A Million Jobs in Healthcare’s Future

“The Future is Here. It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed.”

It’s true.

Science fiction writer William Gibson said that right. We simply have to look around enough – now – to find out what the future holds.

The future may never be evenly distributed. But it’s surely becoming the present faster.

What would you do when…

Here are a series of what-would-you-do-when questions to think about. Each of these are a reality today, somewhere.

There’s more medical data than insight

Kaiser Permanente presently manages 30 petabytes of data. Images. Lab tests. EHRs. Patient data. Billing. Registries. Clinical trials. Sooner than later, most medical devices (big and small) will become smart. They will have an IP address like a Fitbit and send data over the cloud.

What would happen when medical data expands to exabytes, zettabytes, and may be even a yottabyte (10^24)?

What it means for jobs: Expect a boom in data-related opportunities. Data scientists. Visualization gurus. Statisticians. Mathematicians who can build predictive models. Anyone who can spot wisdom from information.

Genetic programming becomes the new software gig

People interested in programming are well-suited to become biologists of tomorrow because ATGC (the genomic alphabet) can now be tinkered digitally using tools like CRISPR.

[Read: A programming language for living cells]

If you are a developer, you could join a bio hackerspace or create your own. Explore how programming can make foul-smelling E.coli develop the fragrance of bananas.

Lab tests are performed on a chip

After failing inspection tests, the troubled blood-testing company Theranos is now shifting its focus to a lab-on-a-chip virus detection model. It’s aligning itself to a clear trend. Microfluidics, as the field is known, is at the cusp of changing the diagnostics market.

What it means for jobs: Think of expansion of jobs related to chemistry, mechanical engineering, bio-sensing, fluidics, optics, acoustics, micro-electronics, mobile programming, RFID, circuit design, and instrumentation.

Blood is delivered by drones

Zipline already delivers blood to remote areas in Rwanda through lightweight drones. John Hopkins recently partnered with Flirtey to deliver medical supplies. We are not too far when drone delivery becomes mainstream.

What it means for jobs: If you are in aviation, logistics, delivery, aeronautics, geo-mapping, disaster/emergency management, equipment repair, material science, electronics, security, control engineers, fleet management, the future of healthcare welcomes you.

People seem to live much longer than your grandma

By 2040, it’s estimated that one in five people in the US will be a senior citizen. Let’s assume Calico, Human Longevity Inc. and others succeed in providing us with a partial longevity fix (beyond 120 years). If that happens, we will have a very large global population of old people.

What it means for jobs: New opportunities in caring for the old, nursing, elderly homes, government services, health insurance, and medical devices. Simply extrapolate existing jobs in aging from the present to spot the future.

Your phone knows you more than your spouse

Advances in artificial intelligence will soon help your phone know you more than yourself, not just your spouse. The movie Her even imagined what it might be like to be in love with your AI.

What it means for jobs: Outside of AI-related opportunities for software/hardware professionals, jobs that require teaching computers medical skills (e.g. Sloan Kettering oncologists taught IBM Watson) will proliferate. When cheap robots serve the average person, people with empathy (such as nurses) will be sought after.

Cataract surgery is safer with a robot

By 2020, the market for medical robots will be $17+ billion. Robots will expand a surgeon’s capabilities. Sometimes, they will perform surgeries on their own.

What it means for jobs: Other than obvious jobs for engineers and technicians, think of jobs surrounding medical robotics. Design. Equipment repair. Training. Refurbishing. Components. Sales. Maintenance.

Mindfulness is part of your prescription

In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferris says 80% of his Titans had some kind of guided mindfulness practice. Your cardiologist may soon prescribe meditation to keep your stress at bay. Calming apps will mushroom. Alternate therapies will spread.

Much like yoga, meditation/mindfulness will descend from the yogis in the mountains and go mainstream.

What it means for jobs: There will be demand for regular people (not just sagely gurus) who can teach mindfulness and conduct guided sessions online/offline. A need for experts who can guide people through integrated/holistic medicine will emerge.

3D printing before complex surgery becomes a medical guideline

Startup SiMMo3D prints organ models using data from MRIs or CT scans, creating replicas of diseased or healthy parts. Recently, 3D printing helped surgeons prepare for a 27-hour marathon surgery to separate conjoined twins.

What it means for jobs: When 3D printing becomes an integral part of medicine, expect a boom in jobs associated with 3D printing-as-a-service, organ design, medical retail, bio-printing, material science, implants, prosthetics, orthodontics, medical education, and pharmaceuticals.

Your insurance rewards you for eating healthy

John Hancock insurance rewards vitality points to its customers for staying healthy. Points for buying sprouts. Points for swimming.

Imagine the amount of patient data that insurances would accumulate if such programs become mainstream. Pay-for-performance/value would become the basis of health insurance.

What it means for jobs: The health insurance industry will need underwriters who can develop new pay-for-performance models. Think of more jobs in population health, quality of care, healthcare informatics, case management, risk assessment, financial architects, claims/benefits specialists. Jobs related to ongoing risk adjustment based on continuous health tracking inside smart homes and driverless cars.

Cancer becomes a chronic condition

Leukemia, ovarian cancer, some lymphomas are today considered chronic conditions – ongoing and subject to lifelong treatment but not life-ending. More types of cancers could become chronic. More cancer patients could live longer.

What it means for jobs: Other than core clinical needs such as in radiology, this trend signals a need for people in palliative care, counseling, cancer care communities, patient navigators, care coordination, specialized nursing, and medical statistics.

It just keeps growing and growing…

Some experts opine that machines will replace today’s jobs. May be. May be not.

When you look around in healthcare, you will often find the past mingling with the future. Your doctor may use a stethoscope (invented in 1816) and lookup IBM Watson (invented in 2010) to diagnose you.

Healthcare is a gigantic industry that touches nearly everyone in every part of the world. It will integrate with every other industry, changing its present scope.

With global population estimates at 8.5 billion by 2030, increasing chronic illness amongst people, newer viruses and diseases, increased policy and scrutiny, healthcare will increasingly occupy a greater share of every country’s GDP.

[Read: The Rising Billions and Healthcare’s Expanding Global Market]

The imminent future of healthcare will bring newer business opportunities into its fold. Thousands of new professions.

In the US, healthcare employs 12+ million people. Worldwide, WHO estimates a workforce shortage of 12.9 million people by 2035.

A million jobs? It’s pocket change for healthcare.

Praveen Suthrum is president and co-founder of NextServices, a healthcare technology and management company. You can read more articles on his blog.

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1 reply »

  1. Excellent thoughts, Praveen. I do tend to be a skeptic in the “AI + Robots will replace everyone” narrative. At least in healthcare, many new technologies seem to replace people with automation, but others (as you demonstrate) open up new possibilities that need exploring. By humans.