Health is one of the most important aspects of human life. Crucial to the health of humans is technology, and in the past few decades, technological advancements have been the cornerstone of improvement in healthcare and health outcomes for many patients and humanity as a whole (Fett, 2000; Glied & Lleras-Muney, 2008). The rapid development of health technology through research and science has had a huge impact on the service delivery of health, including helping to save many lives, improving life expectancy, and eliminating some diseases. While it is commendable what the exponential developments in health technology have done to improve health outcomes, there are some negative effects, which although unnoticeable at first, have perilous effect on human health (Haff, 2014). In light of the technological developments in health over the past years, the aim of this essay is to analyse advances in technology over the past 30 years and their effects on human health and well-being.
Over the past 30 years, technology in health has advanced, easing the burden of diagnosis, particularly the diagnosis of internal health issues with X-ray. An x-ray is a digital image of an object’s composition based on the detection of electromagnetic energy waves passing through it. Since its discovery in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, X-ray has played a pivotal role in the diagnosis of diseases through the production of images allowing identification of body structures, in addition to recognition of anomalies pointing to injury and disease conditions (Melling, 2010). An X-ray works in that the density of different organs in the body according to their composition, block or allow the X-rays to pass through them. For instance, the calcium density of the spine and the ribs blocks the bulk of X-rays, casting white areas on the X-ray film. Ideally, given that no X-rays pass the tissues to expose the film they remain white with dark silhouettes shaping the bones and other tissues (Linton, 1995). The density of different organs of the body allows different levels of X-ray beam penetration, and therefore, different exposure levels of the beam on the film. Thus, the water densities of the stomach and liver show as grey on the film given that they block less of the beam in comparison to the bones. Fat tissues on the other hand, allow more exposure of the film to the beams, making the film darker in comparison with the water tissues of the stomach and liver (Linton, 1995).Although the X-rays have a level of complexity and require a trained eye in detecting any health problems in the tissues, the beams reduce workload and improve diagnostic accuracy (Stevens et al., 2013). The complexity of X-rays largely stems from transferring an intricate 3D image into a 2D image, where organ tissues overlay one another (Linton, 1995). Important, however, is that fractures in ribs, abnormal curves of the spine, and abnormal heart silhouettes become readily visible on the resulting X-ray image. Further, X-rays improve diagnosis, given that cancers that grow in the lungs cast irregular shadows, and X-rays expose the welter of overlapping shadows (Linton, 1995). Far from diagnosis, X-ray is also important in viewing bone fractures and displacements, gallstones, kidney stone, and bullets as well as other metallic fragments, making it possible to not only locate them, but also work on a plan to remove them during surgery (Linton, 1995).
Aside from X-ray as a technological development in the past 30 years are linear accelerators, which can enhance the ability to modify the application of radiation to cancerous cells. By definition, a linear accelerator is a tool that allows for the variable deposits of radiation based on patient treatment needs. Thanks to advancements in medical technology, linear accelerators are among the latest forms of treatment for cancer, which works by customizing high energy X-rays conforming to a tumor’s shape, and in so doing destroying the cancer cells even as it spares the surrounding normal tissues. Customization is the hallmark of linear accelerators, given that the machine features internally built safety measures ensuring that the machine delivers only the prescribed dosage or radiation, with routine check by a physicist to ascertain the proper working to the machine (Parikh et al., 2016). The advantage of the linear accelerator is that is applicable across the whole body. The accelerator machine used microwave technology, which accelerates electrons in the machine, allowing the electrons to collide with a heavy metal target, thus producing high-energy X-rays. The machine shapes the beams as they exit it, ensuring that they conform to the shape of the patient’s tumor, directing the beam to the patient’s tumor.Before treatment, linear accelerators are instrumental in scanning of the body to provide the location of the tumors for treatment. The imaging and location of the accelerators are pinpoint accurate, preventing any chances mishaps. Laser guide help improve the accuracy of the accelerators ensuring that the machine delivers the required treatment at the very point required. Technological advancements in health have made it possible to use new linear accelerator technologies including Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT), Stereotactic Radiation Therapy (SRT), Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS), and Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT). The new technologies deliver maximum dosages to the target area, while preventing any serious harm to the neighboring tissues.
While linear accelerators are instrumental in treatment of tumors within the body, stem-cell scaffolds offer a revolutionary means to the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. As engineered tissues, stem-cell scaffolds are biodegradable frameworks constructed of alginate that degrade into a target site to re-structure injured tissue (Howard et al., 2008). The stem-cell scaffolds provide biological alternatives, which restore, maintain and improve the function of the tissue or the whole organ. The potential for widespread use of stem-cell scaffolds is huge given that the scaffolds provide the matrices necessary to fill the tissue void, providing structural support for the degenerated tissues (Howard et al., 2008). Even more is that the stem-cell scaffolds allow the regeneration of the cell tissues, providing the structural support necessary for the growth of the cells after transplantation into the patient.The current usage of stem-cells scaffolds is largely on the functioning of tissues. However, there is a huge potential for the use of stem-cell scaffolds in the treatment of various degenerative diseases including cancer. The potential is especially huge, given the possibility of customizing the type of cell support, immune modulation, vascularization and the predictive ability of computer and mathematical models for more complex materials (Howard et al., 2008).
Despite the strides that technological advancements have made in healthcare in diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and the potential the advancements have in the treatment of various diseases, there are consequences and controversies surrounding advanced technology use in healthcare. Among these is the risk of developing cancer through exposure to X-rays. Experts and scientists agree that small doses of gamma and x-radiation found in x-ray machine increase the risk of developing cancer. Similar concerns exist for the use of linear accelerators. The delivery of radiation straight to the cancerous cells can have adverse health effects. The effects include swelling of the brain, seizures and issues with the vision of the patient. These side effects may sometimes develop into other more serious complications.The most controversial of the recent technological advancements in healthcare is stem-cell scaffolds, which have raised ethical questions. Stem cells’ major source of controversy is the origin of the cells, largely from human embryos and cadaveric fetal tissues. Controversy over the use of stem cells extends to the morality of using embryos, in addition to procuring elective abortions as a means of acquiring the embryonic tissues. Moreover, there is risk of rejection of the scaffolds injected into the body system, which may have adverse health effects including development of cancerous tissues from the stem-cell scaffolds.Technology has come a long way and continues to develop.
Technological advancements in healthcare are today responsible for not only better health care, but also improved life expectancy. Diagnosis and treatment of various diseases continues to be easier thanks to technological developments including X-rays, linear accelerators and stem cell therapy. However, despite the benefits of technological advancements, there are risks associated with the advancements such as the risk of developing cancer from over exposure to X-rays. Stem cell therapy also raises ethical questions concerning harvesting of the stem cells. Noteworthy therefore is that technological developments have and will continue to affect healthcare provision despite concerns raised over their potential danger. Embracing technological advancements in health does not mean ignoring concerns raised over the potential dangers, rather it means working to mitigate any potential negative impact of the technological advancements on health.
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