How autonomous, self-driving cars will change healthcare

Changes brought about through internet technologies will pale when compared to the sea change that will occur with the advent of autonomous, self-driving cars.

Junior, an early, self-driving Volkswagen Passat prototype, in a parking lot at Stanford University in October 2009. (Image via Wikipedia entry on Autonomous Car, CC 2.0 license)

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2017 – Many modern technological innovations have completely transformed the way people live. Just think how much the smartphone has changed how people communicate, shop and use the internet. That’s just one example.

But the changes brought about in our daily lives thanks to mobile internet technologies will seem like almost nothing when compared to the civilization-wide sea change that will occur with the advent of automated cars.

Cars that can drive themselves will bring about changes in many different industries. While some could be negative, such as the disruptions likely to occur in the Taxi industry, others will be positive, as with the significant changes that automated cars will cause in the healthcare industry.

Many of these changes could happen sooner than you think. It is estimated that some 10 million automated cars will be on the road by the year 2020. Here are a few examples of significant changes that may be on the way sooner than we think.

Fewer Car Accidents

One of the biggest changes likely to arise with the advent of automated cars will be a significant reduction in auto accidents and fatalities. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, there are approximately 1.3 million fatal car accidents every year. An additional 50 million people are injured.

Car accidents are one of the leading causes of fatalities on the planet. Making matters worse, those who don’t perish in car accidents often end up with debilitating injuries that lead to lifetime disabilities. This, in turn, puts a huge strain on healthcare systems in many parts of the world.

Automated self-driven cars promise to change this situation forever. According to the National Highway Transit Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving caused 3,477 deaths in 2015. The computers that will navigate automated cars, however, will not be distracted like human drivers often are, which currently is a major cause of auto accidents. True, car accidents and auto related deaths may still occur under certain circumstances, but they should be far fewer in number once the possibility of human error is removed.

Changes in Insurance

The insurance industry will be strongly influenced by the introduction of automated cars. This may include a transition from today’s car insurance coverage to its inclusion in regular healthcare coverage. One of the reasons why standalone car insurance coverage exists today is to insure that drivers’ healthcare expenses are paid for in the event of an accident. The insurance of all or most drivers works together to pay the human costs.

However, if human beings are not actually driving the vehicles in question, auto passengers will not generally be responsible for those accidents that may still transpire. There may be a need for a personal injury attorney in some cases to hold the car manufacturer or navigation company responsible, but the other driver will not be at fault.

As such, generalized health insurance coverage may very well be expanded to cover most medical expenses resulting from car accidents. As a result, the car insurance industry could shrink by 60 percent by the year 2040, according to a recent study by KPMG

Changes for Ambulance Services

Another way automated vehicles might transform the healthcare industry might be a lessening in the need for traditional ambulances. If an individual is injured in an accident and if their autonomous vehicle isn’t badly damaged, their own car could transport them to the closest hospital emergency room for treatment.

This, of course, would be faster than waiting for an ambulance to arrive. On the other hand, this scenario won’t work in the case of serious injuries when the emergency care provided by EMTs is required on the scene to save one or more lives or extract the injured from badly damaged vehicles. Advancements in remote healthcare and medical monitoring, however, will likely occur in tandem with improvements in automated cars, helping make up some of the difference in these circumstances.

Clearly, the way people live will be dramatically transformed by the emergence of self driving, autonomous vehicles. Many industries will have to alter products and operations significantly in response to such a significant change, a situation that will certainly include the healthcare industry.

However, with less risk of death or injury on the road, most of those changes will prove to be positive in the end.

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