Major technological advances of the 21st century have made inroads into healthcare, providing new tools that are changing clinical practice. Healthcare providers are increasingly investing in digital and smart solutions to improve patient care and safety, fast-track drug R&D, track medical assets, and streamline health records and document management. Worldwide, firms will inject a total of $38.9 billion into medical technology research and development in 2024, according to Statista projections. What do these transformations mean for healthcare establishments? Let’s review significant technological changes underway in the industry:
1. The Cloud is Changing the Way Healthcare Stakeholders Access and Store Medical Information
Cloud computing enables caregivers and their patients to access information or use medical applications via web-connected devices, such as smartphones, without having to invest in costly IT systems. The technology is impacting healthcare in several significant ways, including:
- Healthcare consolidation: According to a Deloitte report, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have been rising steadily over the past decade in the industry, as various stakeholders, such as insurance companies and hospitals, team up to leverage economies of scale, enhance the quality of care, cut operational costs, and boost productivity. After consolidating their organizational structures, these firms are turning to cloud computing to integrate their medical data silos and fragmented IT infrastructure.
- Collaboration on patient care and workflows: The cloud is enabling doctors, nurses, surgeons, and pharmacists to collaborate on patient care in real time, which boosts service delivery. It also allows multiple stakeholders, for example, hospitals and pharma companies, to share information, such as medical records.
- Cybersecurity: Cloud computing has made it easier for hospitals to outsource critical aspects of patient data security to experts that comply with HIPAA and HITECH rules. Under business associate agreements (BAA), providers can move protected health information (PHI) to the cloud, where federally-mandated cybersecurity measures are guaranteed, including data encryption in-transit and at-rest.
2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Outperforming Medical Practitioners and Researchers
AI is a field of computer science that involves the development of smart machines or software that mimic human intelligence. These intelligent systems are increasingly replacing or backing up human efforts in many healthcare operations or procedures, and they’re delivering accurate results faster and at a lower cost. Replacing or complementing clinicians, doctors, or medical researchers with AI software in specific aspects of healthcare can help enhance the quality of treatment outcomes, and it can cut personnel costs.
Here are examples of how the AI revolution is currently making inroads into healthcare:
- Early, accurate diagnosis of diseases: AI is already proving to be more effective and quicker than humans to spot the symptoms of health problems. For example, a multinational team of doctors developed an AI algorithm for diagnosing skin cancer. Their smart solution identified cancer correctly in 95% of images depicting potentially cancerous growth, while 58 dermatologists working together diagnosed skin cancer correctly 87% of the time. With the advanced disease detection technology, healthcare providers can differentiate their practice by diagnosing fatal complications early enough to improve patient survival rates.
- Drug research and development: It may cost roughly $2.8 billion to develop a drug, with most of the money going into drug candidates that don’t make it past clinical trial phases or regulatory scrutiny. However, AI is positively influencing R&D. Drug researchers are using AI and machine learning systems to comb through massive chunks of healthcare records in public repositories and medical journals to analyze data, test numerous compounds, and identify the right ingredients for the treatment of specific health complications. Pharma companies are using AI and the cloud to optimize drug testing and validation processes, fast-track drug discovery, and cut R&D costs.
3. Hospital Information Systems are Powering Collaborations and Interoperability in Patient Care
Modern hospital information systems are transforming patient care in various aspects. Powered by the cloud and big data, these technologies are helping healthcare providers maintain and track digital health records, and they’re opening large amounts of patient data to predictive analytics. When patients have access to these systems, they’re able to make more informed treatment choices and take control of their health. Here are examples of such transformations that are underway in healthcare:
- Interoperability: Healthcare information technology (HIT) is becoming more and more interoperable, enabling clinicians, researchers, and hospitals to share data. A vital aspect of these technologies is electronic health records, and the objective of their interoperability is to give clinics, private practices, and hospitals seamless access to and a comprehensive view of patient data. With integrated healthcare IT systems, continuity of patient care is possible, and providers have the information necessary to improve the quality of care and treatment outcomes.
- Mobility: Mobile apps have become an integral component of HIT because of their ability to enhance the patient experience and streamline care. Healthcare providers are leveraging these tools for purposes such as remote monitoring of treatment outcomes and improving drug compliance. Patients are also using these systems to interact with their caregivers remotely, manage appointments, and view health information.
- Telemedicine: According to the American Hospital Association, 65% of healthcare providers in the U.S. are using telemedicine to interact with patients and consult with physicians. They’re using wireless communication technology, for example, video conferencing, to provide quality care to patients that cannot leave their location for reasons such as disability, geographic distance, or environmental restraints. The technology is enabling caregivers to expand their reach to remote areas.
4. Robotics in Complex Surgical Procedures and Virtual Patient Support
The healthcare industry is embracing robotics at an unprecedented rate, with “smart” machines working autonomously or alongside doctors to perform an array of medical procedures. Applications of this technology include:
- Surgery: Surgeons can use robots to perform intricate and delicate surgical procedures with increased precision and versatility. These machines are suitable for operations that require minimally invasive surgery, and they have fewer post-treatment complications. Healthcare givers can turn to robotics to expand the range of treatment options available for their patients, especially where traditional methods cannot work. The technology is also vital to the enhancement of patient safety.
- Virtual assistants: Desktop, smartphone, or web-based intelligent chatbots are changing the way patients access health advice. These are becoming an increasingly popular tool for healthcare organizations wishing to free up their helpline personnel to focus more on critical in-person engagements with their patients while guaranteeing the availability of remote support on demand. Practitioners are also deploying autonomous digital assistants to provide appropriate drug compliance advice based on remotely observed patient behavior.
