Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer At Web MD. What's the future of healthcare right now during COVID and post-COVID?

To answer these questions, I've asked Dr. Bertalan Mesko. And I'm going to tell you his bio. He is a self-described geek physician-- his words-- geek physician with PhD in genomics and a medical futurist. Dr. Mesko, thanks for joining me.

BERTALAN MESKO: Of course. Thank you for having me.

JOHN WHYTE: First of all, what's a medical futurist?

BERTALAN MESKO: I launched the Medical Futurist website about a decade ago when I wanted to bring in two kinds of aspects. One, the futuristic foresight aspects, thinking about and focusing on the future of healthcare. Another one was more technological aspect about how we can look at new medical technologies, especially digital health technologies that are available to both patients and physicians, and how we can bring these two fields together, creating a new kind of field of science or profession. And that's how the medical futurist started. And then I launched the Medical Futurist Institute, where they do the same, but through peer-reviewed research.

JOHN WHYTE: Now you had a great article recently that talked about what we've missed during COVID, some of the latest technological advances, particularly in digital health. So tell our audience what you know, they might have not seen during this COVID pandemic.

BERTALAN MESKO: Well, not much. To be honest with you, if you look around the world, every country, every research institution right now everyone is focusing on COVID-19. So that the technological news that came out and were not related to COVID-19, those were not so significant as we usually see these things in the news. So I'm afraid everything that matters now has to do something with COVID-19.

JOHN WHYTE: What's here to stay? We all have talked about the role of telehealth, where it really has had this accelerated adoption. We all know that. But what are some of the other technologies that are going to be here to stay post-COVID?

BERTALAN MESKO: I think there are a few exciting ones. One is obviously artificial intelligence, in a way that it could be used to predict future outbreaks. We now know that by fact that the first report about the outbreak in Wuhan came out of a Canadian startup called Blue Dot. And they were the first ones to predict the outbreak with an artificial intelligence-based algorithm that had access to data from national CDC kind of institutions, and also airline ticketing data.

So artificial intelligence is now being used by many governments in trying to find out what happens next. How to prepare for a second wave, when the second wave could take place, and the vast amount of computing power these algorithms have cannot be compared to how even the best epidemiologists in the world can digest data. And the amount of data we receive through the systems now is just enormous. So we need to use these artificial intelligence-based systems to at least try to support the job of public health officials. That's certainly one thing.

The second thing that comes to my mind is that there is a rise of at-home diagnostic devices, and even at-home lab tests. During the first days of the pandemic, we knew that even going to a lab test to find out whether you have the virus itself or you have antibodies against it-- it was a risk of being exposed to the-- to possible infections. So we have been seeing a rise in at-home lab test. I even had an antibody test myself at home through a few droplets of blood.

JOHN WHYTE: How do you do it at home by yourself?

BERTALAN MESKO: I was surprised by that too. I received the package from an Italian company that developed a test. And they gave instructions about how to provide a few droplets of blood.

And as they use a quite sensitive technology called ELISA that I could send back the test, the sample myself through a biological sample in a package. And they could analyze it. In about one week or so, I will receive the results.

JOHN WHYTE: In fairness, we do have issues with diagnostic accuracy of some of these tests, especially point of care testing. You expect that to be improved upon in the next few years?

BERTALAN MESKO: There is no doubt about-- no doubt about that. It all started with the revolution about genomic testing and genetic testing. You've seen companies like 23 and Me flourishing and having tens of millions of customers in the last couple of years. I had about six genomic tests myself. I had my whole genome sequenced without going to a lab to provide a sample.

So while there are doubts not only about the accuracy of these tests, but also about the privacy issues related to the results and how these companies store the results, and whether they shared with third parties or not, even when they just use it for research purposes. That's an ongoing debate. But I have no doubts that at-home lab testing will stay with us.

JOHN WHYTE: You talk about disinfecting robots for the future. Is that what we're going to be seeing?

BERTALAN MESKO: Yeah, we've been talking about these robots far before COVID-19 hit, that such robots can disinfect the hospital room in seconds, if not one minute or so with UV light. So we thought that these robots could be a good addition to the technological park that these hospitals are using. But when COVID-19 hit, it was not a matter of choice, but both hospitals had to reach out to certain technologies with which they could still provide care. They had you know, two choices, two options. One, use the technology that they had been many of them had been rejecting or had been against for a decade or so, or not being able to provide care at all.

JOHN WHYTE: Now everyone's talking about wearables. But you're talking about wearables in the eye, wearables in the heart. Tell us about that technology.

BERTALAN MESKO: The most underused resource or resources in health are patients. And when we could measure data, we could provide parameters, and give them data that belonged to them about their daily lives without the need to go to the actual point of care facility, I think it has shown the real power of digital health. And that's what these valuable devices can bring to us.

JOHN WHYTE: What's the role of the doctor in the future? Are they still going to seem like it is today, or is it going to be vastly different?

BERTALAN MESKO: I think he's going to be different I think the doctor-- the kind of role that physicians have today is like being a key holder to the gate of the ivory tower of medicine. But as the ivory tower is breaking down, the patients have access to almost the same kind of information and data through the, you know, west amounts of information on the internet and peer social networks, and now even using technologies at home there is no ivory tower anymore. So I think their role is going to be transitioning into being a guide for their patients in the jungle of digital and health information. I think it's a much more comforting role, even for them not leading to that many burn outs and the kind of stress they need to work in right now. But feeling the chance that they could care for their patients and that they are not the only ones having the responsibility, but they can share some responsibility with their patient because they want to get involved with their health and disease management.

JOHN WHYTE: I'm going to do a rapid fire with you, if I can. All right? I'm just going to ask you a couple of questions. You tell me which one. IPhone or Galaxy?

BERTALAN MESKO: Android. That's a fair question.

JOHN WHYTE: Tesla or Ferrari?

BERTALAN MESKO: Tesla.

JOHN WHYTE: Twitter or Instagram?

BERTALAN MESKO: Still Twitter.

JOHN WHYTE: Fitness app or online exercises?

BERTALAN MESKO: That's a good question, but I would go with the app.

JOHN WHYTE: Print blog or video blog?

BERTALAN MESKO: Video blog.

JOHN WHYTE: All right, Dr. Mesko, thank you so much for taking the time. I want to tell everyone you're in Hungary right now. Correct? That's your home?

BERTALAN MESKO: Absolutely.

JOHN WHYTE: How is it different in Hungary than it is in the US in terms of adoption of technology?

BERTALAN MESKO: I thought you would ask me about COVID-19. That would be a different answer for sure. What we see is that--

JOHN WHYTE: We've been talking COVID all the time, Dr. Mesko.

BERTALAN MESKO: You are right. The adoption is not perfect, but it's all right. And with the pandemic going on, physicians and patients have to accept that these things are the new norm, and telemedicine is now part of our lives. And it has been a luxury to be able to get access to a physician in person with any kind of health issue.

So with the doctor shortages worldwide and the rising number of patients needing-- having a chronic condition, we have to reach out to these digital health technologies and make sure that-- that we can-- both patients and physicians can get access to data. In Hungary, we are getting there. It's much better now than it has been in the last couple of years.

JOHN WHYTE: Tell viewers where they can go to learn more about your readings and your predictions.

BERTALAN MESKO: We publish context around digital health news and also some foresights and predictions on medicalfuturist.com.

JOHN WHYTE: Dr. Mesko, thanks for joining me.

BERTALAN MESKO: The pleasure was all mine. Thank you for having me.

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