Humankind has dreamt of immortality or at least a long and healthy life since time immemorial. Numerous ancient myths and legends tell us about the most diverse ways to get eternal life, for example, with the help of an elixir of life, the fountain of youths, golden apples, the Holy Grail, vampire bite, and many others.
Today’s people are more down-to-earth. They do not have vague illusions but link their well-being and perfect health with technology development. There are good reasons for this. Indeed, healthcare has undergone unimaginable changes since the times of Hippocrates. Advanced technologies have penetrated into the most varied aspects of healthcare and have turned sci-fi into reality. However, there is firm faith that the main breakthroughs are still ahead. So let’s consider the most prominent healthcare advances and take a look into the future of medicine.
How has IT technology impacted healthcare over the past few years?
When tomorrow comes, yesterday is forgotten. People take the current healthcare services and the healthcare system in general for granted. We hardly remember times when we had to wait for doctor appointments or test results for weeks, stay in long queues to pay for services, visit numerous chemistries to find a prescribed medicine, cover several hundreds of miles to get a consultation from the best in his field doctor, etc. Today we can enjoy fast and convenient healthcare service delivery thanks to the introduction of different technologies. We offer to review the main changes in healthcare over the past few years:
Better healthcare service accessibility
Telehealth and telemedicine technologies have changed the way healthcare services are delivered these days. Now, dwellers of even the most remote settlements can get a consultation from a board-certified doctor without a need to leave their homes but just with a few clicks. So, thanks to disruptive technologies people can take advantage of professional healthcare services, and save either time or money.
Improved customer service
Due to modern healthcare applications, patients can enjoy online appointment booking/cancelation, video consultations, 24/7 doctor on-demand service, online payments, fast insurance claim proceeding, e-prescription and e-refill, and many other things that make an appliance for healthcare services hassle-free.
We have noticed better treatment efficiency along with increased life expectancy and reduced readmission rate. All these have become possible due to healthcare apps empowered with cutting-edge technologies letting improve diagnosing, monitor vitals remotely, control medication adherence, etc. Backed with medical reference apps and health data collected by wearables and IoT devices, doctors can make accurate diagnoses and prescribe appropriate medication.
Efficient disease control
Cloud technology, Big Data, AI, and machine learning let experts collect, store, and analyze vast amounts of data which in turn helps to reveal dependencies, detect tendencies, and make predictions. So, it also gives an opportunity to detect possible epidemics and take all the necessary preventive measures to restrict their spreading.
Great opportunities for medical research
The above-mentioned technologies that enable efficient data processing and analysis serve as a great basis for medical research and studies. Authorized medical scientists and researchers can thoroughly study the health data of the targeted group in order to obtain valuable insights, reveal the most efficient treatment, identify interdependencies, adverse effects, and so on.
Electronic health records (EHR)
All medical staff still shudder at the memories of those times when all patient records were stored in those dusty and bulky paper files that now and then got lost or damaged and it took ages to find the necessary information. Today, this chaos is in the past. The invention of EHR has become a real godsend for medical specialists. All the health data of all patients is securely stored in digital form in one place and can be easily retrieved from any device connected to the Internet. In case of an emergency patient's contact information, medical history, treatment plan, information on allergies or intolerance to certain medications can be accessed in a blink of an eye.
Modern IT technologies have drastically transformed the way doctors interact with patients and with each other. Real-time consultation via chats or video conferences is the norm today. On the other hand, professional networking apps, forums, and social networking sites enable global communication between medical specialists and efficient knowledge sharing.
Different IT technologies have enabled optimization, automation, and simplification of the most diverse processes either administrative or related to patient care. For instance, using corresponding healthcare apps it is much easier to track inventory, manage medical billing, collect and manage health data, check doctor’s availability, find a free examination room, and many others.
