To what extent have disruptive technologies affected healthcare?
From simple automated check in systems to highly complex imaging for disease identification, healthcare has certainly taken advantage of innovative technology. While healthcare is an industry like no other, businesses can learn many lessons from the adoption of technology across global medical facilities. Trialling tech can lead to massive improvements, not only in the way that organisations operate but in the services they provide. This willingness to experiment has led to real world solutions to life threatening problems. However, HealthTech is also a stark reminder of the importance of data protection and privacy.
Here, D/SRUPTION lists 10 technologies and the effect they are having on our greatest asset of all – our health.
1) Artificial Intelligence
AI can help medical professionals to find more relevant treatments and advice by sifting through data. IBM‘s Medical Sieve, for example, uses analytical reasoning to enhance decisions made in radiology and cardiology. AI also powers personal health assistants that give people more control over their own wellbeing. These intelligent assistants can send prompts, reminders, encouragement and advice across a broad spectrum of health related issues. One example is Catalia Health’s Mabu, which gathers real time data and uses it to tailor its interactions with patients.
2) Advanced Robotics
One important application of advanced robotics in healthcare is the use of drone technology to deliver vital medical supplies to remote or inaccessible locations. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are quicker than grounded alternatives and much cheaper to fly than helicopters or planes. Amputees have also benefitted from robotic limbs, manufactured by companies like Human Technologies Inc. and Open Bionics.
3) 3D Printing
Another technology that is revolutionising prosthetics and replacement organs is 3D printing, also known as bioprinting when referring specifically to healthcare. Bioprinting company Organovo has successfully printed kidney cells, heralding the arrival of 3D printed organs. Bioprinting has the potential to streamline the lengthy and uncertain process of waiting for replacement organs. Organovo’s next project is bioprinted skin. As well as body parts, 3D printing can create medication. A bioprinted pill developed by Aprecia to control epilespy seizures, for example, was approved by the FDA in 2015.
4) Augmented Reality
Medical professionals can now be trained using augmented reality templates, guiding them through procedures. Surgeons can now use AR in the operating room as a potentially life saving tool, while nurses can use it for simpler tasks like locating veins. AR visualisation may have applications within pharma, too, by showing how certain drugs work. This could help to create more effective medication while providing a comprehensive way of explaining how it fights disease or infection.
5) Mobile apps
No doctor, no problem. With the ZocDoc app, you can find a local doctor, read patient reviews and book a time slot without traipsing to a surgery or hospital just to be turned away. Mobile apps can help users to track their exercise levels, nutrition, sleep patterns and essentially any other aspect of their health. Last year, a team at the University of Illinois developed an external dock that equips smartphones with the ability to analyse blood, saliva and urine. There are also various apps that are designed to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Wearable devices have come a long way from clunky pedometers. Brands like FitBit and Garmin have taken over a highly profitable market, capitalising on the trend of personal health management. A wearable devices uses a range of sensors to track movement in every direction. Some use gyroscopes to measure orientation, while others apply optical sensors to measure the wearer’s pulse through their skin. This army of sensors can accurately work out the acceleration, duration, intensity and pattern of movement. All of this information helps the wearer to reach specific health goals, whether that be to improve their nutrition, sleep, exercise or overall wellbeing. The next iteration of these devices are expected to move within the body in the form of implants.
7) The Internet of Things
Smart pills equipped with sensors are able to gather data from inside of the body, picking up information that a wearable simply couldn’t. Sensors aren’t just confined to pills – Roche, for instance, has revealed a continuous glucose monitoring system that sits under the skin and gathers data about diabetes sufferers. A further use for IoT connectivity may be within clinical trials, monitoring remote systems to make sure trials are carried out correctly. This is equally applicable to prescribed medication like inhalers or tablet trays.
8) Smart Home Devices
Just like an app or an AI healthcare assistant, smart home devices can send alerts, reminders, and advice to enhance their owners’ health. This could range anywhere from prompting them to take medication to guiding them through a low fat recipe. As smart home devices are designed to learn about user preferences and habits, they provide an effective platform for delivering personalised health information.
The study of genomics is another innovative discovery that is redefining how we think about our health. Instead of looking at the average response to a drug, or basing treatments on ‘the norm’, genomics delivers ultimate personalisation by considering individual genomes. In doing this, it is hoped that the healthcare model will transition from curing ailments to preventing them before they have a significant impact. The field of genomics has given rise to the concept of human digital twins, which will help us understand our own physiology in more depth than ever before.
10) Big Data
Tying all of the above technologies together, and providing the foundations for the development of health focused platforms, is big data. Collecting data about patients, procedures and processes has made it far easier for doctors, surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals to find the information they need – without searching through countless physical files. Patients benefit as a result. Cloudera has created a database of drug interactions to work out the potential effect of certain drugs on patients, contributing to more individualised and relevant treatments.
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