How emerging technologies can help deliver better healthcare

11 Nov 2020

Image: Riya Mehta

Teenager Riya Mehta considers herself a global health activist and wants to help solve the world’s greatest problems with disruptive technology.

Riya Mehta is a passionate and accomplished tech enthusiast, researcher and innovator. As a student researcher with the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, she explored different ways of applying AI in the future of genomics, 3D printing and VR in medicine. Now, she is hoping to continue that work.

I am developing ways of reinventing telemedicine through VR by creating my platform Virtuary,” she said. “Right now, I’m building a start-up that is passionate about tackling the sustainable development goals of the UN through emerging technology called Futureshot Factory.”

‘Emerging technology is a huge part as to why the medical industry is so diverse and heading into a stage of automation’

Mehta said she has always been fascinated by emerging technology and she joined student accelerator programme The Knowledge Society in 2019. There, she focused on the intersection of emerging technologies and solving the world’s biggest problems with other teenagers and young people.

“I was exposed to a lot of technology there, specifically in AI and genomics and the importance of artificial intelligence for predicting genetic diseases,” she said. “I’m a person that believes in intersections, especially in the medical field. Intersections between existing problems and technologies that can be used to solve them, just like AI and genomics.”

Once she started her work at the Hospital for Sick Children, Mehta became more invested in the power of technology to predict diseases.

“Emerging technology is a huge part as to why the medical industry is so diverse and heading into a stage of automation,” she said. “3D bioprinting has benefits like no other, being able to use stem cells to print personalised organs for the body to use, so patients don’t have to rely on other donors and fear the risk of rejection.”

Another example Mehta pointed out is the advances in telemedicine, especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. “More patients around the world are turning to telemedicine to have online medical care delivered right to their homes,” she said.

“Many are also saying the future of telemedicine will lie in clinical trials and research being done remotely as well, through allowing the participants to wear wearables that help to spot deviations from their readings.”

Adoption in the healthcare industry

While Mehta is passionate about the benefits that emerging technologies can bring to healthcare, she also acknowledges that there are obstacles in terms of adoption.

“Medicine was never supposed to traditionally be about technology and automation, it was supposed to centre around traditional healing, which is why many doctors and patients are sceptical of the growing advancements of medical technology,” she said.

“As we reimagine physical spaces, [there will be] a lot of questions such as if quality will be compromised as a result of online care, or if data security will still be maintained while shifting over to automated forms of medicine.”

She added that it’s important to create a culture that includes communication with patients and shows how technologies such as AI, telemedicine, VR and more can aid doctors working at capacity to deliver better medical care.

‘Impact is shown through many ways’

Mehta said she realised very quickly that there is no one way to impact other people.

“I speak at many conferences and share my story of being a young woman in technology. And often times, young girls and boys come up to me telling me that I gave them a new perspective or inspiration.

“I’ve always dreamed of being somebody else’s role model. I’ve always wanted for other people to look at me as someone who could help them be a better person. And to confidently say that I have, is a blessing.

“Being a young woman in the STEM industry, I hope to bridge the gap not only between gender diversity, but also include people from all ages into the conversation.”

However, Mehta also spoke about the challenges she has faced in her own journey, mainly with self-confidence. “I didn’t believe in luck, I didn’t believe in faith, I really was a sad kid who smiled on the outside. But I always kept one goal in mind and worked relentlessly towards it. I just was missing the most important part, the belief in myself that I could do it.”

She said that she deals with anxiety on a daily basis. “It’s really hard to stay strong when you quite literally feel the world falling apart, as I’m sure many have felt like before.

“But it’s those moments that make you really strong and want to push through. Working at a hospital has been the privilege of a lifetime. I’ve seen so much and gained so much respect for my life, because I’ve seen other people not been able to have one.

“I’ve seen people not be able to step out of a bed for months and go through the absolute worst. But it has motivated me to keep me going and make me want to help those people who can’t live the life they want because of a medical condition.”

Turning pain into success

In terms of advice for those interested in pursuing a career in the industry, Mehta said she believes a person’s network is their net worth. “I’ve gained so much just by being active on platforms like LinkedIn and gaining mentors along the way that have taught me incredible things and guided me.”

However, on a more personal level, she added it’s important to be a good person. “There are too many people going after things for the wrong reason. We need more people with a kind soul and a good character to keep this industry going,” she said.

‘I hope to bridge the gap not only between gender diversity, but also include people from all ages into the conversation’

“A mentor of mine told me once that true art is taking your pain and turning it into success. Success that can help others, success that can move mountains and success that can save lives. It’s a hard journey out there, and it’s lonely, and sometimes you reach the top of the mountain and you feel like you have no one there to celebrate with you.

“But the interesting thing about life is that when you lose things, you gain something new. When you lose people, you gain new people. So, don’t get discouraged because everything happens for a reason. Everything happens in life to teach you new things. Remember that there are other people facing the same journey as you and you are not alone.”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic