Technology has changed the way the world runs every sector, and the healthcare industry has not been left behind.
Today, healthcare businesses are using big data and new-age gadgets like mobile phones, smart watches, and live streaming to improve communication. The actual practice of medicine has also been revolutionized by virtual reality, nanotechnology, and 3-D printing, among others.
These technologies have improved efficiency and service delivery and made services accessible over a wider geographical region. This article discusses nine groundbreaking technologies and how they have affected healthcare globally. Read on!
How is Technology Changing the Healthcare Industry
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Data Mining and Analysis
Data mining refers to the way computers collect massive amounts of data, establish patterns and apply them to problem-solving. With the advent of Electronic Health Records (EHR), doctors have access to more accurate data about patients. Accuracy is pivotal to making correct diagnoses and prescribing the best treatments or care regimens for patients.
Because of the amounts of information under discussion, there must be some way to sift through the “noise” and uncover any patterns that can be helpful.
For more than a decade, data mining has been used in fraud detection, maintenance scheduling and even credit scoring in other industries. In healthcare, data mining has enabled:
- Patients to access better and more affordable services – high-risk or chronic patients are identified early, and the right interventions are instated
- healthcare providers to optimize best practices among different groups of patients. Tools are applied to compare symptoms, treatments, causes, and side effects among various demographics to reveal any patterns
- insurers to detect insurance fraud or abuse by highlighting unusual claim patterns. If fraud reduces, insurers reduce their loses, and this trickles down to lowering healthcare costs
Data mining hold immense potential to detect general medical issues and prescribe better treatment. It is believed that this can reduce healthcare costs by as much as 30 percent as the technology advances.
Creation of EHRs has to be at the top of any discussion of technology and healthcare communication. Digital records are securely stored on the cloud and accessible anywhere you go for treatment.
Therefore, your medical history is downloadable and trackable from a single source, so that the right diagnosis or treatment is made using your history. This can be the difference between life and death, for instance, if you’re unconscious and unable to provide this information about yourself.
Digitization has improved patient outcomes, streamlined processes, and reduced healthcare costs. As it advances, we can expect even more excellent outcomes.
Another aspect is access to accurate medical information using handheld devices through mobile apps. You can track doctors’ appointments and receive reminders to take medication, improving compliance with treatment regimens. Apps can also help you track your food intake and activity levels, supporting the adoption of healthier lifestyles.
Digitization can free up health professionals’ time by reducing time spent in record maintenance and retrieval. Keeping logs of doctors’ tests, consultations and differential diagnosis provide incremental efficiency in the healthcare process. Patients’ records can be translated and retrieved in cases where there’s a language barrier hindering communication.
Mobile Medical Devices (Wearables)
Technology companies are investing heavily in wearable technology. Today, you can find smartwatches that do more than telling time: track your caloric intake, sleeping patterns, record steps, and take your vitals (pulse, oxygenation, etc.). You can get a smartphone to remind you to drink water, take medicine, exercise or eat something at specific intervals.
Using this data, health professionals can create more tailored medical evaluations and interventions. People with diabetes may be able to use gadgets to monitor their blood glucose levels and administer insulin or receive warnings to eat.
At its best, we’re looking forward to a time when a smartwatch can anticipate a heart attack and call for emergency assistance even before the fact. We’re expecting a time when you won’t need to remember your medical history: a health professional will only need to download that information from your device and update it onto your EHR file.
Miscommunication and missing information are the two greatest causes of inefficiency in the healthcare industry. If patient information is managed well, patient safety and care can be guaranteed.
Artificial intelligence can actually reform the entire healthcare system. AI algorithms can be used to mine health records, suggest diagnosing, create tailored treatment plans and even develop drugs. And they can do this way faster than any health professional.
Supercomputers can be used to root out bespoke therapies from millions of stored molecular structures whose mode of action is known. For example, one startup, Atomwise, initiated a virtual search among safety-tested, existing medication that can be reworked and used to curb the Ebola virus. Two drugs were found to reduce Ebola’s infectivity considerably.