Advanced medical education
Advanced technologies have not only transformed the healthcare industry but also made us reconsider medical education. Nowadays, medical students make active use of the most diverse online medical references, drug references, medical calculators, diagnosis apps, and many other mHealth apps. VR and AR technologies in their turn provide great opportunities as well. Students can study anatomy by observing 3D models of organs, vessels, mussels, and so on.
Remote health monitoring
Remote health monitoring is also one of the main achievements of the past years. IoT devices enable vital monitoring, accurate health data collection, and its secure submission to a service provider. In such a way, doctors can remotely track their patients’ health states and treatment efficiency. Patients do not need to visit their doctors for regular checkups, while doctors can evaluate treatment efficiency, tweak it if needed, or warn about the necessity of taking the corresponding measures or hospitalizing.
Robotic surgery aka robot-assisted surgery gives the opportunity to perform sophisticated procedures with extreme accuracy and control compared to traditional surgery.
As a rule, a robotic surgical system consists of a camera and mechanical arms fitted with surgical instruments. A surgeon manipulates the arms via a computer where he can see a 3D view of a surgical site.
The main advantage of robotic surgery is minimal incisions, which lead to a shorter and less painful recovery period, reduced blood loss, lower risk of infection, and so on. Moreover, robot-assisted surgery enables remote surgery as a surgeon can control a robotic system from any part of the world.
3D technology has spread all over the world and across the most diverse industries. These days, it is also utilized in healthcare for the reproduction of different bio tissues, blood vessels, and even reduced copies of some organs that are used instead of animals for new drug testing. Besides, 3D printing has found active use in prosthetics. Thanks to this technology, getting a customized prosthetic limb is considerably cheaper and affordable for most people today.
Technologies that have significantly affected healthcare development
The healthcare industry is undergoing rapid development due to diverse technologies that have helped to settle the most varied issues. We offer to throw light on the technologies that have significantly affected the healthcare industry.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
AI and ML have provided a wide range of opportunities due to human-like information processing and decision-making. Apps powered by these technologies help doctors to improve the accuracy and speed of diagnosis making. AI-driven analytics enables an early diagnosis and helps to define the most suitable medication for a particular patient.
Besides, there are certain AI/ML-powered administrative healthcare applications that immensely improve the efficiency of claim processing, clinical documentation, revenue cycle management, and medical record management.
Telehealth stirred interest even before the pandemic, but the Covid-19 outbreak has boosted its spreading and adoption all over the world. Moreover, it is likely that even after the pandemic telehealth will continue to gain momentum. Currently, about 43.5% of primary care cases are settled with telehealth methods instead of in-person doctor appointments. Either medical specialists or patients have highly appreciated the convenience and efficiency of telehealth. The thing is that with this technology healthcare consultancy can be provided via text chat or video calls. So people can take advantage of professional healthcare services without a need to leave their homes. Moreover, in such a way they can save their time and money, forget about staying in long queues, and follow social distancing that is so important these days. Doctors in their turn can be not afraid of becoming infected. They can remotely consult patients and track their health state.
The popularity of mHealth is not surprising, on the contrary, it is logical. Smartphones today are widely spread and people have got used to settling the most diverse issues with the help of their gadgets and corresponding mobile apps. There are varied mobile apps on the market and healthcare apps are among the most commonly used. One may find drug reference apps, diagnosis apps, healthy lifestyle and wellbeing apps, medical calculators, symptom trackers, telemedicine apps, e-prescription apps, self-monitoring apps, chronic disease management apps, and many others. As you can see some apps are designed exclusively for doctors, some - for patients, and some target both auditories. Either doctors or patients make active use of different mHealth apps due to their convenience, speed, and efficiency.
The Internet of Medical Things or IoMT can be defined as a network of medical devices and applications connected via the Internet. IoMT enables the generation, collection, analysis, and submission of health data. All in all, this technology helps to track patients’ health state remotely, make accurate diagnoses, manage chronic diseases, optimize workflow management, and optimize patient care.
