Historically, healthcare, which is considered one of the last industries to adapt to any changes, is adopting technology at a phenomenal rate. Technology is driving meaningful chances and benefiting patients, healthcare developers and healthcare providers.
Here are four healthcare technology trends disrupting the industry and some of what lies in store in 2019.
1. Internet of medical things (IoMT)
A number of medical devices have been developed, which track and record the health and fitness data of the wearer. With numerous built-in sensors, such as ECG monitor, blood glucose and blood pressure monitors, these medical devices have numerous applications.
Data collected by these devices is used by mobile applications to monitor the health status of the individuals and to detect abnormalities as soon as they occur.
In 2019, IoMT will not only be limited to wearable devices. Here are some ways this technology will transform:
- Management of chronic diseases: IoMT is completely changing the way chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and organ failure, are managed. Using precision sensors that the patient wears at all times, the medical data can be constantly tracked, and in case of an anomaly, can immediately raise alerts. Additionally, the data sets of these chronic disease trends across various populations can help in predicting disease progression and patterns.
- Remote patient monitoring: The data collected by IoMT devices is of great value to the physicians. Instead of having to rely on the patients to share subjective symptoms, the healthcare providers can remotely monitor the patient and access relevant data, thereby giving a more accurate diagnosis, resulting in better outcomes.
- Elderly patient care: Along with tracking vitals, IoMT will prove to be important for better patient compliance to ensure that the medicines are taken consistently. For the elderly, mobility is yet another challenge. In the coming times, the portable diagnostic devices would reduce the number of visits to the doctor, thereby lowering overall healthcare costs.
Many of us are very familiar with long delays at the doctor's office, not to mention the disruption it adds to one's day (scheduling time off from work) when visiting the doctor. Telemedicine, by giving the option of a virtual at-home consultation, negates the need for visiting the doctor's office. This saves time and resources while making scheduling more efficient.
Telemedicine has been around for three decades now. However, with the entry of video conferencing, wearable devices and widespread use of smartphones, telemedicine has been brought to the forefront of healthcare technology.
Until now, the major application of telemedicine is remote consultation with the physician. This year, we can expect additional benefits from telemedicine:
- Mobile health: Rapid advancements in the healthcare app space are nowhere close to slowing down. Apple has introduced its open-source software frameworks Carekit and ResearchKit for app developers to build healthcare apps and contribute to medical research. With the focus of providing personalized care to patients and of using the collected data for early diagnosis and treatment, mobile health will lead to better outcomes in 2019.
- Post-discharge patient monitoring: Telemedicine plays a positive role in managing chronic diseases by remote patient monitoring (RPM). This further reduces the patient readmission rates. Healthcare providers are using RPM systems as a part of the post-discharge plan to ensure effective discharge prophylaxis.
In 2019, there will be new entrants into the market. The implementation challenge that remains is providing real-time access to doctors and care to prevent a medical emergency long before it occurs.
The healthcare industry is adopting gamification in medical training, fitness, disease prevention and cognitive health. Using challenges, rewards, badges, mastery levels and competition, users can be engaged and motivated to achieve their goals, which could range from chronic disease management to tracking how much time they've exercised.
The first wave of mobile apps using gamification was focused on lifestyle, nutrition, weight management, obesity and fitness wearables. Devices such as Fitbit and Nike+Fuelband enable users to track their daily health metrics, provide challenges and rewards and share these statistics with their network.
In 2019, gamification will focus on:
- Disease prevention: Chronic diseases require constant testing and monitoring for patients to adhere to schedules, which many people find difficult. A video game Re-Mission educates kids and adults with cancer to take on the fight of their lives. To encourage adherence to the treatment, the game provides a bot, Roxxi, which fights through the bodies of fictional cancer patients to give them a sense of power and control, based on scientific research. The arsenal of weapons and superpowers include chemotherapy, antibiotics and the body's natural in-built defenses.
- Cognitive and mental health: SPARX is a computer program developed by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, to help young people (12 to 19 years old) with mild to moderate depression. It is based on cognitive behavioral therapy for dealing with depression.
According to Fluentco, smartphones are the most popular devices with millennials, with seven out of eight millennials owning one. Millennials and Gen Z, who account for 31.5 and 32 percent, respectively, of the total global population have grown up playing games and are accustomed to mobile apps. Healthcare companies must consider gamification as a tactic to keep the millennial users involved in their health and fitness programs.
4. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) consultants are using various techniques to dig out clinically relevant information, of importance in clinical decision-making, from the heaps of healthcare data they possess. They are divided into two categories: machine learning and natural language processing.
This year, AI is set to disrupt how the healthcare systems work, connect with patients and increases the overall patient management efficiency.
Applications of AI in healthcare in 2019 include:
- Voice-based assistants: It is a common habit to use Siri or Alexa to complete routine tasks at home. AI will make a similar transition in the field of healthcare by introducing healthcare-based virtual assistants that will help healthcare providers prioritize tasks and automate routine processes.
- Medical imaging: The biggest potential of healthcare AI is the automation of analysis of medical images. By statistically analyzing the prevalence of disease across populations, predictive analysis of a medical condition becomes easier. Where there is an unavailability of trained personnel or access to medical facilities is difficult, this can be of great use. Various institutes are carrying out research in this space.
- Medical research: AI can process a large amount of data that is not humanly possible in a short time span. This processed data can be used to identify population trends over geographies. AI can sift through research data at an unprecedented speed and discover hidden patterns in a much more accurate way.
Advances in healthcare technology are just the tip of the iceberg. Healthcare is poised to revolutionize itself into a number of exciting opportunities in the coming year.