Bertalan Meskó: The Dental Futurist

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Bertalan Meskó, the Dental Futurist, explains why healthcare needs a trip to Mars

During the Henry Schein Digital Symposium in London this April (2018) Bertalan Meskó, the Dental Futurist, entranced some 450 delegates with his ideas and prophesies about the future of dentistry, and explained why healthcare needs a trip to Mars.

Bertalan is addicted to science fiction, he watches or reads science fiction every day, however, he finds the technology in science fiction is now becoming reality. And he posits that within the next decade Earth will send the first colonists to Mars. So, he asks, what kind of healthcare will we need on Mars?

There’s a 20-minute delay in radio communications, and you can’t take a pulse through a spacesuit. Mission control will know everything that’s happening to every colonist, but 20 minutes after the event. It will take another 20 minutes to contact the suited colonist’s colleagues in case of a cardiac arrest, and that delay could prove fatal.

Alone and isolated in their spacesuit the colonist is very like a patient in hospital today. Their life depends on others, they must take orders from the experts, often without understanding why. They feel isolated from their own healthcare. That is wrong, we need a care system to be humanistic, accessible, empathic – and augmented by digital technology.

Bertalan urges a cultural transformation that creates a partnership between healthcare professionals and patients, makes the patient the point of care not the surgery, hospital, or clinic. He wants to see consultations without limitations.

Make your patient an equal partner

The Star Trek Tricorder that seemed so advanced in the classic series is a reality, the internet of health is happening today. With the hashtag #wearenotwaiting diabetics in the USA sourced the materials online and built themselves artificial pancreases at home without FDA approval. No-one has yet died as a result.

Physicians, however, are not mentally designed for change. They trained for years to do what they do, and they need evidence before taking the next step – and evidence-based development is slow. Even so, new technology and techniques arrive every week, change cannot be ignored.

Thanks to 3D printing, biocompatible liver cells can now be printed for transplant. Thanks to digital analysis of a patient’s health data some of the mistakes made in diagnosis can now be bypassed, as can mistakes made in pharmaceutical development. Medicines can be analysed at a molecular level rather than tested on humans and animals.

What we need is an effective guide into how this information can be made accessible for practical use, and for that to happen healthcare professionals need to wake up every morning and say, “I work for my patients”. Change requires healthcare to be designed around the patient – not the physician.

Healthcare professionals are not the ones going though the healthcare process, the patient is. The patient should be an equal partner in the procedure – they need to be engaged, to become part of the team – and recognised as an active element in their own healthcare journey.

AI will not replace physicians, however...

Digital technology is at the forefront of developmental healthcare in so many ways, and not all of them are to do with the latest intraoral imaging science, radiography, or 3D printing surgical guides for implantology. What about distracting the patient’s attention during long and stressful procedures such as endodontics?

Endo + Virtual Reality = a more relaxed and destressed procedure for the patient and a better, easier experience for the endodontist. VR can augment the patient’s journey towards health, help educate them about clinical matters, plus it can also be used as an educational tool during professional healthcare training.

We are hearing a lot about Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days, especially how AI combined with sophisticated robotics is replacing humans in the workplace. AI will not replace physicians and healthcare professionals, however, those who use AI will replace the ones who don’t.

Never forget, people matter more than technology. What’s important is how we react to change. We should be the ones in charge of technology, not the other way around. The algorithms of developmental science are there to be used to help make us better – our awareness of change need not to be driven by change itself. It is there to improve existing skills not replace them.

Live a longer, healthier life

Bertalan Meskó concluded his talk by stating that he, like all of us, lives in the digital jungle, and he uses the technology as an extension of his brain. Be curious about yourselves, he says, use technology to live a longer, healthier life.

Technology alone can’t change lifestyles – but can be an inspiration for change. If, thanks to biomolecular analysis, you know you are genetically allergic to yeast and it can kill you, you will know to avoid beer, bread, and Marmite. Healthcare, he says, is augmented by technology.

Medical professionals are our guides through the tangled jungle of healthcare possibilities – as patients we must be helped to understand how we can support our physicians, improve our health at home, and respect what’s real. Thanks to digital technology we can also enjoy worlds of fantasy, the trick is to know the difference.

Top photo by Ellyot on Unsplash