A wide array of digital innovations have been revolutionizing healthcare and there’s no doubt: technology will stay in the medical industry.
Medical technology has evolved to connect patients and doctors thousands of miles away through telecommunications and it is not uncommon in today’s world for patients to hold video conferences with physicians to save time and money.
As per Statista, the total global medical technology growth per year is expected to be at 5% in the 2022 and although the medical tech industry had unstable growth in the recent years, the healthcare industry persists as strong with different products and companies involved.
Technological development has transformed medicine through its innovative and challenging solutions.
Electronic Medical Records (EMR/EHR)
In the last few decades, medical recording and billing advanced from a paper-based system to a digital format.
Doctors hugely benefit from these digital records – with a tap of the button, they can access all the care a patient has ever received and figure out possible illnesses. Doctor offices and hospitals can easily access the patient’s records by any connected device.
Another benefit is enablement of statistical documentation of the entire population as well as supporting the transparency of the healthcare system and possibility to integrate it with reimbursement data.
As the healthcare system changes, these types of electronic records minimize errors.
Although it is not a perfect system (sometimes difficult to access and don’t provide network-wide connectivity due to security issues etc.) it can allow doctors to access patient’s records without having to get copies or to rely on outdated fax machines.
In a nutshell, EMR enables medical staff to access patients’ records easily and provide more personalized treatment as per the medical history.
Although 3D printing started back in the 1980s by Charles Hull, its wide usage started later.
Its ‘adolescence’ stage from 1999 to 2010 was a great decade for 3D printing not only due to its popularization but when 3D printing met an open-source movement. The open-source initiative for a self-sustainable 3D printer that could build itself or some of its parts started in 2005 by Dr Adrian Bowyer in a RepRap Project.
The ability to print anything quickly became something to improve the medical industry. MRI and CT scan images can be converted into 3D image files and printed, allowing surgeons to explore the area prior to any surgery taking place.
3D printing can bring wonders in all aspects of healthcare. We can now print biotissues, artificial limbs, pills, blood vessels and much more.
The pharmaceutical industry also witnessed benefits – FDA approved the first 3D printed drug back in 2015 and nowadays scientists are working on 3D-printing ‘polypills’.
3D printing has revolutionized prosthetics as well – getting a customized prosthetic limb is significantly cheaper and affordable to more people as massive developments have been made within the 3D printing industry.
NGOs also helps patients and refugees from war-torn-areas with 3D printing technology providing them with printed prosthetics.
ICD-10 or International Statistical Classification of Diseases is the most recent revision of the diagnostic tool.
The classification allows illnesses, unusual findings and symptoms to be recorded and it covers more than 14000 different codes as well as additional sub-classification. This tool is able to trace diagnoses and allows a country to track its morbidity rate as well as to retrieve and store diagnostic information.
If a clinic or a hospital wants to start using ICD-10, they usually need to install the new software.
Afterwards, the staff members must be educated on how to follow set guidelines. There are many online training programs and many association websites offer instructions.
The new technology streamlines the system and enables tracking of the population statistics which can help with future diagnoses. New billing methods and tracking procedures make it easier to identify patients’ past treatments.
ICD technology reduces the amount of paperwork, increases the rate of successful treatments and allows practitioners to monitor the entire population when treating an epidemic.
In every industry, DATA is everything – in healthcare, the analysis of a huge amount of data can provide valuable insights into the state of the industry.
Some examples are that doctors can now offer more accurate diagnoses and suggest better treatment.
Data ranges from analyzing diagnostic reports to filing patient treatment histories. IBM research teams say that the same supercomputer that won a game of Jeopardy in 2011 is now used to help physicians make more accurate diagnoses and recommend the treatment accordingly.
Today, it is possible to generate and collect huge amounts of data from a number of different sources in healthcare – this data is used for analytics, making predictions about potential epidemics and preventing fatal results.
