Future Thoughts Now Column

Source: OJNI Volume 18, Number 2
by Scott Erdley

Hi, there! Welcome back (if that is in fact the case) - more 'stuff' about future. This go 'round I am contemplating how the present influences the future. Or, as some would say, change now leads to future 'fun'.

Events at this time are definitely impacting our collective future in ways not always easily discernible. Example 1 - the just-released news of the Antarctic ice cap / glacier melt off. What does global warming mean for healthcare in the future? The glacier melt off can, according to some reports, raise ocean levels up to 4 feet in the distant future. In the near future the water-level rise will be somewhere around 6 inches (depending on how 'near future' is defined). Scientists, too, are now confirming there is no 'stop' button for this melt-off; it is a one-way switch, which is now 'on'. Even ending 'known' greenhouse effect influential variables (lowering CO levels, changing energy creation & consumption) will not stop this process.

So, now, the issue is how to prepare for healthcare related to the ocean-level rise - what do these preparations need to address? With less land mass, many populations in coastal areas will need to retreat from rising water. This means all sorts of public health concern potentials, such as compressed population (and health concerns related to compressed populations), sewage and potable water, food growth and delivery, transportation restructuring, weather changes, etc.. Planning for this should already to be underway (at the very least). For many the concern, too, is how technology may assist with healthcare as the environment undergoes dramatic change.

Changing infrastructure could mean less reliable connectivity, increased bandwidth requirements by many, need to increase tele-health utilization, less opportunities for health education and more complex and or critically ill patients in acute facilities, sicker patients (more than currently in the health system) discharged home with follow-up care, and so forth.

What is the role of technology, as related to healthcare, during climate change? How might technology facilitate adaptation to an environment in flux for the foreseeable future? This is not a new role for information technology; it has a long-standing history of facilitating public healthcare (global, national, regional and local) regardless of the context of care. Healthcare is just now sharing information among disparate organizations not to mention within provider organizations / practice plans / insurance institutions and so forth. How will this be addressed in the coming years as populations change, climate is altered, food supply is re-structured, and people try to stay alive? Is information technology an adjunct for coping with the impending future or a tool to reshape it?

I do not believe a crisis mentality is needed. Recognition, planning and implementing are the keys. More importantly, though, than the technology is the recognition, and acceptance, of what this change means for humankind. The subsequent imperatives for coping with this change - communication, cooperation and collaboration, need to be addressed sooner than later.

How do you envision healthcare technology in this soon to be realized future? What would you like to see? Is there a place for advances such as sensors and 'Glass?'

As always please respond via comments at the site or directly to me (erdley@buffalo.edu).