Better quality, better affordability and better outcomes matter in healthcare, like no other industry. Today, most patient interactions with medical equipment and devices involve the use of IT technology. We propose to consider the following seven trends the development of health technologies in 2020:
Internet of Medical Things
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) includes a number of connected medical devices, applications and health systems that are able to collect, analyse and transmit patient data to internal servers or clouds of a healthcare provider. Today, medical technology companies cover the manufacturing of more than 500,000 different types of medical devices, including wearable external medical devices (skin patches, insulin pumps and blood glucose monitors), implanted medical devices (pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillator devices) and stationary medical devices (home monitoring devices, connected imaging devices and scanning machines).
The capabilities of these connected wearables allow healthcare providers to make more accurate diagnoses, better track course of a disease and prevent chronic illnesses. Another example how IoMT is improving healthcare is personal emergency response systems for senior people and people with fragile health conditions. This technology provides fall detection, emergency assistance and navigation back home. If a person needs help, he or she should press a panic button on their wearable pendant, watch or belt clip.
IoMT paired with latest healthcare development technologies is also a lower-cost way to manage your health. Some analysts in U.S. report the opportunity for a $305-billion costs reduction due to digital healthcare. The report says the use of IoT devices effectively allow for the miniaturization of medical equipment that earlier could be purchased only by a centralized institution. Hospitals are reported to take advantage of an opportunity to bring as much care into the patient’s home as it is possible due to IoMT.
Telemedicine implies the use of telecommunication technologies to diagnose and treat patients. With the expansion of the Internet, telemedicine is becoming more affordable across a number of telemedicine connection types like
- networked connections – when remote healthcare facilities are linked to larger hospitals. For example, in the USA, there are 200 networked telemedicine programs delivering medical assistance to over 3,000 sites.
- point-to-point connections – these imply connectivity of smaller clinics with central medical facilities.
- monitoring centre links for remote patient monitoring.
What is so important about telemedicine is that it makes consistent healthcare affordable even in most remote rural areas. In 2014, University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) conducted a study on the impact of using digital tools to manage diabetes. Patients were given tablets to monitor the course of the illness at home with a healthcare provider to intervene when necessary. After six months, no hospitalizations and emergency visits regarding diabetes were registered. Now, UMMC’s program includes iPad minis with cellular connectivity, to treat adult and pediatric diabetes, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, adult and pediatric asthma and high-risk pregnancies.
Telemedicine also makes it possible for physicians to consult each other on a patient case no matter their location or even outsource some medical services like teleradiology. The latter along with telepsyciatry, teledermatology, teleoncology, telerehabilitation are the most popular telemedicine solutions specialties. However, telemedicine delivers a variety of services for ambulatory and hospital treatment. Thus, a gynaecologist may provide child birth counselling through live telemedicine. A general practitioner may discuss lab test results with a patient or see a skin inflammation or a wound. Other conditions that can be treated via telemedicine include allergies, colds and flu, respiratory infections, sport injuries, rashes, infections, etc.
Augmented reality (AR)
Augmented reality helps patients show more vision of their disease while physicians are enable to make more precise diagnoses and demonstrate how treatment will affect a human body in an interactive way.
For example, 3D reconstructions of organ and tumours allow surgeons reduce risks and improve surgery results. Augmedics, an Israeli startup, has developed an AR guidance system for spine surgery. This technology provides surgeons with “X-ray” vision of the spine and accurately guide instruments and implants during an intervention. Accuvein AR scanner projects skin and shows patient’s skin to make accurate intravenous injections. EyeDecide is an augmented reality app to simulate the impact of specific conditions on a patient’s vision.
Virtual reality (VR)
Having had its domain in computer games and entertainment, virtual reality (VR) has started a take-over of healthcare, even though sometimes using a gamified approach. In cooperation with physicians, Neuro Rehav VR has developed VR training exercises with machine learning to enhance patients engagement into physical therapy. A study published in December 2019 reports VR therapy to improve the mobility of children suffering from cerebral palsy.
Further on, medical students and trainees can leverage cutting-edge VR solutions like that of ImmersiveTouch as if they had a scalpel in their hands themselves after the first VR-assisted surgery was conducted live in London in 2016. Virtual reality is also used for relaxing patients, including women in labour, to distract them from painful stimuli and manage pain.
A study found that up to 89 % of patients Google their symptoms before making an appointment. They said they wanted to know the severity of their medical condition. Buyo Health Symptom Checker is one of examples how chatbots might help you to self-diagnose. Another exciting example of chatbots in healthcare is Babylon Health online doctor. The robo-doctor evaluates whether it’s necessary to make a video conference between a person and the company’s physician to solve a medical issue. Thy physician can also send your prescription to your nearest pharmacy right from the app.
What is so great about chatbots in healthcare is that they provide content-rich and accurate information and even suggest next steps for patients. The chatbot technology can reduce the burden on healthcare providers significantly. In particular, it involves such benefits of using bots as possibility of instant or first aid in emergency situations, medication management, offering solutions for some medical issues. Of course, chatbots will never substitute doctors but they are able to facilitate their jobs and improve their performance.
Electronic Health Records
Transition to Electronic Health Records (EHR) from paper records has become a highly beneficial decision to multiple healthcare providers and is trending at the moment. EHR are improving the operation of medical facilities in many ways:
- keeping all relevant patient data with a fast access to them
- sharing required patient data with a patient or hospital staff
- enabling more accurate diagnoses of patients and more effective treatment
- integrating patient data from different medical resources for better clinical decision-making
- enabling patients to review their medical data and take precautions regarding their health issues and treatment
- enabling inventory management of drugs taken by a patient
- providing remote treatment as EHR are paired with health apps or devices in case of emergency or when some medical services are unavailable.
More and more healthcare providers are adopting cloud computing for their patient data storage and services rendering, including training, consulting, e-prescribing, analysis through electronic medical records. The global healthcare cloud computing market is to grow up to $55 billion by 2025. The reason for this is that medical organisations highly depend on IT technologies to implement their clinical, financial and administrative functions. We suggest three major benefits of cloud computing for healthcare:
- scalability – healthcare providers can adapt data storage for peak seasons when there is an influx of patients, e.g. the flu season
- costs management – there is no need to purchase expensive hardware as cloud computing is based on a subscription
- greater rich during emergencies – cloud computing enable healthcare providers to diagnose patient right from their smartphones and save lives.
What concerns most about cloud computing in healthcare is security and privacy. Patient data are very sensitive and require a high protection level. This is the main reason why healthcare providers do not feel comfortable about moving to a cloud. Today, cloud service providers are fully aware of it and ensure data protection law compliance. In particular, there are several cloud offerings providing compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This law was enabled in 1996 in the USA and created to modernize the flow of healthcare information. In 2009, U.S. Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITEC) explained how healthcare provider should secure electronic protected health information. AWS, Mircrosoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, SpiderOak are HIPAA-compliant cloud storage solutions that have a high level of security and keep critical data protected.
By improving communication between patients and healthcare providers, delivering more specific medical care and expertise, IT technologies have significantly enhanced the level of healthcare services available to more and more people all over the world. This will serve a basis for a global network of healthcare professionals who can provide their patients and each other with truly cutting-edge help and knowledge.
Thank you for reading.