5. Additive Manufacturing Speeds Up Artificial Body Parts Production
Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing is gradually replacing traditional manufacturing or tooling methods in the design and development of surgical tools and prosthetics. It combines computer-aided modeling with the physical production of medical device parts or replicas of human organs by putting together successive layers of proper raw materials. Some of the transformations that AM is bringing to healthcare include:
- Bioprinting of body parts: Researchers are employing 3D printing to bio-print (create) miniature versions of living human organs using layers of biomaterial for ink, such as living cells. They’re studying these artificial parts, for example, the liver, to develop treatment options for specific health conditions. In the future, the healthcare industry may turn to bioprinting for low-cost human organ transplants.
- Surgery preparations: With 3D printing, surgeons can quickly produce personalized, life-like models of human organs for use in practical surgery rehearsals before performing delicate operations on their patients. This way, they can get every incision right, enhancing patient safety during surgery, and improving treatment outcomes.
- Prosthetics: Additive manufacturing offers a cheaper and quicker way to make functional artificial body parts, such as legs and arms. The process begins with scanning a body part and using its digital image to model a highly personalized prosthetic. The resultant 3D “printout” is usually a perfect fit for the patient.
6. Genome Sequencing: A Driver of Precision Medicine in Healthcare
Drug research and development has traditionally produced generalized treatment options for various diseases. While such solutions usually work for the general population, they may fail to treat people with certain types of genes or genetic abnormalities. Thankfully, genome sequencing is changing conventional approaches to drug R&D, and caregivers are using it to research on medical solutions that match the unique DNA of their patients. The technique has become a critical driver of personalized medicine, thanks to its increased reliability and declining costs. In some cases, accurate genetic tests may be as cheap as (if not less expensive than) medical imaging diagnostics.
Lately, there has been a significant reduction in the time required for genome sequencing, especially with ever-growing investments in precision medicine research. Clinicians, drugmakers, and other healthcare stakeholders across the globe are working on cutting-edge technologies that accelerate the sequencing of massive chunks of DNA to spot genetic variations.
Genome sequencing presents healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies with the right medical tool to differentiate their practice or brand. For example, hospitals can improve patient care by first identifying DNA defects evident in certain types of chronic health disorders, such as cancer, and then developing targeted therapies for individuals with these rare conditions.
7. Wearable Medical Devices, Cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT)
Wearable health trackers have been in use for quite some time, but their incorporation into the Medical Internet of Things (MIoT) makes them vital to the future of healthcare. They can capture tons of health information, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and sugar levels in the blood. By connecting these devices to hospital information systems via the cloud, caregivers may monitor their patients remotely.
There are also implantable health trackers that help to track drug adherence. Typically, a patient takes a pill with a built-in IoT sensor, which sends data to a wearable device. The system transmits compliance information to a mobile app. Such technology can impact the way caregivers treat and manage mental complications and other disorders where patients inadvertently miss doses of their medication.
The transmission of patients’ clinical data to hospitals in real time is also essential to the transformation of healthcare from reactive interventions to proactive care. Also, MIoT-linked wearables are helping to lower the costs of preventive care and individual-patient monitoring.
8. Medical Asset Management With GPS Tracking and the Cloud
A typical healthcare facility hosts thousands of medical devices and instruments worth billions of dollars, from syringes and cardiac monitors to infusion pumps. Without a proper way to manage and track these assets, expensive mission-critical equipment may disappear without a trace, or it may not always be available for emergency use. That is why hospitals are increasingly adopting GPS-enabled tracking technologies and cloud-based systems to manage their inventories. These solutions are increasingly replacing cumbersome traditional pen-and-paper methods of managing medical assets. Here are some of the ways healthcare providers are leveraging revolutionary technology to streamline device management:
- Cloud-based databases: Providers are storing asset information, including the last known location, maintenance history, and current status in cloud databases. Hospital executives or maintenance supervisors can access this data in real time to make informed decisions.
- QR labels: Healthcare providers can manage thousands of assets cheaply, including surgical instruments and medical samples, by tagging them with Quick Response (QR) codes. Unlike traditional barcodes, these labels carry a lot of asset information, and scanning them with GPS-enabled smartphones provides up-to-date real-time data.
- RFID Tags: Radiofrequency identification technology is enabling hospital executives to track the movement of assets to optimize device utilization, minimize the risk of loss, and manage maintenance. Similarly, integrating RFID with the cloud facilitates access to asset information on demand, via smartphones or desktop computers.
Summing it Up: Advanced Technology is Transforming Healthcare in a Big Way
Cutting-edge medical and digital technologies are offering revolutionary tools that underpin the long-term future of healthcare. In summary:
- The cloud, IoT, HIS, and AI are increasingly driving the advent of “smart” hospitals. They’re transforming the way healthcare providers access and manipulate digital health records or patient data to improve service delivery and quality of care.
- Asset management systems enable hospitals to track costly and mission-critical medical instruments in real time.
- Robotics helps with delicate surgical procedures and remote patient support.
- 3D printing is instrumental in creating affordable prosthetics, organoids, and 3D human organ models.
- Genome sequencing is vital to the development of precision drugs.
- Wearables are enablers of remote patient monitoring and preventive care.
Are you a caregiver or medical practice looking to adopt transformative technology in healthcare? Talk to us at GoCodes for expert guidance!