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The future of healthcare: technology, humanities, and music

APR . 03 2017
Peking University, April 1, 2017: Almost half a year ago, the Chinese government rolled out an initiative called “A Healthy China in 2030”, setting general targets for the healthcare industry in China. However, sky-high treatment costs, shortages of medical resources and frequent violent incidents in hospitals have become nagging obstacles for the development of a healthy country. Earlier in March, president of Peking University’s Health Science Center, Zhan Qimin, gave a talk on the popular CCTV-1 program “Kai Jiang La” to discuss the future of healthcare in China, and how we may find a way to navigate through these dangerous waters.

Zhan Qimin on TV show

Technology: Precision Medicine and A.I.

In the first half of the talk, Zhan Qimin gave an overview of the concept “Precision Medicine”, which is quickly gaining recognition as a new form of medical treatment. Precision Medicine, as explained by Zhan, is a “personalized, tailor-made healthcare method for individuals or certain populations”. The emphasis thus shifts from particular diseases to particular patient or groups of patients. Prescriptions are customized according to the specific conditions and medical histories of patients.

Zhan said that today people not only want to be cured when they are ill, they also want to stay healthy for as long as possible. Hence, the healthcare industry must constantly focus on the general well-being of people, so that any potential development of illnesses can be discovered early and precautionary measures might be taken.

Zhan thought that the development of big data and A.I. would significantly assist the achievement of Precision Medicine. The experience and judgment of human medical professionals were limited, while A.I. could draw from a vastly larger pool of previous cases, thus making more accurate diagnoses. That said, Zhan reiterated that he believed A.I. would not undermine the essential fact that human interactions would always be involved in medical procedures, and medical humanities would still be a salient part of healthcare.

Humanities: Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always

The host of the program, renowned anchor Sa Beining, asked Zhan whether the famous Hippocratic quote “cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always” would be misinterpreted by patients that all the responsibilities rested on the shoulders of medical professionals. Zhan responded that, patients should also understand that human knowledge of various diseases is still very limited. In fact, the causes and cures of most identified diseases remain obscure to mankind. A kind of rational trust must be established between doctors and patients.

Zhan believed that technology would never mean that medical humanities would become obsolete. He contended that some subtle and unique human reactions could only be captured by a human doctor. Also, many terminally ill patients do not require any more medications. The comfort and warmth they need before they pass away could only be provided by humans.

Music: the Glaucoma

During his spare time, Zhan is also an amateur singer-songwriter. He co-wrote and provided vocals for a song he dedicated to the Health Science Center when he became its president last May. He also played the pipa, a traditional Chinese musical instrument, live during the interview.

Playing pipa

The program invited two members of a doctor-musician band to the interview. The name of the band is “Glaucoma”, a common type of eye disease. Over the years they have written songs about various diseases, in the hope of educating the general public about them.

Zhan said that he believed the education of future doctors should not only involve medical skills. To foster better relationships between doctors and patients, medical professionals should also be informed in arts and humanities, thus being able to understand the feelings of patients. These artistic elements of education were exactly what he was looking to add to the education of medical students at Health Science Center. Music, indeed, could also play a part in the future of the healthcare industry.

In this wide-ranging television interview, Zhan has outlined many aspects people do not usually associate with the healthcare industry. It certainly involves more than just medical skills. Amid various social and scientific issues that are emerging in healthcare, these future directions are definitely what people could feel excited about.
Written by: Xu Liangdi
Edited by: Zhang Jiang
Source: PKU News (in Chinese)