The (E-) Doctor Is In: What Trends to Spot in Healthcare Technology Today
By Dickon Smart-Gill, CIO, Bumrungrad International Hospital
“Disruptive technologies” are the trending watchwords du jour, a catchphrase that encapsulates the displacement of existing market models with change, innovation and upheaval, and this phenomenon is as relevant as ever right now in the field of healthcare and medicine.
Earlier in the year, three behemoth corporate players, who are not traditionally associated with Healthcare— Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase— forged a partnership to leverage state-of-the-art healthcare technology to provide to their employees “simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.”
So what is in the cards for the ever-evolving face of healthcare technology today?
AI has transformed the way healthcare providers render their services and how patients experience their level of care, in areas such as clinical diagnostic accuracy, acute care rehabilitation, predictive disease analysis, hospital operations and population health.
It is an area that is teeming with possibilities for growth: by 2035, workplace productivity is projected to spike by as much as 35 percent and surpass the $6 billion mark as AI continues to play an integral part in alleviating physician shortage and patient congestion, as well as adopting more optimal and precise treatment plans.
As patients increasingly want more control over personal healthcare decisions, AI, Deep Learning and digital image content analysis can be tapped to analyze and anticipate disease, devise optimal care approaches and design methodologies of diagnosis and treatment of medical malaises. Pathology and Radiology specialities are in the early stages of AI transformation.
Immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) can be a huge opportunity for advanced visualization for healthcare providers and their patients, with a projected market share of $90 billion by 2020. For example, images from a real-world environment such as the OR can be embedded with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video and graphics, enabling surgeons to navigate their way around minimally invasive procedures or to develop 3D reconstructions of tumors without resorting to radiation exposure. Virtual apps have also been used to educate patients on the use of AEDs or defibrillators.
Wearables, IoT and Mobile Health Apps
The growing business of preventative care in the form of wearables—whether as part of corporate wellness programs or individual health and fitness markets—is expected to rise to $12.1 billion by 2021.
Remote health monitoring via wearables and mobile health apps could lead to a notable decrease in hospitalizations and ensure that those who need urgent care will have access to it more readily and with greater ease. For instance, digital contact lens can be worn by diabetics to measure and maintain their blood sugar levels.
The advantages of wearables are diverse: they have user-friendly interfaces and boast of connectivity features such as wireless data transmission, real-time feedback and alerting mechanisms, granting patients secured access to their health records and providing quicker diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as arrhythmia, asthma and COPD.
Although the words telemedicine and telehealth are likely to become obsolete within five years, the use of the latest technology advancements to provide healthcare to patients will become commonplace globally.
As advances in computing, coding, crowd-sourcing, data analytics and cyber sciences continue to upend traditional healthcare with personalized, patient-centric and precision medicine, the possibilities are limitless
In the not-so-distant future, when people say “I just saw a doctor” we will immediately assume that it wasn’t in person but rather via video call.
The Rise of the Machines: Robots, Chatbots and Voice-Activated Assistants
Medical robotics have been making inroads into revolutionizing healthcare as they take over time-consuming, labor-intensive tasks, thereby improving medical productivity and enhancing patient safety. Robots are used increasingly in surgery, drug dispensation, meal delivery, sample transportation, rehabilitation and physical therapy, elder-care assistance, and special needs interaction.
Chatbots—software robots with algorithm-based interfaces where patients can check on symptoms, seek healthcare advice or receive diagnosis using natural language processing—is an emergent market that is expected to grow to $1.23 billion by 2025. Forged collaborations with hospitals and healthcare providers have become a credible industry-wide modality of healthcare, serving as viable tools for human conversation and engagement.
Many of these chatbots are still considered in their nascency, but with expanding usage and increased data gathering and processing, their sophistication grows daily. Using natural language processing, deep learning and sentiment analysis, chatbots may well become the digital GP, pharmacist or therapist of tomorrow.
We will also see further development of integrated voice-activated technologies. AI extrapolates data from patients’ medical records, then recommends a course of action ranging from scheduling visits, diagnosing symptoms and vital stats or locating the right specialists. It is an efficient, expeditious provision of high-quality, early-intervention healthcare.
These interactive and trainable digital assistants will be the next wave of healthcare technology as we know it— smart, predictive and fully endowed with the capability and capacity to evolve, adapt and learn.
Genomics and Precision Medicine
Precision Medicine will fundamentally change how healthcare and wellness are understood and delivered by healthcare professionals. One essential component of precision medicine is the use of an individual’s genomic sequence to offer targeted and specific treatment for diagnosed conditions, tailored to the individual. The foreseeable demand for these diagnostic tests will place an increasing burden on IT infrastructure from a storage and security standpoint.
The CIO Challenge
The CIO needs to evolve in order to meet and exceed the challenges raised by the ever-changing Healthcare IT landscape. There are two main areas of focus:
• Interoperability Capability and Skills. Hire, train and retain talent who specialize in connecting disparate systems in a secure and deterministic manner.
• Secure Encryption at Rest and in Motion. Patient data and in particular genomic data files contain the most sensitive information which needs to be safeguarded against loss. These files can be far larger than what many institutions are comfortable handling and thus pose unique challenges if not strategically approached early in the purchase process.
The World at Our Fingertips
As advances in computing, coding, crowd-sourcing, data analytics and cyber sciences continue to upend traditional healthcare with personalized, patient-centric and precision medicine, the possibilities are limitless. We have come further than say, thirty years ago when buzzwords such as fuzzy logic and Bayesian networks were bandied about, but we have barely skimmed the surface of possibilities. It will be interesting to monitor how many of these trends develop from pilot projects to attain market sustainability and global reach, but in the world of science in healthcare, anything is possible.