Health & wellness

What can we expect from the next 100 years of medicine?

Plenty has been written this year about the history of medicine through the lens of the New England Journal of Medicine, which celebrated its 200th anniversary. The journal created a special website chronicling medical advancements through the past two centuries, many of which were highlighted during a symposium in June. For the Globe magazine, I looked back at what a sampling of articles said about the role the journal has played in medicine and society.

In an editorial published today on the journal’s website, two top editors join Dr. Isaac Kohane of Boston Children’s Hospital in looking forward, at what medicine may look like in the next 100 years. You can see the full text online, but here’s a few highlights from what they expect in the decades ahead:

1) We’ll know more about ourselves. “The state of an individual person will be characterized with increasing precision from the molecular level to the genomic level to the organ level and by interactions with medications, nutrients, the microbiome, therapeutic devices, and the environment,” the authors write. Many of us will become study subjects as our medical information, entered into electronic health records, is mined for information. Study groups will include millions, they say. That research will give doctors new tools for predicting health problems and discerning which treatments will work best for each us.


2) We’ll know more about our health care. Transparency is a buzz word. But the authors say patients, health insurers, and government programs will demand more information about the kinds of treatments they’re paying for and more proof that they’re worth the money. Regulators and providers will become more accountable.

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3) More may not be better. “Biomedical research, data technologies, and clinical care all require resources, but the era of shifting more and more economic resources toward health care is going to end,” they write. Medicine must focus on preventing disease and on treatments that deliver the best value to people who need them.

4) Medicine as peacemaker. Reducing disparities in health care, especially between rich countries and poor ones, is essential, they write. That goal may provide opportunities for everyone. “Research-rich countries may come to see that achieving basic health care throughout the world is a strategy to promote stability and peace,” they write.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.