Written By: Thomas T. Yoshikawa, MD

If we compare health care and the delivery of health care today compared to what was available for our grandparents in the early 1900s, we’d feel extremely fortunate for the improved quality of life we now enjoy from the advances in this area. The objective evidence for this gain in improved health is shown by the differences in life expectancies in 1900 compared to today. In 1900, the average life expectancy in the United States (U.S.) was about 46 years. Today, life expectancy in the U.S. is about 78 years. Yet, new advances and innovations in health care continue to develop, which will not only improve longevity but more importantly the quality of health and well-being, as well as access to and delivery of health care.

The following are many (but not all) of the new developments and advances in health and healthcare systems that are currently available or will be soon become part of our standard or benchmark of quality healthcare.

Diabetes: “Artificial Pancreas”

Instead of poking your finger for blood to check glucose (sugar) levels to determine how much insulin should be taken and then injecting yourself with insulin, a closed loop insulin delivery system has been developed. The system will regularly check your blood glucose, determine how much insulin (if any) is needed, and then automatically injects the drug into your blood.

Cancer: Target-Specific Therapy

The dreaded words, “cancer chemotherapy” is frightening. Traditional cancer drugs kill cancer cells but also your normal cells causing severe side effects (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain, etc.). Now, for many cancers, we can examine the specific genetic makeup of cancer cells (genetic biomarkers: how it differs from normal cells) and then prescribe medications that are designed to kill only the cancer cells. Also, immunotherapy uses similar principles of using your own immune cells (cells that fight cancer and infections) that are specifically modified to kill cancer cells but not your normal cells.

Pancreatic Cancer Detection

Cancer of the pancreas has one of the worst prognoses (one-year survival is 20% and five-year survival is 7%), largely because it is detected late in the disease; it is not a cancer that is easy to detect early. The number of cases of pancreatic cancer appears to be increasing. Scientists have “engineered” pancreatic cancer cells to reverse their make-up to their early stem cell stage (the earliest stage of all cells, each then evolves into certain type of cells such as brain, heart, muscle, kidney, etc.) and found two key proteins that occur in patients with pancreatic cancers. Hopefully identifying these two proteins could be used to detect pancreatic cancer early.

Contact Lenses – New Uses

Contact lenses have been engineered to be used as health monitors by incorporating more than 100 sensors (e.g., measure blood glucose). Lenses have also been developed to deliver drugs directly into the eye to treat eye diseases such as glaucoma –they would be worn for a maximum of two weeks.

older adult using smartphone

Telehealth/Telemedicine/Distant Medicine

Currently, systems are already in place to allow doctors located in remote sites to communicate their findings (as well as receive advice from consultants) to major medical centers that are equipped with high technology and tests and staffed with experts. This concept also allows patients to directly communicate with their doctors. Smartphone technology also permits patients to transmit key test information (e.g., blood pressure, pulse, electrocardiographic findings (EKG)).

Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation has been used to help patients with Parkinson’s disease. This concept has been expanded to help patients with strokes to recover/regain more of their motor function. Some studies also suggest that brain stimulation may improve memory function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

About the Author

Dr. Thomas Yoshikawa

Thomas Yoshikawa, MD is a Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The opinions expressed in this column are those of Dr. Yoshikawa and not necessarily of Dr. Yoshikawa’s employer or Keiro.