Health is crucial for individual well-being and development of society as a whole. Healthy populations live longer and are more productive. The situation of healthcare is extremely challenging at this juncture. Populations are ageing worldwide and proportion of people aged over 60 is projected to almost double to around 2 billion between 2015 and 2050. Diseases are spreading rapidly in a globalized world characterized by high mobility and interdependence of economies. Lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes are finding a fertile ground in an environment of spiraling stress and burgeoning cities. Healthcare technology is, thankfully, offering hope to battered humanity.
Technology in Healthcare
Diagnosis tools such as stethoscopes, MRI scanners and heart monitors, as well as treatment technologies including scalpels, ECMO machines and ventilators, have been a part of the medical world for some time now. Healthcare technology is witnessing exciting trends in the 21st century as AI, telemedicine, IOMT and wearable devices are enhancing the quality of life for many. The global digital health market is already valued at around $200 billion and is expected to reach $536.6 billion by 2025, which speaks volumes about the potential of technology in healthcare.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a major trend in healthcare, thanks to the demand for precision medicine and need for cost reduction. AI is moving patients to the center of healthcare by transforming every area of healthcare, from diagnosing health conditions to automating hospital workflow task. The time will soon come when AI and machine learning technologies will be used across the healthcare ecosystem, from disease management to clinical decision support. Tech startups as well as global players such as IBM, Google and Microsoft, are investing heavily in AI healthcare projects for a reason.
Telemedicine makes use of electronic information to provide and support healthcare from a distance. The demand for telemedicine is on the rise as it is a great way to bridge the gap between physicians and patients. The need to reduce healthcare costs and growing number of elderly patients are major factors propelling the rise in telemedicine services. Patients prefer to take the virtual route to consult with a physician, seek health support, track health indicators such as blood pressure and manage ongoing health issues as it offers greater freedom and accessibility. Telemedicine helps the physicians to treat a large number of patients and motivates the patients to assume a pro-active role in self-care.
Robots are revolutionizing the world of medicine. Robots have extensive applications in complex surgeries, physical therapy and rehabilitation. The IDC predicts that one in four hospitals having more than 200 beds will deploy robots by 2020 to handle time-consuming tasks, reduce labor and enhance patient safety. Frost & Sullivan forecasts that robots will perform 80% of surgical procedures by 2025.
Wearable devices are fast becoming a ubiquitous part of personal healthcare, helping in monitoring vital signs and activity levels, making healthy lifestyle choices and addressing specific diseases such as COPD, heart arrhythmia and asthma. The popular wearable medical devices available in the market today are glucose monitors, pain management devices, cardio-vascular disease management devices and wearable EEG monitors.
Health data is a vital tool in diagnostics and treatment of diseases as well as healthcare planning and policy making. Data sharing carries immense security-related risks, especially in wake of the rising incidents of cyber attacks and data breaches. Blockchain technology is a new approach to securing patient data storage and transmission. IBM, Intel and Microsoft are developing blockchain products for the healthcare sector.
Gamification has taken several industries by storm and is making rapid inroads into the world of medicine as well. Physio-therapists are using gaming devices to engage patients as the challenge and audio-visual stimulation inherent in such devices facilitate faster recovery.
Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
Internet of Medical Things, or Healthcare IoT, is a network of medical devices and software applications that communicate with healthcare IT systems. FitBit is a simple example of IOMT. The FitBit tracks the steps, the step count is tabulated on an iPhone via Bluetooth technology and the data is shared with a physician via Wi-Fi connection and automated reporting.
Mobile applications dedicated to healthcare are mushrooming by the day and their popularity is not surprising. There are app directories and other educational tools for patients, as well as measurement tools for clinicians. Apps help patients to understand lab work results, investigate drug interactions and communicate directly with the medical personnel. More significantly, apps help patients to evaluate their symptoms and determine the severity of their medical conditions.
Smart sensors for monitoring vital signs such as glucose levels, heart activity and blood coagulation are nothing new. The future belongs to sensors that can think and the addition of IoMT connectivity to sensors will open a whole new world of benefits.
Healthcare facilities are being designed around patient, family and staff needs. As against the drab appearances of conventional hospitals, modern patient-centric facilities improve patient outcomes, boost staff effectiveness and help the administrators to meet safety objectives.
To conclude, the discerning healthcare receivers of today demand simplicity, convenience and personalization in health services. Medical technologists are hard at work to harness the potential of technology to address healthcare needs, take complexity out of healthcare and bring hope to the multitudes.