people with a medical background and interest in virtual games. Many medical VR companies, including Kognito and OssoVR, have been founded by doctors or people with medical training.
In the last several years, huge strides have been made in the development of robotic exoskeletons, which show an exciting promise to transform the quality of life for patients with paralysis, spinal cord injuries and disabilities. The industry is growing rapidly: According to industry analyst Dan Kara, “An entire wearable robotics industry, today comprising around 40 research and development groups worldwide, is coalescing that should become a $2 billion global market by 2025.”
Eventually, these exoskeletons may change the nature of physical therapy work and the demand for physical therapists; however, there will be opportunities to get involved in the development of robotic exoskeletons at companies such as suitX and Ekso Bionics.
Robotics and AI
Robotics and artificial intelligence platforms are playing an increasingly larger role in complex medical procedures. The da Vinci Surgical System, for example, is controlled by a surgeon and allows for greater precision in medical procedures such as prostate surgery and cardiac valve repair.
Another AI system from a startup called Enlitic analyzes CT scans and X-rays with greater accuracy than human radiologists. In fact, it’s 50 percent better at classifying malignant tumors.
That may be alarming for aspiring radiologists, but the next decade will see more health care jobs related to managing AI platforms, such as health care systems engineers. Health care systems engineering involves overseeing all of the moving parts of our health care system, using data to ensure greater efficiency and the best use of resources. According to Dr. Biehl, it’s one of the careers that will see major growth as technology reshapes health care.
In 2012, scientists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered a natural system called CRISPR that enables precise changes to DNA. The technology is currently being studied in trials around the world as a treatment for leukemia, cancer, HIV, hemophilia, and many more conditions and diseases. Multiple biotech startups are working on bringing CRISPR technology to the public, and other gene-editing techniques are being explored as well.
A health care job in this field is different from what many of us typically imagine, but the proliferation of CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies will create plenty of careers that involve studying genetic data and managing these platforms.
With the advent of genome editing, AI platforms and other technologies, Dr. Biehl believes that data-oriented health care jobs will become much more common in the coming years as technology plays an increasingly bigger role in health care. He’s confident that technology ultimately means more jobs — but different ones. “[The field] won’t grow linearly with the job profiles we have today — the kind of people sitting in care centers,” Dr. Biehl says. “The doctor’s office won’t be the kind of place where patients are; it will be the kind where people sit around at consoles watching the data.”
Health care training still counts, though. In a scenario in which someone is tracking your wearable device-gathered data and reaching out to you when there’s a problem, “It better not be somebody who has no health care skill at all. Ideally, [it’s] a reputable health provider whom you trust and have a relationship with,” Biehl says.
If your goal is to work with patients directly, you’ll still find opportunities to do just that. But if you want a health care job that puts you on the front lines of tomorrow’s technology-driven medicine, a world of opportunities awaits you.
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