Futurists weigh in on digital health in 2025

By Brian Dolan
08:17 am

Pew Digital Living 2025Earlier this year Pew Research's Internet Project published a report called Digital Living 2025, which surveyed and aggregated ideas and predictions from internet scholars and successful entrepreneurs on the impact technology will have on our daily lives a decade from now. The report has a fascinating section on digital health that's well worth the read if you missed it.

Pew and its partner for this project, the Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, invited more than 12,000 experts and members of the public to weigh in on the likely future of the internet. More than 2,500 responded to at least a part of the survey.

Among one of the "more-hopeful theses" that emerged from a significant portion of responses was that "augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health."

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Pew wrote that a large number thought this trend would have the most global impact by 2025, "often citing the ability to practice a healthy lifestyle and detect, monitor, diagnose, and get advice or treatment for ailments remotely thanks to mobile or implanted networked devices." 

“The most significant impacts of the internet will likely come in the life sciences domain, including medicine and public health. Computing and communications — not just the Internet, per se, are starting to have transformational impacts in that domain, both in research findings and in day-to-day health care. Not only are we likely to benefit from personalized, rather than mass, medical treatment, we also may well see wearable devices and/or home and workplace sensors that can help us make ongoing lifestyle changes and provide early detection for disease risks, not just disease. We may literally be able to adjust both medications and lifestyle changes on a day-by-day basis or even an hour-by-hour basis, thus enormously magnifying the effectiveness of an ever more understaffed medical delivery system,” Aron Roberts, software developer at the University of California-Berkeley, wrote in one of his responses to the survey questions.

One anonymous respondent, described as an advisor to a state government library, predicted that “the greatest impact will be medical — due to wearable devices and ‘telemedicine’ — and more devices will be implanted. It will happen due to fewer doctors, more bandwidth (for those in cities or better off financially) and demand by the public and the interest of younger physicians. The data of the Internet of Things can be beneficial for individuals, especially when our own bodies start telling us things before we have symptoms.”

Others said the slow pace digital transformation in healthcare is one indication that a full transformation will come about:

“Transformation of healthcare… should be happening at a much faster pace than it is; the fact that healthcare industries have been so slow to change suggests to me that they are ripe for a major transformation, and that should yield radical improvements in patient care and coordination/information sharing among medical specialists,” one anonymous, tenure-track professor at a private research university wrote.

Finally, one digital strategist predicted the rise of pervasive digital health sensing might be unbearable for many people:

“Healthcare will become cheaper and more self-administered. We will be able to ‘know’ everything very early in our lives but struggle to understand how to make our lives. Tech perfection will make human imperfection harder to bear. We will be expected to optimize every aspect of life every second of life. It will exhaust us. Instant will be the norm,” Melissa Wyers, president of Breakthrough Strategies, wrote.

Check out Pew's Digital Living 2025 report here.