tech medicine

Healthcare Advances in the 21st Century

It’s no secret that technological advancements have a big impact on our lives. From navigation apps to guide you home safely to Internet of Things appliances that exist to save you time, there are plenty of ways new technology can come in handy.

But when it comes to healthcare, technology transcends convenience and turns life-saving. In the past, patients would have to call their doctors and set up appointments to get simple questions answered. Now, patients can bypass all of that and have their fears relieved in less than five minutes with a chat bot on their phone.

No more waiting in stuffy exam rooms. Gone are the days of waiting for test results. Here is the future: digital everything, instant answers, life-saving devices smaller than your phone. There’s a lot of room for tech-enabled advancements in healthcare—so what should you keep an eye on? We asked healthcare experts to weigh in and determine the top healthcare technology trends that they think will dominate 2018.

Every industry goes through changes over time and the life sciences industry is no exception. However, it does show distinct industry-specific characteristics, such as the continuation of similar trends year-after-year and a slower pace of change.

Chat bots

When you hear the term chat bots, you may think of bots from your instant messaging days, or for the younger crowd, you may even associate chat bots with electronic personal assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. If you can picture either of those, you’re not too far off from what healthcare chat bots are like.

Chat bots are powered by commands or artificial intelligence (AI). Command-based chat bots can perform simple functions, such as showing you the weather if you ask for it. AI bots are more complex, and are a rapidly growing area of interest as they use algorithms and data to essentially teach themselves and interact with humans.

In terms of healthcare, AI bots can serve as an intermediary between patients and doctors. Imagine you have a cold, but aren’t sure if you should make the trek to the doctor’s office quite yet. An AI bot could answer your medical questions and either make an appointment for you or connect you to a real nurse or doctor, if needed.

AI chat bots can also act as medical assistants, helping patients keep tabs on their health. These bots can tell you when to take your medicine, can schedule doctor appointments for you, and can even monitor your health and alert a nurse or doctor if needed.

Telehealth

Telehealth is already an increasing field of medicine, but you can expect to see it expand and encroach on many new areas of healthcare. Telehealth by definition is “the collection of means or methods for enhancing healthcare, public health, and health education delivery and support using telecommunications technologies.”

If you’ve ever emailed back and forth with a doctor or health professional online, then you have experienced telehealth. Telehealth today also includes text reminders for appointments, online health portals to see test results and apps to keep track of exercise or food intake.

In 2018, expect to see the telehealth field grow even more, particularly for those who live in remote or rural areas where access to clinics or other facilities can be challenging. At forbes.com they note that devices that can wirelessly transmit patient information—think blood pressure cuffs, blood glucose monitors and oxygen monitors—will become more prevalent as doctors can keep tabs on their patients from afar.

One of the biggest arenas for telehealth is actually the smallest—your mobile device. Expect to see advancements in mobile apps devoted to connecting patients and doctors, including those that feature chat bots and instant access to medical care.

Wearable technology

Remember all the excitement and intrigue surrounding Google Glass? While that may not have lived up to the hype, you can rest assured that wearable technology has not disappeared. In fact, the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that there will be 213 billion units of wearable technologies sold by 2020.

For healthcare, this is big news. Consider invasive devices such as blood glucose meters for those with diabetes. With wearable technology, diabetics can instead wear a watch-like device with a microneedle, allowing painless and accurate monitoring of glucose levels throughout the day.

Other wearable technologies expected to come onto the scene are ones that monitor sleep quality and breathing patterns — which can help diagnose sleep apnea — and other devices to help monitor heart rate, respiratory rate and skin temperature, which syncs to your phone and can be shared with your doctor.

Stronger security

As more and more patients and doctors send sensitive, confidential information across the internet, the higher the risk of interception by cyber criminals. The need for top-notch cyber security has never been stronger.

“Healthcare organizations need to be prepared for the multi-million dollar ransomware industry,” Adnan Raja, VP of Marketing at Atlantic.net, says. He explains how cyber-criminals are targeting healthcare industries.

“These [healthcare] organizations often have thousands or even tens of thousands of gigabytes of patient data they cannot afford to lose — which makes them all the more willing to pay handsomely to get their data back at any cost,” Raja says. This srg.co.uk blog post backs up these ideas.

To deter hackers, healthcare companies are seeking newer and better ways of securing data. Do not be surprised if you try logging into an online healthcare portal and encounter two-factor authentication. This helps strengthen your account and prevent hackers who may know your password from accessing your information.

For healthcare workers, you will most likely see an increase in information security procedures and protocol regarding electronic health information. You too will have multi-factor authentication and will likely go through trainings on online security. With breaches in healthcare costing just over $6 billion per year, hospitals and healthcare providers will be more vigilant about online security.

Personalized medicine

Personalized medicine has been on the rise since the completion of the Human Genome Project, which mapped the order of DNA in a human genome. This helped scientists and healthcare professionals understand that each person’s genetic information is unique, and therefore healthcare should be tailored to the individual.

As such, personalized medicine has been a trending area of research for years now. Arlen Ward, PhD, PE, of System Insight Engineering, predicts that in 2018 you can expect to hear more about gene sequencing and genetic testing.

“As gene sequencing gets less expensive, more genetic testing will be done to determine which medicines have the best chance of working for a specific patient,” Ward says. He adds that sequencing genes for cancer will also become more prominent as researchers look to develop more effective drugs targeted to specific genomes.

In terms of technology, this means a rise in CRISPR technology, which edits genes to help treat or prevent certain genetic diseases. Expect to see more conversation surrounding gene editing technologies, and don’t be surprised if a doctor offers you genetic testing at some point in the near future.

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