The more we learn about what makes a person healthy and what treatment options are available, the more we improve our health care systems. We’re also learning more and more about holistic ways of achieving physical and psychological well-being.
Here are five ways health care improved in 2013:
1. Mental health
Every year, doctors gain a greater understanding of how the mind and body work together to promote health. 2013, for example, was the year in which discussions of mental health reached critical mass, with everyone from Kevin Breel to Lena Dunham weighing in on their experiences with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health issues.
We now know more about mental health issues than ever before — for example, that depression literally changes your brain. This type of knowledge has helped doctors to stop telling people that their depression, anxiety, and other issues are “all in their heads” and begin developing more effective mental health treatments.
2. Greater understanding of alternative medicines
Why do some cultures prescribe turmeric for colds? How does acupuncture truly affect the body? Why does meditation help improve symptoms? As science and technology continue to develop, the medical community is able to learn more and more about these historical medical treatments, practiced for millennia but still considered “alternative” medicine. They’re also able to separate out the treatments that work from the treatments that don’t, helping patients to make better choices when it comes time to develop a holistic, integrated treatment plan.
3. 3-D bioprinters
In addition to learning more about how healthcare treatments from the past affect patients, we’re rapidly working on the new generation of health technology. This year, biotech company Organovo successfully used a 3-D bioprinter to print liver tissue. This liver tissue is functionally identical to the tissue generated by the human body.
As this type of technology improves, we are likely to see new opportunities emerge. Skin grafts, for example, will become easier as printers learn to create perfect artificial skin. Cancer treatments may change if doctors are able to remove tumors and replace them with new, healthy tissue. We do not know exactly where this development in medical technology will take us, but it is likely to benefit countless patients.
4. Crowdsourced diagnoses
This year was also the year we learned that the hive mind is often able to spot medical diagnoses that a doctor alone might miss. Crowdsourced diagnoses are one way to solve medical mysteries, as the more people you invite to examine a patient’s symptoms, the more likely you are to arrive at a correct diagnosis.
This is true even if the majority of doctors make incorrect guesses; to quote a recent Slate article on crowdsourcing tough diagnoses: “More than 1,000 trained medical professionals independently guessed at the cause of the woman’s illness, and while many were wrong, almost one-third suspected thallium poisoning.” Even though many of the doctors were unable to solve this medical mystery, the correct answer rose to the top by the sheer power of crowdsourced numbers.
5. Technical improvements for medical teams
The days of miscommunication between doctors and nurses, of mislabeled prescriptions based on a doctor’s poor handwriting, are rapidly coming to an end. New technologies use tablet computing and the internet to allow medical charts to be updated in real time, meaning that the same information shows up on everyone’s tablet at once. “The forms are written in a fashion that makes it easy for a medical assistant to ask a question relating to the complaint and for the patient to answer the question. The real magic is that the answers are magically converted to medical expressions and cataloged in the format required by CMS.”
These types of programs make it easier for medical teams to communicate and ensure that everyone on the team has the same information. All of this in turn comes back to benefit patients.