June 12, 2024

The future of health care will include a heavy dose of artificial intelligence, which will spread into every field of medicine.

There will be more personal health technology, allowing people to monitor their own health metrics.

Jacobs Institute

A view inside the hallways of the Jacobs Institute in Buffalo.

Meanwhile, serious challenges loom, such as a burned-out workforce, widening health inequities and a major public health crisis: climate change.

These are among the takeaways from The Future of Health, a forward-looking report recently released by University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the Jacobs Institute. The two entities worked with Attention Span Media on the report.

Dr. Allison Brashear, dean of the Jacobs School, said the report should be a “living, breathing document” that can be used to influence a path toward a healthier future.

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“My job is to help keep people in Buffalo and the region healthy by training great doctors, having great, impactful research and providing great care so that everyone can thrive in our community,” she said.

“We really want this to be a call to action, a call for collaboration, for innovation, for our commitment to equity and a promise to safeguard our planet’s well-being,” Brashear said.

The report follows a similar 2017 report called “The Future of Medicine,” which forecast a pandemic that would necessitate rapid vaccine development, production and distribution.

“Here we are, five years later, having survived Covid to appreciate the magnitude of that prediction and the magnitude of its effect on all our lives,” said Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, chief medical officer and CEO of the Jacobs Institute and vice chairman and professor of neurosurgery in the Jacobs School. “And I certainly just believe that it’s timely that five years from the first report, it’s time for us to come up with some more post-epidemic predictions.”

Dr. Adnan Siddiqui

“Medicine is going to change because patients are going to take charge of their health,” said Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, CEO and chief medical officer of the Jacobs Institute.

For Brashear and Siddiqui, the report also serves as an opportunity to highlight the work of the Jacobs School and Jacobs Institute. Brashear mentioned how the Jacobs Schools’ “cutting-edge research aligns with the critical areas identified in the report,” while Siddiqui spoke of the ecosystem being built through the interaction of the Jacobs Institute, the UB Clinical and Translational Research Center and Gates Vascular Institute.

“It’s the ecosystem that exists in Buffalo that does not exist anywhere else,” he said. “Where else can you find these world-class researchers in a world-class clinical facility and a world-class entrepreneurial manufacturing facility in one physical space?”

Here are five takeaways from the report:

The reach of artificial intelligence will be widespread. The report has 11 sections in it but none devoted specifically to artificial intelligence – and there’s a reason why.

“It turns out that AI is in every section. That’s why it’s not a specific section,” said David Ewing Duncan, the report’s executive editor. “It’s everywhere and ubiquitous, you know, for better or worse, I guess. Hopefully, for the better.”

AI plays a prominent role in the report’s first section about the health care workforce. For instance, the report predicts that automatic documentation technology will chart 70% of patient encounters by 2030, which could help alleviate burnout felt by providers bogged down by data entry requirements.

Jacobs Institute

Research and development engineer Yousef Akkad works on distensibility testing using IVUS imagery at the Jacobs Institute.

AI also could present challenges, however.

Ethan Watters, the report’s senior editor, mentioned how the rise of AI and technology will lead to a flood of data. The challenge is how doctors would employ these kinds of systems when the technology can’t be interrogated to understand how it came up with a certain calculation or answer.

Siddiqui said AI “should always be adjunctive,” used to reduce the burden of data entry and to provide interpretive resources to aid a physician’s decision making. He said he uses AI every day to look at scans. And when an alert comes on indicating a hemorrhage, Siddiqui still checks with his own eyes to make sure it’s there. But AI, he said, can facilitate earlier action.

“I think AI is very important, but AI should not overtake or override human decision making,” he said.

Self-health will rise, with people taking more control of their own health care. For Siddiqui, it all started with a Fitbit. Then he discovered another wearable, WHOOP, and learned about heart rate variability, making changes to his diet, behavior and exercise as a result.

Jacobs Institute

Biomedical engineers Erin Garcia, left, and Ariana Allman set up to test a “blood clot” they created from porcine blood at the Jacobs Institute. The imitation clots are used to differentiate Vicora catheter technology from currently available devices.

The report predicts that the use of wearables, smart devices and apps that track metrics such as sleep, exercise and heart rate will continue to skyrocket. In fact, the consumer market for medical IT devices and apps is expected to go from $300 billion today to roughly $1 trillion in 2030, according to the report.

