10 ways technology is changing healthcare
With advances in digital healthcare technologies, like AI, 3D-printing, VR/AR, nanotechnology, and robotics, medicine’s future is taking shape before our very eyes. We must become familiar with the latest creations in order to manage the control of technology, not the other way around. Medicine’s future lies in working in partnership with technology and clinicians to embrace the changes in the healthcare world, allowing us to stay relevant for years to come.
Maybe you are worried that robots and AI will take over the jobs of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals? Perhaps you are scared that AI will take over the world in a few years’ time?
These are all fake news, half-truths, and other imagery dystopias, and perhaps a more fashionable way to display alternative facts about the future of healthcare. More importantly, though, these questions all have one thing in common: the fear of the future unknowns and what might be brought upon us.
No one can stop technology from evolving. At some point, every part of our lives will be changed through the power of digital technologies. Therefore, we must allow our minds to stay open to the possibility of technology changing the world as we know it.
Technology and humans hand-in-hand for better healthcare
Many consider technology to be the only way forward. They believe that it can only aid and enhance our lives if we get on board with technological advances, and we are always at the forefront. If we make sure the rule of “two steps ahead of it” is adhered to, the partnership between technology and humans could reap tremendous rewards.
Digital technology in healthcare and medicine could potentially transform inappropriate healthcare systems into appropriate ones, provide cheaper, faster, and more effective solutions for diseases (such as Ebola or AIDS), and equalize the relationship between professionals and medical patients. Technology could help us to lead healthier lives in healthier communities.
The saying “one has to be a master of his own house” is prevalent. It is important to begin the future by improving our health through these technologies and change our mindset towards the idea of health as such, towards healthcare and medicine.
So, what would it look like in practice? Throughout this article, we will look at ten ways in which healthcare is being shaped by medical technology.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool that is set to revolutionize healthcare entirely. With the ability to mine medical records, AI algorithms can design treatment plans, develop drugs quicker than any current doctor, and even diagnose cancerous and noncancerous tissue samples.
Using supercomputers, Atomwise unearths therapies from a database of molecular structures. The start-up, launched in 2015, created a virtual search for safe, existing medicines that could be reengineered to treat the Ebola virus. Two drugs were found which were predicted by the company’s AI technology that may reduce the infectivity of Ebola.
Google’s DeerMind more recently developed an AI for breast cancer analysis. The new algorithm exceeded human radiologists’ performance by 11.5% on pre-cleared sets of data to distinguish breast cancer.
These two companies are only two of the vast number of companies using AI technology to bring healthcare into the future. From disrupting medical imagine, designing new drugs to mining medical records, these companies are real-life examples of what we should expect on the horizon if we open ourselves up to AI in healthcare.
2. Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) is changing the lives of physicians and patients alike. Looking into the future, you could travel to Spain or home while you are in a hospital bed, or you may watch operations as if you are holding the scalpel!
The use of VR is used in many situations, from training future surgeons and for qualified surgeons to practice operations. Those developing these software programs are companies like Osso VR and ImmersiveTouch, and so far, the results are promising. A recent study has revealed that VR-trained surgeons had a 230% increase in their overall performance than traditionally-trained colleagues.
Patients are also benefitting from these advancements in technology, with pain management shown as one area of improvement. During labour pain, women are being equipped with VR headsets to allow them to visualize a soothing landscape. Patients diagnosed with cardiac, neurological, gastrointestinal, and post-surgical pain have shown a decrease in their pain levels when using VR as a stimuli. A pilot study from 2019 showed that patients receiving surgery decreased their anxiety and pain levels and improved in their overall healthcare experience.
3. Augmented Reality
Differing from VR, Augmented Reality (AR) is where users do not lose touch with reality, and information is put into eyesight as fast as possible. AR is becoming the driving force in the future of healthcare because of these distinctive features, both on the receivers’ and the medical providers’ side.
For medical professionals, it could aid medical students to better prepare for real-life operations, as well as allowing existing surgeons to improve their capabilities. Students use the Microsoft HoloLens to gain knowledge on anatomy by using the HoloAnatomy app. Medical students gain access to accurate and detailed, although digital, representations of human anatomy so they can study without the need for actual humans.
Magic Leap, another promising company, is also developing something a little different with their mixed reality headset. Magic Leap has collaborated with XRHealth to develop the therapeutic platform, SyncThink for brain health, and Brainlab, a German technology company that will bring its technology to healthcare. No commercial products have yet been brought to market; however, we are bound to see these partnerships populating the healthcare market in the future.
4. Healthcare trackers, wearables, and sensors
Closely connected with the future of healthcare and medicine, patients’ and individuals’ empowerment is taking better care of their health using technologies like wearables, health trackers, and sensors. These are excellent devices that allow us to know more about our health and give us more control over our own lives.
With devices like the Fitbit Ionic, which monitors sleep and tracks workouts, the Polar H10 can finetune a workout routine, and the Muse headband, which assists with meditation. There are many health trackers and apps on the market today.
Whether you are looking to manage your stress level, weight, or cognitive capabilities better, maybe you want to feel more energetic and healthy overall, there is a device for all requirements. These tech-fuelled gems really make patients the point-of-care. Patients have the ability to track their health at home and share the results remotely with their doctor. The devices empower the individual to make more informed decisions and take control of their health.