Cloud storage of data helps to improve efficiency and accessibility to the information as well as in R&D of new treatment protocols or pharmaceutical formulations since they provide vast amounts of analysis facilitating efficient health information exchange.
With cloud services and big data, there is no more hassle or high costs of maintaining additional server hardware – it is a secure and cost-effective storage solution.
Artificial Intelligence can redesign healthcare entirely – a computer can be programmed to analyze the data and come to conclusions much faster than a human can.
AI algorithms are able to extract medical records, outline treatment plans or develop drugs quicker than any medical professional.
One of the examples is Google’s DeepMind which created an AI for breast cancer analysis – it proved to outperform all human radiologists on average by 11.5%!
Another benefit of AI is personalized medicine and more effective treatment based on individual health data paired with predictive analytics – it is currently ruled by supervised learning allowing doctors to select from more limited sets of diagnoses or estimate patient risk based on genetic info and more.
Pharmaceutical industry also reaps benefits from AI – experimentation data can help drug manufacturers to reduce the time needed for developing drugs resulting in lower costs and improved replication.
Companies like Turbine, and Deep Genomics are leveraging the power of A.I. to develop new drug candidates and novel therapeutic solutions in record time and speed up the time bringing it to market, all while saving costs and lives.
There are many more applications of AI in medicine for clinical trials or radiology and it is still being tested and implemented.
Robotics and drones
Robotics is the fastest growing field in medicine – surgical robots, pharmabotics, disinfectant robots etc. are just some of the developments that robotics covers.
The global shortage of health professionals during the recent outbreak is something that could eventually be facilitated in the future by robots providing assistance to people that need help where human capacities lack.
Lately, with a sudden outbreak of Coronavirus, robots have become more than necessary – they’ve become mandatory for decreasing the infection spreading.
Due to COVID-19 being highly infectious, minimizing human to human contact has become a pivotal issue. The challenge was to get more robots in medicine to perform activities like delivery service etc. and the company JD have accepted the challenge – its autonomous robots helped in minimizing human-to-human contact while providing basic goods to people.
Another great usage of robots in medicine is having robots disinfectants which can clean and sterilize the patients’ rooms without exposing anyone to infection. A great example is a Danish company UVD – they constructed the robots which emit ultraviolet light to kill bacteria without exposing humans to infection and the best is that they can be controlled remotely. These UVD robots have been a great help during the Covid epidemic.
Drones are another way of helping healthcare – they can broadcast information, spray disinfectants in public places or deliver smaller items. Lately, some drones have been equipped with thermal imaging and resulted in identification of people of elevated body temperature or not wearing masks but also for many other usages.
Robot companions have also taken their place in medicine – they help people to alleviate loneliness, treat mental issues or help people or children with chronic diseases. Existing examples of robot companions include Jibo, Paro or Buddy – some of them have touch sensors, cameras and microphones for their owners to be able to interact with them.
In outbreak or not, the robots and drones can become an increasingly essential support for humans in many ways.
Virtual (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
Virtual reality is changing healthcare and both the lives of patients and doctors – it is being used to train future surgeons for actual surgeries which showed that surgeons had 230% of boost in their overall performance due to such a tech assistant as opposed to their traditionally-trained peers.
The technology is also benefiting patients within pain management – patients suffering from cardiac, neurological or post-surgical pain have shown a significant decline in their pain levels when using VR to distract them from painful stimuli.
On the other side, we have Augmented Reality AR which is different from VR as users do not lose touch with reality and it only puts information into the eyesight quickly.
In medicine, AR can help medical students to prepare better for real-life operations in the same way as it prepares surgeons to enhance their capabilities.
For example, medical students can use Microsoft HoloLens to study anatomy via their app. By using this method, they can learn a detailed and accurate anatomy of humans without the need of real bodies.
Wearables and sensors
The biggest benefit in healthcare definitely comes from wearable technology.
Wearables have already found their path to gaining popularity nowadays – those are great devices to get to know more about ourselves and retake control of our own lives.
