Quantum computing is no longer a thing of science fiction. The technology is here, now. Healthcare is one industry that holds a lot of potential to integrate quantum.
If you watch the news at all, you’ll see quantum computing is everywhere, as Google researchers are claiming quantum supremacy for the first time. While we are still a while away from commercially available quantum computers, it does open up the discussion about “the possible.”
How will industries, like healthcare, be disrupted by this future technology?
A Bit of Background
Quantum computers differ from classical computers in that they go beyond the traditional “zero or one” bit model. Quantum bits, called qubits, can be both zero, one, or zero and one at the same time. This ability to be in the same state at the same time is called superposition.
Superposition, along with entanglement, allows quantum computers to perform numerous calculations in parallel. In doing so, it creates substantially more computational processing power to solving complex problems.
Thanks to technological advances such as cloud computing, we now have more computational power at our fingertips than ever before. These advantages resulted in breakthroughs in natural language processing, image recognition, and machine learning, among other areas.
However, quantum computers will eventually far exceed anything we see today. This advancement will lead to new opportunities and challenges in several industries, including healthcare.
Healthcare Applications Accelerate with Advanced Quantum Compute Power
Quantum’s ability to compute at scale will allow clinicians to incorporate a vast number of cross-functional data sets into their patient risk factor models. For instance, we’ll be able to analyze environmental databases to evaluate the effect of pollution on a patient’s health history.
Another way quantum’s compute power creates an advantage is in its ability to process imagery at scale. Analyzing images, such as CT scans, require much more processing power than traditional data sets. With increased compute available, clinicians could easily review CT scans over time and quickly identify changes and anomalies.
Similarly, we’ll be able to accelerate precision medicine. Also, quantum computing will allow us to select clinical trial participants using more reference points, ensuring a better fit between protocol and patient. We can identify targeted chemotherapy protocols quicker, and with more customization, with quantum’s enhanced data processing abilities. And post-treatment, being able to understand where and why a protocol succeeded or failed more accurately, will give clinicians and researchers valuable insight.
But There Will Be Challenges, Too
Healthcare tends to lag behind other industries in technology adoption. The industry is only beginning to harness Artificial Intelligence, trailing advancements already made in this space by the private sector. Thus, they may also be slow to embrace quantum, causing healthcare innovation to fall behind advancements in other industries.
Other concerns include privacy and ethics. Quantum computing has the potential to give individuals much clearer insights into their future healthcare risks. Patients tend to be receptive to this information when they understand those risks might migrate via preventative medicine. However, when the future prognosis indicates health conditions with grim outlooks, ethical situations arise.
Will the predicted future prognosis impact the patient’s current mental health? What if health insurers or employers use the information to make negative coverage or employment decisions? These are questions circulating for current healthcare technologies, of course. Quantum amplifies the need for a thoughtful approach to predictive medicine.
We Can’t Forget About Security
Because of its advanced processing power, quantum computing can destroy our current encryption practices, making your personal healthcare history vulnerable.
Thankfully, many institutions, including the US Government, are researching “quantum-proof” encryption, with promising initial results.
Assuming that healthcare providers can implement quantum-resistant encryption promptly, patients and providers may have greater peace of mind in a quantum world. Not only will personal data be better protected with next-generation security practices, but healthcare organizations will be able to prevent malicious activity and limit data breaches better than before. Quantum’s increased processing power will allow cybersecurity departments to process and analyze large amounts of access activity and recognize potential threats in advance.
Quantum computing may provide life-saving medical applications we have never seen the likes of before. Implementing these applications, however, will take a measured and mindful approach. Thankfully, we have a few years before this technology becomes mainstream, allowing the healthcare industry to fully grasp quantum’s true capabilities and challenges in the meantime.