Such devices could improve health outcomes through early detection and intervention.

“Medicine is going to change because patients are going to take charge of their health,” Siddiqui said.

Siddiqui mentioned technology developed at the Jacobs Institute that helps prevent clots from forming in people’s legs based on the socks they wear.

“I think wearables will be ubiquitous, and patients will control the data,” he said.

But it won’t stop there. The report forecasts a new generation of smart home technology that will provide health metrics previously only available in a clinic.

Look no further than smart, or diagnostic, toilets, which test urine and stool for signs of disease.

For much of this consumer technology, however, cost is a barrier. While prices tend to come down over time, the report notes that private or government insurance would have to update policies “for the larger population to benefit from these advances.”

Solutions will be needed for a burned-out health care workforce. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated provider burnout and aggravated existing issues.

Add it all up and it presents a serious challenge: The report forecasts a shortage of 139,000 doctors and 1 million nurses by 2035.

Meanwhile, demand for health care is growing. The 65-and-over population – which uses three times more health care than younger population segments – will total 73 million by 2030, up from 56 million in 2020, according to the report.

Jacobs Institute

Medical, research and development personnel gather in the lunch area at the Jacobs Institute in Buffalo on Jan. 9, 2024. The open-concept eating and coffee station is designed to attract physicians from the downstairs hospital and scientists and researchers from the floor above and encourage interaction with the team at the Jacobs Institute.

“I want this future to focus on the happiness and well-being of health care providers – not just physicians but the entire spectrum – because I truly believe that leads to better health care for patients,” Siddiqui said.

The report predicts that AI and robots will help take on tedious tasks for physicians and nurses, thus speeding up care delivery.

The future must prioritize health equity. There isn’t much debate that “health equity is one of those most critical issues facing our society,” said Brashear, dean of the Jacobs School.

“For decades, the traditional health care system has failed to prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging,” she said. “And while we’ve made some progress in recent years, it hasn’t really been enough.”

The Rev. George Nicholas, CEO of the Buffalo Center for Health Equity, said one of his takeaways from events he attends about innovation is the ability for humans to solve big problems.

With spotlight on Buffalo, a push to make health equity a No. 1 priority

The Rev. George F. Nicholas, CEO of the Buffalo Center for Health Equity, said Buffalo has a moment – right now – to make health equity a priority, particularly following the traumatic events that hit the area last year.

“But then when you look at health outcomes for Black folks in Buffalo, they’re at 1950s levels, right?” said Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church. “And so it’s not like we don’t have the capacity to solve these problems. But we just haven’t invested the brainpower in solving these problems, and then having a high standard for solutions.”

Kelly Wofford, director of the Office of Health Equity within the Erie County Department of Health, said she’s excited about the report but also stressed that it’s missing a large group of people and their perspectives. She emphasized how a family that doesn’t have a stove that works, for instance, “is not going to have a smart toilet.”

Still, Wofford said the report provides a useful blueprint for where health care is headed.

“We know where to go,” she said. “We know where the issues are. How can we begin to have those conversations and be the influence, be the change?”

Global climate change will be a top public health crisis. The World Health Organization estimates that malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress from climate change will kill 5 million people between 2030 and 2050, according to the report.

Water will be among the major concerns, noted Diana Aga, director of UB’s RENEW Institute and a UB chemistry professor.

“Climate change will have an impact on the quality and quantity of water and as we have all these natural disasters, a lot of the polluted waters will be part of the ecosystem,” Aga said.

Aga also mentioned the climate crisis has been shown to worsen antimicrobial resistance, which promotes the creation of superbugs – the name given to strains of bacteria that have become resistant to many types of antibiotics.

And the effects of climate change will not be felt equally. In fact, it could worsen existing health care disparities, with children, seniors, residents of developing countries and those living in poverty expected to suffer the most, the report predicts.

Many sustainability initiatives also cost more money, which will present potential friction in the years ahead, noted Dr. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy at the Jacobs School.

“You get the intersection of what we need to do for the common good and the economy,” she said. “If we could do what we ought to do, it would cost more.”

To read the full report, visit futureof.org/health

Jon Harris can be reached at

716-849-3482 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByJonHarris.

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