It’s not saying much anymore to simply point out that technology is disrupting the healthcare industry. However, it is worth noting that as technology further develops, it is alleviating many pain points for healthcare and medical providers. It’s easy to just say that big data helps the communication between clinicians and patients. But if we dive more deeply into how big data is doing so, it makes for some interesting insight into how big data and other technologies will continue to further the healthcare industry. Ultimately we’ll see that these technologies have disrupted the industry so significantly, it won’t survive without them.
Recent technologies are not only beneficial to healthcare professionals, they are promoting the overall wellness of the general population. We now have apps on our phone that can track our exercise and calorie intake, fighting obesity and heart disease. Watches are available to monitor our heart rates, which a doctor can then access to determine irregular patterns and possibly prevent a heart attack. We will only see more applications for professionals and patients as these technologies further develop.
Advancements in technology, for any industry, means easier communication, storage and transfer of data, convenience, easier production, and many more ways of innovation while preventing industries from backtracking. These benefits are being capitalized on by the healthcare industry, as it has perhaps the most to gain from these rapid advancements. This article will take a look at the medical innovations and technologies disrupting the healthcare industry, and what that means in terms of going forward.
Our network of connected devices, combined with the internet and the cloud, allows for an astronomical exchange of data to take place. Transferring this data is very easy and convenient. With the addition of big data and AI, automation can be added to the process to assist in the operation and regulating equipment. Every one of these technological elements — the exchange of data, convenience, and automation — has been lacking in the healthcare industry. The IoT is significantly changing how easily healthcare professionals can communicate and exchange data with colleagues and patients.
The IoT is changing everything from patient records and monitoring to inventory control to preventative care. The communication and collaboration between healthcare professionals can now happen in real-time — an extremely beneficial aspect of the healthcare industry. The IoT may be the most prominent technology making waves in healthcare, and many of the technologies disrupting the sector are only made possible through the interconnectivity of devices, applications, and the internet and cloud.
Electronic health records have gotten a facelift over the years. With the IoT, big data and the connectivity of devices are providing up-to-date information about a patient at their point of care. In our age of technology, the way we handle patient data is changing on all fronts. A healthcare provider can instantly pull up an EHR and know a patient’s entire medical history. Imagine being able to make an accurate diagnosis based on a patient’s past visits and suggest the correct medication or procedure instantly.
EHRs are easing communication between providers, as they are shareable through devices and secure networks. The convenience of EHRs is appreciated by healthcare professionals who are able to update and expand upon a patient’s medical history. EHRs can also further preventative care efforts and reduce medical errors by providing an easily readable, comprehensive look into a patient’s past history. A provider can look back on a patient’s medical history and find patterns that could suggest a medical condition that may have been overlooked and start preventative action immediately. The further development of EHRs will only see them become more and more appreciated over the outdated and time-consuming physical recording method.
3. Remote Care
Remote patient care is solving many problems in healthcare. Relying on the convenience that the IoT provides in transferring data between devices, remote care offers convenience while maintaining quality care for patients. Remote patient monitoring and telehealth are made possible through video conferencing technology, along with big data and wearable technology. Physicians can monitor and diagnose patients miles away — conversing with them about symptoms and even being able to see medical concerns to make an informed decision on medication or operations without even being in the room or state for that matter.
Wearable devices and the IoT allow for remote patient monitoring, meaning that a physician can receive data from a patient’s watch to determine their heart rate, caloric intake, and other things that can prevent major health issues. Additionally, those with chronic illness can be monitored at their homes to keep their freedom and spend more time with their loved ones, only coming to a point of care when necessary. This will benefit physicians as well, as they can counsel patients without anyone having to travel.
Physicians can reach more people who don’t like to or can’t afford to go to a doctor. Finally, remote care can save money for everyone by minimizing hospital visits, freeing up hospital rooms for those who need them, as well as the schedules of healthcare providers. Remote care will only continue to become more optimized, disrupting healthcare with its promise of real-time communication, improving quality of life, making health care more accessible, and saving money.
4. 3D Printing
3D printing is impacting many industries in reducing labor costs while increasing production rates, and healthcare is one industry tapping into its enormous potential. Although initial prices may be high, 3D printing technology is developing rapidly every day, reducing the cost of manufacturing prototypes, prosthetics, tissue and skin, and even pharmaceuticals.
3D printing is helping healthcare professionals and patients alike. Precise and custom designs can be made for patients who are not all the same when it comes to mass-produced prosthetics. Tissue engineering is another breakthrough that surgeons are beginning to use. Using stem cells as a production material to create organs, and significantly impacting the organ transplant process. Burn victims can find relief with 3D printed skin, as skin grafts can be painful and unsightly. With 3D printing, professionals are using human plasma and skin biopsies from the patient as the production material to create new human skin — giving burn victims a better quality of life.