There are many types of wearables e.g to manage your weight or stress level, to manage your cognitive capabilities better or just to reach an overall fit state. The tracking industry has infiltrated into the lives of all of us, old or young, with smart bracelets, smart beds and smart chest straps, smart rings, fitness trackers, smartwatches, smart hearing aids etc.
With healthcare, patients who wear these smart devices can measure data ranging from body temperature to blood pressure which can further be sent to their medical team in real-time.
In case anything looks odd or even dangerous, doctors can diagnose and treat the patient much quicker. The entire process is quick thanks to the data collected by a wearable device as doctors do not have to run a myriad of tests to determine an illness or disease. Instead, they can refer to the data collected by a wearable to quickly figure out the cause of the medical problem.
Wearables also enable remote monitoring where a person can stay at home and share the results remotely with their physicians leading to people having more control of their own health and making more informed decisions.
Remote monitoring is especially beneficial for disabled people who cannot move and visit their doctors or hospitals – remote technology allows them to consult the doctor from the comfort of their homes. This way of communication reduces the time and financial cost of recurring visits to the doctor.
Mobile health apps or MHealth offer a huge flexibility to all participants – the apps are one of the most inexpensive ways to facilitate communication and to provide services to the patients.
There are different apps according to their primary functions – some serve to raise health awareness while others facilitate patient-doctor communication.
Today, there is ‘an app for everything’ as Apple says and that is genuinely true – besides the apps which can help to track your sleep patterns or monitor your heart rate there are also social media apps for doctors to interact and link with patients.
Mhealth supports multiple areas in healthcare such as medication management, personal health records, diagnostics, fitness and weight loss, mental health and many more.
Due to technological innovations, it is possible to explore and research other ways of treatments today.
Healthcare industry is heading towards improved effectiveness every day.
Medical Research and Technology
Technology has disrupted the way how medical research and experiments are conducted – the same procedures now take months instead of years or longer.
Today, it is possible to simulate human reactions to a particular drug rather than lean solely on human volunteers.
Scientists were able to examine various diseases on a cellular level and produce antibodies against those with the help of technology. Such vaccines against serious or fatal diseases (polio, MMR etc.) help to prevent disease spread and save thousands of lives.
For example, when the Ebola outbreak happened, researchers developed innovative solutions that led to the Ebola vaccine in record time – this proves that experiments and research can be greatly accelerated with the help of technology.
The researches and tests are still being conducted with help of technology to support prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases as well as development of new medicines and drugs.
Nanotechnology is an exciting new area in science with endless applications in medicine. Nanomedicine seeks to apply nanotechnology – manipulation and manufacture of materials and devices smaller than 1 nanometre (0.0000001 cm) in size – to prevent diseases and to diagnose, monitor, treat, repair and regenerate the biological systems.
Some applications of nanotechnology in medicine can be within cancer therapy, protein detection, tissue engineering, cell manipulation, heart diseases, antibacterial treatment and more.
For example, small smart pills like PillCam are already in use for colon exams in a non-invasive way. The first approved smart pill was back in 2001 and in 2018 MIT researchers created an electronic pill that can be controlled wirelessly and can help sending diagnostic information or release medicine per smartphone commands.
Besides smart pills, there are also vibrant capsules, dose tracking pills, nanobots, nanopatch vaccines, smartphone microscopes, smart bandages and more but we are still to see the future of nanotechnology in medicine.
Smart patches are also a form of nanotech and this year, France-based company Grapheal developed a smart patch for continuous monitoring of wounds – the patch measures and stores bio parameters which graphene core can even stimulate wound healing.
CES 2020 has revealed many novelties related to nanomedicine and as technology evolves, we are yet to see more practical examples of nanotech in medicine.
These examples of technologies show how new ideas can completely change the experience for patients and the treatment process for the care providers. These technologies offer amazing opportunities to provide better healthcare to people as well as supporting healthcare to cope better with the increasing demands.
As technology continues to develop, we will see even more innovation and development within healthcare.