Diagnosis and treatment of disease 20 years from now will depend on factors such as average life span, medical and technical advances and changes in the health care system.
So, in 2033, how will we receive medical care?
What can we expect to see in terms of diseases? Will we be living even longer?
Some eventualities are fairly certain, while others will be a challenge.
Advances in medicine and treatment are not as cut-and-dried as we would like. In fact, living longer creates a paradox for the medical community.
“The good news is that life expectancy continues to increase; the corollary is that we can predict with certainty we will see increased incidence of diseases that are associated with aging,” said Dr. Stephen Prescott, president of Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. “Twenty years from now, there will still be a big burden of cancer. Probably to a lesser extent we’ll see cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart failure.”
But research is paying off. Treatments are far less invasive. Side effects are not nearly as debilitating.
“Truly exciting things are happening — breakthrough therapies,” Prescott said.
“Childhood leukemia was an absolute death sentence. Now 90 percent are cured. The type of testicular cancer that Lance Armstrong had now is curable. There are a number of examples of that. I think it’s coming … (that we’ll see) deadly diseases turn into chronic diseases.”
Rise of infectious diseases
Researchers also are seeing troubling signs of antibiotic-resistant strains of infection, both viral and bacterial.
The U.S. overcame drug-resistant tuberculosis in the 1990s. But researchers are seeing a looming threat emerge as drug resistance worsens abroad and far more dangerous strains develop and spread, including some that are all but untreatable with standard drugs.
“Will other types of diseases come back? It’s troubling because we’ve lived through a beautiful age where every infectious disease can be cured,” Prescott said. “We need to make sure we don’t fall out of the antibiotic age.”
But, Prescott said, within the next 20 years, great opportunities exist for finding new ways to treat infection — finding the equivalent of modern antibiotics.
“I think we will see combination therapy that will attack (the infection) from two routes. It’s going to be hard, but we know so much more about bacteria than we used to,” Prescott said.
DNA sequencing and personalized medicine
Imagine a baby being born in a birthing room. The obstetrician is with the mother as the pediatrician waits by to the thump the baby’s feet and give him an Apgar score.
By 2033, another process likely will be added to assessing the baby’s health — the doctor will swab his mouth for a DNA test.
By the time the baby is ready to go home, doctors will have his complete genetic profile with information on his health risks and assets, Prescott said.