Healthcare executives are already applying AI in clinical decision support, disease management, population health management, development of health plans, quality and safety assurance, and supply management, among others.
With further developments, it is expected that AI technology can be used to diagnose and treat eye diseases, strokes, heart diseases, and other life-threatening illnesses more effectively. This will also create more IT jobs in the industry.
Virtual healthcare is also known as telemedicine or telehealth. It is expected to allow doctors to reach and diagnose patients remotely through mobile apps or video conferencing.
Used in conjunction with wearable technology to monitor symptoms, doctors can receive more accurate details and prescribe treatment remotely. Patients would readily choose virtual healthcare because of its ease of use, convenience, and reduced costs.
Virtual healthcare can be used for simpler medical consultations where physical examinations are unnecessary. However, there is a danger that specific symptoms may be missed. Even so, adopting virtual treatment over face-to-face visits can save billions of dollars annually, freeing up doctors’ time to focus on more serious issues.
Nanomedicine involves the use of atoms and molecules at the very smallest level in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases. The field is growing alarmingly fast; it is expected to be worth more than $350 billion in 2025.
Nano-molecules are small (for reference, a newspaper is 100,000 nanometers thick) and are useful for delivering targeted/precise medication. This can pave the way to finally treat diseases that have a challenge in their delivery systems of therapies e.g., HIV and cancers.
Nanotechnology may also be used to create nano-devices to perform molecular surgeries, eliminating the need for risky, highly invasive procedures. Some researchers are experimenting with molecular-sized robots that can swim through body fluids to deliver drugs or other interventions.
Virtual reality is not only for the entertainment industry; it’s making big ripples in healthcare today. VR provides an immersive, multi-sensory experience that can benefit both patients and physicians in several aspects, e.g.:
- Training health workers to visualize what’s going on in the body
- Training surgeons in a low-risk, simulated but realistic environment
- Calm patients who are facing anxiety disorders or during scary procedures that must be done
- Provide patients with alternate realities to experience other situations, such as if they are hospitalized for a long time
- Help young doctors visualize their patients’ problems or realities so that they can be more empathetic
VR is growing rapidly, and its growth is providing new avenues for discovering and testing new solutions in the healthcare industry.
3-D printing technology has advanced dramatically since its launch, particularly for the healthcare industry. The technology is used to develop life-like prototypes and can create everything from individualized prosthetics to body organs and tissues.
3-D prints can be customized for all patients and have changed the way we can approach tissue repair, organ transplants, and even realistic synthetic skin grafts to burn patients.
Not Impossible Labs in California has been taking 3D printers to Sudan, where the war has left many people injured. Amputations and hence, the need for prosthetic limbs is exceptionally pressing there. This lab has taught local physicians to operate the machines to create new individualized limbs and fit them onto patients.
Another application is in the creation of blood vessels to replace torn or plaque-filled blood vessels to reduce the risk of heart attacks or coronary thrombosis. Before now, pig’s vessels have been used, and rejection rates are higher.
Augmented reality isn’t the same as virtual reality: in AR, users aren’t in an alternate reality. Instead, AR puts this reality into their eyes much faster and with greater detail. This means AR can be the future of diagnostic imaging and education of professionals.
For instance, it may help students to prepare for real-life operations and surgeons to enhance their operation skills. Researchers are working on software that can create accurate impressions of organs and tumors. Doctors can “rehearse” using these life-like simulations before tackling the real thing.
For diagnostic imaging, AR can be used to provide realistic images without the radiation exposure of X-rays. In addition, the entire body can be imaged at once.
The Healthcare Industry – Final Thoughts
There are many more technologies that have not been discussed: robot-assisted surgeries, genome sequencing, and even drug development, among others. Technology can be applied to make healthcare more available and less expensive for the masses.
Even though current prices of some of these techniques are prohibitive, we can expect that as technology advances, they will be more readily available and costs will come down.
The future of the healthcare industry has never looked so good. If you loved this post, feel free to share it on social media.