Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Most Important Health Care Jobs of the Future

Fast Company ran an interesting article The Most Important Design Jobs of the Future, predicting 18 of the most important design jobs of the future (at least 3 to 5 years out).  A couple of them were in health care, and arguably all of them would have some impact on health care, but I thought it might be fun to do a similar list specific to health care, and not limited to design.

Let's hope no one comes back in a few years to show how wrong I was.

I'll skip the usual suspects -- e.g., doctors, nurses, pharmacists.  Yes, those jobs will (almost) certainly still be around, but they may not be central as they are today.  And those jobs will evolve in ways that reflect the trends illustrated by the jobs I list.

Let's start with two jobs on Fast Company's list:

Human Organ Designer.  In their description:
Human organ designers will be experts in bio-engineering and design, fitting newly created organs and artificial limbs to humans. They will be fully capable of executing end-to-end design and implementation process for ready-to-use or custom-fit organs; have deep knowledge of the software and hardware involved in bio-electronics; and work within a team tackling multiple biological sub-systems.
Synthetic biologist/nanotech designer: In their description: "within five years synthetic biologists will be designing treatment that ties to the DNA of the patient. These medicines will be designed in software and printed on 3-D biological printers."

Now here's the rest of my top ten, listed in alphabetical order:

AI: AI -- artificial intelligence -- is already being applied to health care, as IBM Watson is showing.  We're going to see a revolution with AI like we saw with mainframe computers to PCs to mobile devices.  I.e., we're each going to have our own AI assistant, and that assistant will help us with our health and other everyday concerns.  Our grandchildren are going to think it was strange that we went to a doctor's office or ER for anything but the most critical health conditions.  Our AI will be our first and closest health adviser -- monitoring our health, proactively offering advice, and responding to our questions.

Big Data scientist: this actually encompasses a host of jobs, but for simplicity I'll treat the field as one.  Health care has no shortage of data now, but it often is siloed.  Moreover, even when shared it is hard to get practical use from it.  Data is going to become much freer, and there will be a lot more of it, with data from wearables and other sources.  Making sense of this data, turning it into information by spotting trends and correlations, and applying that information to specific patients at the right time is a massive task, but one that Big Data scientists will increasingly tackle.

Customer experience officer: People don't like the health care system.  Too much waiting (see the recent study on how much of a typical office visit is actually spent with a doctor), in unpleasant settings, and with too little knowledge of what is about to happen, when.  Health care can do better.  Health care organizations need to strive to "delight" their customers during their encounters -- not "even though" they are sick/injured/worried but because they are.  The Customer Experience Officer will lead the charge.  

Game designer: Health care is not a game, but it may be better as a game.  We don't like to exercise, we don't like to eat our vegetables, but we do like to play games.  There is increasing belief that games can help both educate us about our health and support better health habits -- as Games for Health and others are showing.  Designing games that will engage us and motivate us to better health over the long term is a challenge that some clever designers will relish -- and make a lot of money on.

Geneticist: We've known about DNA for 60 years, mapped the human genome almost 15 years ago, and now can even get our DNA mapped for $200.  We're still learning which genes are associated with which problems, as well as what triggers them, but the field of gene therapy is already exploding.  Why waste time, say, taking allergy medicine when you can correct the genes that allow the allergies?  Our descendants may view not improving their genetic makeup like we might view not setting a broken bone.  The field for geneticists has never been wider.

Microbiologist: One of the most surprising finds of the 21st century has to have been the impact that our microbiome has on our health.  Bacteria living in or on us outnumber our own cells.  Their presence sometimes adversely impacts our health, and their absence is equally likely to cause health issues.  Finding the right balance could help many of our health problems and obviate many of our current efforts to treat them.  Microbiologists will help us figure out that balance.

Robot assistant: There are not enough people to take care of our aging population, nor enough money to pay them even if there were.  Fortunately, there's not going to be any shortage of robots, and health care is a prime market for them.  Robotic surgery is cool (and expensive) but we're all going to want personal care robots once we start to lose some of our independence.

Virtual/augmented reality designer: VR is one of the hottest areas of focus in the tech industry, although augmented reality may beat it to the punch in terms of practical applications.  VR is often thought of in terms of games, but it can be a marvelous tool for teaching or simulations.  We're only beginning to scratch the surface of what these technologies can do for us, so innovative designers will be able to make their mark in a big way.


What we will think of as health care by the end of the 21st century is likely to bear as little resemblance to our current model as health care in the 19th century does to us.  I just hope our ability to change how we think about it can advance as rapidly.

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