Ever since COVID-19 struck, the medical world has been front-and-center. Questions like “When will vaccine testing begin?” and “What are the latest coronavirus statistics?” have been at the forefront as this pandemic continues to evolve.
Despite the focus on COVID-19, however, there is an entire medical world out there that is constantly evolving. The current medical landscape consists of great innovations as well as things better left in the research lab. Let’s look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the medical world.
Telemedicine existed before COVID-19, but with the onslaught of the virus and worldwide stay-at-home orders, it took off. Telemedicine allows doctors to administer medical care remotely through video conferencing. Telemedicine eliminates the spread of infection to both the doctor and the patient. Additionally, people with disabilities have better access to care, and it’s more convenient. For physicians, they have less overhead costs and may be able to treat more patients. It’s a win-win for all.
Up to now, body part replacements required the patient to adapt to the part, such as in a hip replacement. In the case of an organ replacement, the patient takes tremendous amounts of antibiotics to make certain the organ is not rejected. That was before 3-D printing. Using this technique, scientists can create personalized organs for transplant patients, eliminating the need for anti-rejection drugs.
In addition to personalizing organs, pharmacokinetics is allowing doctors and nurses to personalize medicines to the needs of the individual patient. Pharmacokinetics is “the study of how long it takes for drugs to absorb, distribute, metabolize, and excrete in the body.” Pharmacokinetics ensures that each prescription and dosage prescribed is exactly right for each patient and that every patient is treated safely and effectively.
More people die of heart disease than any other cause, with strokes coming in at number five. For decades, there was a steady decline in deaths from these two conditions, but that has changed. They have reached a plateau, and in some cases, there has been an increase in deaths. The American Heart Association is working on changing direction in their research, which they hope will make a positive impact soon.
E-cigarettes have also been a recent concern. Also called vape pens and tank systems, these devices heat a nicotine-based liquid and turn it into an aerosol that is inhaled. E-cigarettes have gotten very popular among teenagers and young adults. There has been a recent outbreak in lung injuries related to e-cigarettes. The CDC reported in February 2020, that almost 3,000 hospitalizations or deaths occurred due to e-cigarettes. Thanks to public awareness, however, the numbers are declining
Another alarming trend is the dramatic increase in medical tourism, which occurs when a patient travels abroad for medical procedures. The number of medical tourists in 2017 was 1.4 million, and the number is expected to increase by 25% every year. The reason for this increase is high medical costs in the U.S. as well as the increase of patients without medical insurance. Medical procedures outside of the U.S. tend to be 30-60% less expensive. This points to a need for more economical health care in the U.S.
COVID-19 has shown us that we are not prepared for an epidemic. In early August, there are over 18 million confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, with over 700,000 confirmed deaths. In early April, many countries in Europe did not have enough hospital beds to accommodate the number of patients, and over 60 health care professionals in Italy had died. Many of their deaths were likely caused by the lack of personal protective equipment. More recently, many places in the U.S. have faced the same thing. Houston, Texas, for example, is running out of COVID-19 related drugs, hospital beds, and ventilators as a surge in cases dominates the U.S.
And COVID-19 is not the only virus the medical community is contending with. The CDC reports that polio cases have dramatically increased, with nearly 30 cases caused by the vaccine itself. Jaume Jorba, Ph.D., said that vaccine-derived cases of polio, in addition to wild cases, occur when a population is not fully immunized. In 2017, only 60% of the people in Afghanistan and 40% of those in Nigeria were immunized. For all polio cases to diminish, aggressive immunization measures should be taken.
A last, “ugly” concern is the reliance of many on prescription drugs, particularly opioids. This is of particular concern in the construction industry, where the rate of injury is almost 80% higher than in other industries. The result: more trips to the hospital and more medications prescribed to ease the pain. While some are able to leave the medications behind with the pain, others are never rid of the pain and become addicted. Two million people are addicted to opioids in the U.S. alone.
The medical world, with its innovations, has made lives easier for many and is better able to cater to patients’ specific needs. When it comes to heart disease and stroke prevention and the e-cigarette threat, not to mention the high cost of medical services in the U.S., it has a ways to go. The medical world also has a long way to go in its response to epidemics and the opioid crisis. With the good of anything comes the bad and the ugly. Hopefully, the medical world will innovate, as they have shown many times in the past, to rid themselves of the “uglies” over time.