One such sector of healthcare taking advantage of 3D printing is radiology. Assisting in diagnostic imaging, 3D printing can make a 2D x-ray or CT scan into a 3D model. Taking these 2D images into another plane, physicians may be able to see something better with a more comprehensive view, catching something they might have missed in a 2D image. Furthermore, this technique can help in explaining a condition to a patient, helping them better understand it. 3D printing, as it further develops, can serve as a preventative health tool, as well as providing more affordable health care for burn victims and amputees.
Advancements in laser technology have made it easy for physicians, and affordable for patients, to eliminate their reliance on eyeglasses and contacts and elect for a more permanent vision-correction process. Vision correction is yet another procedure that technology is helping to cut costs on — a significant pain point in the healthcare industry.
With today’s most advanced LASIK lasers, “surgery is performed with specialized lasers that modify the eye. During the procedure, a surgeon uses these lasers to carefully reshape the cornea, correcting common vision problems like nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and astigmatism in the process.” The efficiency and safety of this elective procedure are allowing surgeons to offer services to a broader audience — making vision without corrective lenses accessible and affordable to more people.
6. Retail Clinics
Retail health clinics, or a nurse-in-a-box, are essentially walk-in clinics that can be found in retail stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies — such as a CVS store. Retail clinics are disrupting healthcare by providing convenient, quality care to patients for minor illnesses such as allergies, cold and flu, and minor burns and sprains. An essential part that makes retail clinics possible is EHRs.
Similar to remote care, retail clinics are minimalizing trips to urgent care centers and other pressing hospital trips — saving healthcare professionals the workload and time to provide quality care to patients who are in dire need of attention. Additionally, retail clinics can reach more people, and this broad accessibility, convenience, and the decrease in costs aim to solve three major concerns of the healthcare industry today.
7. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is yet another emerging technology disrupting the healthcare industry. Augmented reality supplements reality with images and sounds to create its own type of extended reality. Gaming, retail, and education are taking advantage of this new technology, and healthcare is capitalizing on augmented reality for its educational benefits.
Imagine the level of comfort going into a procedure knowing that your surgeon has performed it many times before. Or, being a surgeon and walking into an operation knowing precisely what to do. Augmented reality provides both practicing physicians and trainees with the education of performing procedures on a 3D portrayal of a human body. This augmented situation puts physicians in a low-risk educational environment — being able to operate on virtual patients without the dire implications of failing.
This allows the physician to focus on the task at hand and will enable them to grasp the task at hand better and become more equipped to handle the real thing. Additionally, augmented reality can be used to show a patient exactly how to apply medication, wash and dress a wound, and other duties that can easily be done by a patient rather than a doctor to prevent further aggravation of injury. Augmented reality will simply provide better education leading to preventative health and a reduction in medical error.
8. Precision Medicine
Of course, every healthcare professional knows that not every patient is the same, and in specific instances, shouldn’t be treated medically as such. Precision medicine provides disease treatment and preventative measures based on an individual’s environment, lifestyle, and genetic makeup. This method moves away from the blanket, all-purpose approach to treating diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and cancer.
Many environmental and genetic factors are involved in bringing on particular conditions, and precision medicine can be suggested based on diagnostic and molecular genetic testing. This testing can help doctors treat and even prevent the onset of some severe medical conditions. Genome sequencing can illuminate DNA mutations that an individual is susceptible to, and from there, a physician can come up with a pinpointed treatment plan and medicine to prevent or minimize the damage done by the disease. Precision medicine will facilitate the preventative health necessary to reduce the time and money spent on treatment, and the overall amount of patients who require healthcare in the future.
One primary concern with the exchange of sensitive and proprietary data is security. Healthcare data, whether it pertains to patients or professionals, could prove to be catastrophic if it falls into the wrong hands. Blockchain can be used to secure any patient data, allowing for easy transferring while at the same time keeping it secure — only allowing those with consent to access it.
Using blockchain, smart contracts can be created on a private ledger, in which only a patient or healthcare professional who is qualified to see such data can cryptographically sign to access the data they need. For instance, patient records such as EHRs are celebrated for the convenience of being able to send back and forth, updated and expanding upon by professionals. However, if intercepted, this data can illuminate sensitive data and financial information which can be used against a patient or hospital. Blockchain and smart contracts can be a critical step in securing this data, being easily accessible only when verified by the qualified people who need to access it.
Many of these technologies are in their infancy stage and are only recently being introduced into industries that aren’t healthcare. Although these technologies are relatively new, they are exploding on the scene and disrupting the industries they are implemented into. The healthcare industry recognizes these benefits and will capitalize on the technologies above.
Since these technologies are only recently being taken advantage of, healthcare has a long way to go to understand fully how they will integrate into operations. As healthcare grows, so will these technologies — disrupting healthcare in ways we may not even comprehend yet. One thing’s for sure: as healthcare becomes more intertwined with technology, we will only see the healthcare industry grow more optimized to provide quality health care that is easily accessible to all patients who require attention.