From the use of RFID implants to 3D printed drugs, digital tattoos, mind-reading exoskeletons, there are more than a few mind-blowing innovations coming to the healthcare and medical industries.
However, if you want to know, specifically, what technology is helping to transform this industry, keep reading. While this is no way a complete list as new and exciting innovations are being released daily, it gives you a peek behind this industry and the work being done.
Invisible Healthcare and Digital Tattoos
With all the developments in 3D printing and circuit printing technologies, flexible materials, and electronics, the application of the so-called electronic or digital tattoos is now possible. There are some researchers using graphene or gold nanorods, or different polymers that have rubber backings to apply this tattoo to the skin without causing any type of irritation. There are some experts that believe these tattoos or skin patches are really just the beginning and show what may be possible in the future with other skin techniques, such as makeup, tanning, and henna.
The materials being used are waterproof, flexible, and completely impervious to twisting and stretching. This is combined with the tiny electrodes that have the ability to record and transmit information about the person wearing them to a smartphone or another connected device. It’s predicted that soon they may be able to help healthcare professionals not only monitor but also diagnose serious health conditions, such as sleep disorders, brain activities, heart activities of premature babies, heart arrhythmia, and more, all in a non-invasive manner. Also, with the ability to track vital signs 24 hours per day, without needing to charge up a device, it’s a great option for those who are at a higher risk for stroke. While the technology isn’t quite there yet, there is an array of promising solutions on the market currently.
Integrated Healthcare Apps (Paging Dr. Siri)
If you use a smartphone (and let’s face it, who doesn’t) your idea of the apps includes things like Facebook, Pandora Radio, and The Weather Channel. However, if your view is this narrow, you are definitely missing out on some of the latest and greatest in the realm of health care innovations.
Today, you can find apps that are either currently available or in the advanced development stages that are remaking the ability of your smartphones and allowing your doctor to keep tabs with what is going on with your health. The first of these apps were approved by the FDA in 2012, which let your doctor take a remote EKG virtually anywhere you are connected.
Some of the others you can find include the ability to track the progression of “suspicious” moles and apps that allow radiologists to decipher medical images remotely. The CellScope app lets you capture a picture of your child’s inner ear and then sends it to your doctor, letting them decide if there is a problem. This can help you save money and avoid going to the doctor if there’s no infection present.
The Power of Patient Empowerment as a Consequence of New Technologies
In the past 10 years, there have been so many revolutionary technological advancements that have caused a shift toward an age of digital care in the medical field. The shift is being theorized as a type of cultural transformation regarding how various disrupting technologies are making objective and digital data available to both patients and caregivers. As a result, there’s now an equal relationship between patients and their physicians allowing for the democratization of the care received and joint decisions.
On the side of the patient, this has resulted in the creation of the e-patient, where the “e” has several meanings include expert, electronic, engaged, equipped, empowered, or enabled. This is a patient who is taking charge and responsibility for their own health and who is engaging in shaping their future, all while maintaining mutually beneficial partnerships with the doctors and caregivers they have chosen. While this may not sound like a technological advancement (and maybe it isn’t) it has been enabled by wearable medical devices, health sensors, and an array of other innovations that have made the patient the point of care. It’s from this viewpoint that makes this a must-have for this particular list.
A Heart-Beat Powered Battery
Every seven years, millions of pacemakers in millions of patients will run out of “juice” and have to be replaced. As a must-have, life-saving medical device, it’s clear why innovations have now been made in this field. Thanks to technology created by a joint venture between the University of Illinois and the University of Arizona, it’s possible for pacemakers and other implanted devices to use electricity that is harnessed from your beating heart. You can think of it as your own, personal thoracic turbine.
Researchers have created nanogenerators that have the job of converting the mechanical energy of your heartbeat into actual electrical energy. These are going to be internal power plants that provide a steady supply of electricity. Eventually, it’s predicted that these devices will become so sophisticated that they will be able to troubleshoot issues with the device being powered, and in some situations, fix the problem without any type of human intervention.
Voice-Based Diagnostic Tools
Medical professionals and researchers have discovered how beneficial the use of voice-based solutions can be in the healthcare industry for diagnostics and in the support of day-to-day tasks, such as healthcare administration. Scientists have discovered that certain characteristics in a person’s voice – or in the vocal biomarkers (which is the official medical term) – can reveal a lot about their health. It can also help in detecting serious health risks and diseases.
One example of a company that has found success in this realm is Beyond Verbal. This company is dealing with emotion analytics and offers voice analysis software. Recently, the company announced that the algorithms being used were helpful in detecting coronary artery disease in a group of patients. However, this technology is multi-faceted. Another company has developed a voice-based technology for diagnosing and monitoring both physical and mental conditions; however, it’s predicted there will be many more solutions in the future.
