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Author's profile photo Adam Winfield

Post-human healthcare for a post-human world

In an interview with The Atlantic to promote his new book Homo Deus, the historian Yuval Noah Harari made some terrifying and humbling predictions about the future of healthcare.

He explains that the reason mass social services were originally introduced was to support strong armies and economies. France, Germany and Japan didn’t offer free healthcare to citizens at the end of the 19th century to make them happy, they did it strengthen the country’s army and industrial potential. Welfare was necessary because people were necessary.

That in mind, consider the political implications of mass automation. “Already the most advanced armies don’t need [as many] people. The same might happen in the civilian economy. The problem is motivation: What [happens to healthcare] if the government loses the motivation to help the masses?”

The solution to keeping healthcare accessible to the masses in a post-human world will be to provide post-human healthcare. If we’re to get anywhere near making healthcare the ‘basic human right’ it’s touted as, we need to make it much more efficient, affordable and as far removed from necessary human agency as possible.

Today it seems like we’re going in the opposite direction. The consequences of a growing, aging population have been a sharp increase in the cost of healthcare (now 11% of Canadian GDP and 17% of US GDP) and diseases that are more complex and difficult to treat.

There are signs, however, that post-human healthcare could be kicking into life. The industry is moving away from blockbuster cures for large populations to medical treatments that precisely target individual patients based on understanding root causes at the molecular level.

Emerging technologies can perform deep analysis of healthcare data for large populations, which is used to create statistically sound, evidence-based treatment plans. Results from each person’s treatment are fed back into the larger population data to create a continuous and powerful feedback loop.

CancerLinQ is one company on the cutting edge of these developments. Their technology analyzes retrospective data on large populations of cancer patients to tailor the treatment plans most likely to succeed given a specific patient’s disease and physical condition. The more data it collects, the more accurate the treatment plans will become.

Consider that only 25% of today’s cancer patients get better from current treatment methods, and you realize how much room there is for improvement. The work being done by the likes of CancerLinQ will play a big role in helping oncologists reach better patient outcomes.

In Germany, the National Center for Tumor Disease is using the latest database technology to make strides in the prevention, early diagnosis and personalized treatment of people who have or are at risk of cancer.

The speed of diagnosis has accelerated, with more than 10,000 patients seen each since new data analysis technology was implemented, and the company performed one proof-of-concept test that analyzed a massive 3.6 million data points. Genome analysis time has been reduced from several days to 20 minutes, which means cancer and drug screening can be done virtually in real-time.

If the beginning of the article made you feel uncomfortable, I hope the remainder gave you hope. We will at some point in the future be living in a ‘post-human world’, but ‘post-human healthcare’ can be there with us.

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