Though the term hadn’t yet been invented, the first “smartphone” became available to consumers in 1994. It was the IBM Simon Personal Communicator, and it retailed for today’s equivalent of $1,852—without a contract.

Back then, who would have imagined that clunky, expensive mobile could represent the future of medicine?

So much has changed nearly 25 years later, all enabling the surge of telemedicine as we know it today: Technology has evolved, we’ve embraced online transactions, and adopted electronic medical records and privacy protocols.

Patients can now use their cell phones or tablets to consult with a doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Video-based telehealth appointments can eliminate barriers to care and help patients stay on track to lose weight or stop smoking. Apps are available for download to remind patients when and how to take their medications.

Johns Hopkins and its global affiliates are among the many health providers who are using these innovations in telemedicine to connect physicians with patients around the world.

Technology enables them to extend their reach and improve their efficiency and effectiveness while still maintaining a high standard of care and attention to patient safety. Additionally, it saves patients the time and cost of unnecessary travel.

Looking Ahead
In the midst of this new phase in health care, we should ask ourselves: If today’s big medical revolution is telemedicine, what does tomorrow have in store?

I encourage health care leaders to investigate and invest in artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence—seen as the Holy Grail in medicine—uses technology to enable machines to learn and act so they can perform administrative and clinical health care functions, including diagnosing and monitoring medical conditions and diseases.

As people adopt technology as part of their health routines—from telemedicine to wearable devices—the prospect of integrating artificial intelligence into medicine is tangible and revolutionary.

At Johns Hopkins, our experts developed an algorithm based on artificial intelligence that can correctly identify patients with sepsis, a potentially deadly bacterial infection that affects more than a million patients in the United States every year. This tool can identify these patients even before they show symptoms, and it can recommend the best course of treatment.

In the future, we predict that the same kind of artificial intelligence research will allow an asthmatic patient to connect his or her electronic medical records to a smart speaker like Amazon’s Alexa. The device will be able to correlate the patient’s lung condition to atmospheric pollution and accurately predict asthma attacks. It will save lives, time and money.

Even entities outside the medical realm are looking to artificial intelligence as a way to help people live heathier, better lives. The United Arab Emirates recently appointed a minister of state for artificial intelligence—a first in the world. With this appointment, the Emirati government is looking to use artificial intelligence to reduce traffic accidents, minimize chronic diseases, and improve the quality of water and environment. SEHA, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, recently constituted a special task force on artificial intelligence in medicine and is planning a significant launch of this initiative later this year.

I’ll be watching the work of the ministry, SEHA, and medical investigators and technology innovators around the world to see how we can share ideas in artificial intelligence to ensure a future where quality health care is more accessible to all.

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