Healthcare systems generate indeed a vast volume of data. With the active use of mHealth, eHealth, and IoT technologies the amount of data is continuously growing. Electronic health records, imaging data, patient-generated data, and other forms of data must be efficiently processed and managed. Human resources are not able to handle such a volume of data and healthcare needs smart tools for accurate and efficient data management. Big Data enables dealing with vast and complex data sets. Big data analytics has assisted healthcare with prescriptive analytics, predictive analytics, personalized medicine providing, automated reporting of patient data, etc.
How will innovative IT solutions change the healthcare industry over the next 10 years? Forecasts by experts.
Many IT technologies have found use in healthcare solutions and their further development and introduction seem to be very promising. Let’s get acquainted with the forecast of experts and review the technologies of the future.
Nanotechnology is a branch of science and engineering focused on the creation of structures and devices at the atomic and molecular levels.
This technology is used in tiny nanotubes to deliver drugs to particular cells. Such nanotubes are nontoxic, with a stable structure, and serve as the perfect containers to transport a drug exactly to certain cells. Currently, researchers are working hard to develop nanobots directed by external magnetic fields that can be used for different types of surgery. Such nanobots will be used for eye surgeries, blocked artery clearing, and biopsy collection.
We have already mentioned the contribution of 3D printing to prosthetics and drug testing. Still, studies of 3D bioprinting seem to be very hopeful. 3D bioprinting is the use of 3D printing techniques to combine cells and biomaterials to create biomedical parts imitating characteristics of natural tissues. As a rule, bioprinting leverages the layer-by-layer method to deposit materials aka bioinks to design tissues for further use in medicine or bioengineering.
These days, bioprinting is used to create tissues and some tiny-sized organs. However, there is a good reason to believe that in the future 3D bioprinting will provide an opportunity to create artificial organs for transplantation. Current work on the creation of artificial skin cells let us suggest that in the future we will be able to use them for wound healing, skin grafts, and even plastic surgery.
Digitalization has significantly simplified medical practice running and health data management. Modern EHR platforms allow healthcare providers to retrieve, update, and share patient data. Still, due to the sensitive nature of health data, there is a certain risk of data breaches. Every year thousands of patients fall victim to cyber-attacks. In this context, the introduction of blockchain technology is considered to be a great way to handle cybersecurity issues.
Blockchain is an open distributed ledger. An authorized person can access and add to the ledger. Data is stored in blocks chained in chronicle order. Any added record cannot be deleted or altered.
The main advantages of blockchain technology are security, immutability, transparency, decentralization, and accuracy.
EHRs powered with blockchain technology hold promise for secure health information storage and exchange, better data transparency, safer patient care, and more accurate medical research. In fact, such EHRs have already been piloted at some premier healthcare institutions and there is no doubt that in the future blockchain will be actively used for secure health data storage and management in healthcare facilities all over the world.
AR and VR have been a hallmark of our era. Still, not only can these technologies be used in games but also they can come in handy in the healthcare industry. Currently, AR is used in medical education to demonstrate 3D models of organs, blood vascular system, skeletal system, etc. to students. Active use of AR/VR will let us stop using cadavers for educational purposes. Besides, in the coming years, surgeons will use AR/VR applications in order to get prepared for challenging surgeries and draw up a plan of action for each possible scenario. At the same time, VR/AR technologies will let doctors demonstrate the current state of affairs to their patients and describe in detail a procedure that will be performed.
These days, researchers also actively study the effect of VR on pain relief. Patients immersed in virtual reality during different painful procedures reported significant relief. The mechanism behind this is still not clear enough, but experts are sure that in the future VR will be used for pain relief during childbearing, drawing blood samples from children, and other painful procedures.
In the old days, medicine developed at a snail’s pace but modern IT technologies have revolutionized healthcare within just a span of a few years. Things that seemed to be a fantasy have become a reality. Augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning, big data and IoT coupled with many other technological advances have made a great contribution to healthcare development, but there is a strong belief that the greatest openings and breakthroughs are still ahead.