With special thanks to Ms. Jones’ Forsyth School sixth grade science class for their collaboration and creativity. We only regret that we cannot do justice to all your amazing ideas.
Ask a classroom of middle school students what the future of healthcare looks like, and you will receive a hundred different replies but one common refrain: imagine. In a series of journals, sixth graders at Forsyth School in St. Louis bring their readers on a journey into their vision of what health care will become 10, 15, and 50 years from now.
“Imagine a world with no pain,” writes Tamar.
Sophia adds her voice: “Imagine microdots as small as ants being implanted into every person on earth… Imagine a world where blind’s eyes are lifted for the first time.”
For these students, the world they imagine will contain “small robots that would simply run errands for doctors,” “machines that can probe in a person’s mind and see if they are sick,” and “a cancer shot to make antibodies so that your body doesn’t have to fight cancer.” They write with creativity and idealism, focusing on common themes like personal experience with diabetes and cancer, elimination of pain, and cures for disabilities.
However, this class did not leave their thoughts to whimsical fantasy; they closely resemble some of the trends in healthcare today. Sixth-grader Ananya prefaces her ideas by saying, “You will hear about some strange ideas of mine that may or may not be possible.” She then details technology that mirrors developments in imaging techniques, such as “machines to interpret a person’s mind and find out things about people’s bodies that even they don’t know.” In fact, Ananya, along with many students in her class, describe numerous, real developments such as 3D printers, iPhone health apps and emergency room care systems, that categorize their “strange ideas” as very possible and useful, indeed.
Most of the writing from this science class centers on the same big questions sweeping the biotechnology world. That is: How do we provide more accessible care for patients? How do we get a better look at the inside of our bodies? How can we make care more affordable? Is it possible to completely eradicate a disease?
Clearly, this small sampling of students grasps the importance of current innovations, as well as the issues from which they stem. Then if we, students and professionals alike, are all asking the same questions, who is providing the answers?
As it happens, healthcare professionals are part of the force creating solutions. “I realized I was asking, ‘Who has the answers?’ No one did,” says Dr. Kathryn Lindley about her transition into the research role as a cardiologist at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM). She and her team are building a database of cases that involves multidisciplinary research to better predict patient outcomes. Such information at least provides some reply to the search for greater participation in healthcare by amassing data for use by many experts. As envisioned by Mrs. Jones’ science students, the medical field is becoming more “communal” in nature, focusing on collaboration between disciplines.
In the same spirit, young entrepreneurs are joining the push for answers. Joe McDonald, a senior studying biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), speaks from his experiences as part of an award-winning design team. His group focused on the “strength in wireless power” to build a platform that powers therapeutics. With McDonald’s technology, implanted medical devices can be recharged without additional surgeries to replace dead batteries. Chosen to present at the Kairos Summit in California, McDonald and his group are just a few of many young entrepreneurs who are developing innovative and impactful projects. He expresses his interest in the increasingly younger age of entrepreneurs, saying that many people he met at the summit “were on their third or fourth venture” before they reached their 30s. Moreover, when it comes to level of impact, “medical devices definitely have a leg up,” according to McDonald. Many ideas brought forth by entrepreneurs have most immediate effect on the rapidly expanding field of healthcare.
Overall, researchers, clinicians and entrepreneurs are all just hands of one cohesive mechanism that is changing healthcare and lifestyle. They are bringing to reality the spirit of innovation entrusted to them by students like these sixth-graders.
Far-fetched ideas coming from childlike imaginations carry the potential to change the world. Who knew a few decades ago that we would print organs, have handheld health trackers or have robots working in hospitals? Students are catching onto the value of these ideas, and they have the energy and vision to follow them to realization.
As Anna of Forsyth School so simply says, “I am a dreamer and so is everybody else.” St. Louis has all the right ingredients: the willing hands, the needs, and the open field for development. Perhaps most importantly, we share dreams that serve as a glue between generations of problem-solvers.
Follow-up in our next issue with “Part 2: How the Future of Healthcare Connects Classrooms, Start-ups, and Hospitals”