The same is happening with voice-based technologies when it comes to supporting medical professionals as they battle to get on top of various administration duties. Thanks to AI (artificial intelligence) base voice to text technologies, the tables are being turned in regard to bureaucracy at the medical office – the patient and physician are now able to talk while a voice assistant records/listens to the information and records the text into the proper columns in an EHR. This is something that’s expected in the coming years.
Breathalyzers for Detecting Cancer
Breathalyzers are considered “champions” when it comes to determining if someone is drunk driving. However, now they are being used for an entirely new purpose – to diagnose cancer.
Georgia Tech is conducting medical trials using a $100 Breathalyzer type device to detect breast and lung cancer in individuals and, to date, it’s had an accuracy rate of about 80 percent. The new device is programmed to test an array (up to 75) different components that are considered characteristic of the cancers mentioned to either confirm or make a diagnosis.
One of the biggest benefits of this method is the cost-savings opportunity it offers. If someone needs a biopsy, the procedure can cost as much as $5,000. If a PET scan is needed, the cost can easily exceed $4,000. Another benefit is that it may be possible to diagnose lung cancer earlier. According to the researchers from Georgia Tech, when cases of lung cancer are caught during Stage 1, which is the initial stage, it has a cure rate of as much as 70 percent. The majority of cases of lung cancer, though, are not caught until they have reached Stage 3 when the symptoms are more obvious. At this point, however, the cure rate is just 25 percent.
Artificial Food to Supplement During Times of Food Shortages
Artificial milk, synthetic tea, meat grown in a lab – this isn’t something straight out of a Sci-Fi movie, it’s the future. There is currently an array of innovative solutions that are available, offering a method for alleviating the overstrain on the Earth’s natural resources while still providing food for millions of people across the globe.
One example of this is with the work being done by the researchers from the Cultured Beef Project. This team of researchers are actively removing muscle cells from a cow’s shoulder and then feeding the cells using a mix of nutrients in a Petri dish. They have effectively grown the cells into real muscle. From just a few starter cells it is possible to grow and create tons of new meat.
There’s another company that’s based out of the Netherlands called Mosa Meat that created a hamburger back in 2013 and the company has since promised to make beef available to the masses in the coming years.
New and Improved Antibiotics
There aren’t too many people today who fully understand or appreciate the importance of Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928. Thanks to this discovery, countless lives have been saved and new drugs have been created.
However, 80 years later, humans are now in a dangerous position of bacteria growing resistant to the current antibiotics that are available for us, with up to two million people developing an infection that is antibiotic resistance every year. Up to 23,000 of these cases wind up being fatal. This is something that has been made worse by several decades-long dry spells regarding the development of new and effective antibiotic drugs.
There’s good news though, all this is going to change. Now, there are approximately a dozen novel antibiotics going through clinical trials right now and this new generation of drugs is working in amazing ways. There are some that are just improved versions of the older antibiotics that have been used, which will kill almost any type of bacterium they come in contact with. The majority are doing this by adding silver to the current antibiotics, which is increasing their strength and effectiveness.
However, there are others that are referred to as smart bombs, which are considered much more elegant. They are designed to specifically target and eliminate certain strains of bad bacteria that may cause diseases in people. The benefit of this approach is that it won’t impact the other helpful or good bugs that are living in your body.
If it is possible to print everything from chocolate to guns and even entire houses with a 3D printer, it’s no surprise that this innovation has been integrated into the medical field today. Not only can 3D printers be used for printing living cells, but also prescription medication and even vital hospital supplies.
The FDA approved a drug for epilepsy called Spritam in August of 2015. This drug is made using 3D printers. It will print out the powdered drug one layer at a time to help it dissolve much faster than the average polls. In June of 2015, it was also found that scientists at the University College of London were experimenting with the 3D printing of drugs in new and unusual shapes like octopuses or dinosaurs to help make it more fun for children to take. It’s predicted that these tablets will be commercialized in the near future.
The Emergence of Container Hospitals
If you don’t have access to medical facilities, advances in medical treatment really don’t matter. This is the driving idea behind an initiative originated in China where shipping containers were being used to create a sort of “hospital in a box.” Due to the Coronavirus, China built two hospitals in over one week. Every hospital is made of up to 10 containers with various rooms for public health services, diagnostic equipment, operating theaters, pharmacies, and clinic rooms.
It’s possible to configure and equip each of the individual locations based on the local needs at just a fraction of the cost of a small, three-story hospital in the U.S. which ranges around $17 million. While the first container hospitals were constructed in Africa, this is an idea that could be beneficial all over the globe, especially in rural communities.
Innovations in Healthcare: The Future is Now
When it comes to healthcare innovations, there’s no question that there are more than a few technologies that are being developed or hitting the market that is set to revolutionize the entire industry. It is this technology that’s credited with helping keep the general population healthier and ensuring people have the opportunity to enjoy life without worrying about healthcare and treatment.