5. Medical tricorder
Every healthcare professional’s dream is to have only one all-powerful and supreme device. It should be able to analyse and diagnose every disease.
With the rapid growth in healthcare technologies, we now live in a world where these kinds of devices exist! One such gadget is the palm-sized Viatom CheckMe Pro, which can measure heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, ECG, oxygen saturation, and more. Other companies are also working on developing similar devices like the MedWand, which comes with a camera for telemedical purposes, as well as all of the measurement capabilities. Another device is the BioSticker from BioIntelliSense, it is FDA-cleared, and despite being thin and small, it can measure many parameters like heart rate, skin temperature, activity levels, respiratory rate, body position, sleep status, gait, and more.
These products may be a little far from the sci-fi tricorder, but we will advance there soon enough. Expect to see high-powered microscopes with smartphones that analyse images and swab samples of skin lesions. It could have sensors that notice DNA abnormalities or find specific proteins and antibodies. An ultrasonic probe, an electronic nose, or anything else that could be paired with a smartphone and enhance its features.
6. Genome sequencing
Costing the US government $2.7 billion, the entire Human Genome Project costs a crazy amount of money. Particularly when you think that in January 2017, DNA sequencing company Illumina revealed a new machine that the giant says is “expected one day” to order an entire genome for cheaper than $100. The CEO confirmed that the company is still working towards that idea. If this were to happen, it would mean that cheaper genetic testing would be available, costing between $10-$150 only.
A test like this has a lot of potentials. One can learn valuable information about drug sensitivities, monogenic or multifactorial medical conditions, and even family history. Furthermore, many fields are using the advantages of genome sequencing, such as nutrigenomics, the field that merges dietetics, nutrition, and genomics. Companies like Habit, a California-based start-up, offer personalized diets using genetic coding.
Atlas Biomed’s genetic test is also insightful. Although it can be hard to understand, it analyses to give practical, actionable results. It evaluates conditions one may be at risk to and records vitamin levels and intolerances. The information can be used to take preventative actions.
7. Revolutionizing drug development
The current process of creating new drugs is costly and time-consuming. Nevertheless, there are new ways to improve the development of drugs using methods like AI. These new approaches and technologies are set to shape the pharmaceutical landscape in the coming years.
Companies such as Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Deep Genomics, and Turbine are using the strength of AI to create new drug candidates and therapeutic solutions at a fraction of the normal cost and in record time.
Another up and coming medicine technology is in silico drug trials. These personalized computer simulations are used in the regulatory evaluation or development of healthcare products, devices, or interventions. This company is already breaking down barriers with its organs-on-a-chip development; with current biological and technology understanding disallowing simulated clinical trials, this development in silico is already in use. Their technology, HumMod is being used in many research projects, and virtual models have been developed by the Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) Institute who is using them to study osteoporosis and heart disease.
We could see nanoparticles and nanodevices operating as accurate drug delivery systems, tiny surgeons, or cancer treatment tools in the near future.
Some researchers from the Max Planck Institute, back in 2014, designed small scallop-shaped microbots that physically swim through bodily fluids. These smart pills, such as PillCam are being used for colon exams in a patient-friendly noninvasive way. MIT researchers in late 2018 developed an electronic pill that is wirelessly controlled and can relay analysis information or release drugs in reply to smartphone orders.
Nanotechnology is becoming a bigger player in the market in the form of smart patches. Grapheal, a France-based company, showcased its smart patch at CES 2020. It allows for continual monitoring of wounds, and its graphene core can even help with healing the wound faster.
With evolving technology, there will be far more physical examples of nanotechnology in healthcare. The PillCams of the future may even be able to take biopsy samples, and remote-controlled capsules could take nano-surgery into the future.
Robotics is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting fields of medicine. Robot developments range from disinfectant robots or exoskeletons right through to surgical robots and pharmabotics.
Exoskeletons did extraordinary well in the year 2019. The very first exoskeleton-aided surgery was performed, and a tetraplegic man became capable of controlling an exoskeleton using only his brain. There are many applications for these robots, from lifting elderly patients and aided nursing to assist patients with spinal cord injury.
Loneliness is also alleviated by using robots as companions; they are also used in healthcare to help children with chronic illness and treat mental health issues. Existing examples of robots are the Jibo, Buddy, Paro, and Pepper robots. Some allow their owners to control them using microphones, cameras, and touch sensors.
Bringing a world of wonders in all aspects of healthcare is 3D-printing. The list is growing with printing available for blood vessels, artificial limbs, bio tissues, and pills, and will likely continue to grow.
Researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in November 2019, created a method of printing living skin along with blood vessels using 3D-printing. This was a critical development for burn victims and skin grafts. NGOs like Not Impossible and Refugee Open Ware are helping patients in need by using 3D-printing to make prosthetics for refugees in war-torn locations.
The pharmaceutical industry is also a benefiter of these changing technologies. 3D-printed drugs have been FDA-approved and have been in circulation since 2015. Researchers are now developing 3D-printing “polypills.” These will have layers of drugs so patients can stick to their therapeutic plan.
Food for thought
We are very much living in innovative times for medicine, all thanks to the growth of technology. The mission is to share the developments and knowledge in medicine that will push us into the future of healthcare.