6 technologies that will transform healthcare

Quick Takes

  • Technologies set to revolutionize healthcare will improve patient care and satisfaction while cutting costs and/or creating value for healthcare organizations

  • 6 technologies predicted to shape the future of healthcare are telehealth, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, wearable health monitors, and next-generation sequencing

  • Both the realized and unrealized potential of these advancements offer great steps towards a sustainable healthcare system

Simone Edelmann, PhD

Editor at HealthcareTransformers.com

6 technologies that will transform healthcare

5 July 2019

The delivery of healthcare and healthcare services are undergoing major transformation. With escalating pressure to do more with less, technologies that are gaining momentum aim to improve patient care and satisfaction while cutting costs and/or creating value for organizations so they can remain competitive. Join us as we explore six predominant technologies that are reshaping healthcare.

Doctor providing healthcare services to patient via video chat

1. Telehealth

According to market intelligence company, Transparent Market Research, the global telehealth market is forecasted to reach US$19.5 billion by 2025.1 From its value of US$6 billion in 2016, that’s an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13%.1 The report suggests that an increasing ageing population, a rise in the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and an increased demand for self-care devices and solutions will drive this market trend.

Improving accessibility

Telehealth solutions and services facilitate patients’ access to care. This has incredible value for patients with reduced mobility, who live remotely, or who can not get to their doctor’s office, for instance when on holiday. Studies suggest that, in terms of patient outcomes, the quality of care that telehealth services provide is comparable to traditional face-to-face visits.2-4 Moreover, evidence shows that telehealth services can help to lower healthcare costs.2,5-8

Reducing costs

Reducing the length of stay and readmission rates are top priorities for healthcare systems. Efforts towards these goals will become even more important as value-based reimbursement schemes rise. Healthcare systems of the future will emphasize outpatient care and telehealth will be a key enabler of this system. A telehealth program launched at Frederick Memorial Hospital in 2016 for patients with high risk chronic conditions, such as chronic heart failure, has already shown encouraging results.9 Emergency room visits have so far been cut by half, hospitalizations have been reduced by almost 90%, and the cost of care for these patients has been cut by more than 50%.9

Enabling self-care

According to a 2017 Definitive Health study, an estimated 70% of patients already use a telemedicine solution or service.10  Modern patients are more self-help oriented and don’t see the value of seeing a doctor in person just to share a few details and renew an existing prescription. Many millennials completely forego having a primary care physician and only use on-demand healthcare services when they feel sick or get injured.11 As the end users of the health system demand more services that allow for freedom, flexibility, and independence, telehealth solutions and services will continue to grow.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

2. Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI is one of the most powerful tools in the medical industry’s toolbox. The super-power of AI is fast, detailed and high-volume data analysis. AI has the potential to make high quality healthcare more accessible and affordable by assisting healthcare providers to make the best treatment decisions for their patients. In addition, it can also transform the back office by performing otherwise tedious and time consuming administrative tasks.

Improving diagnosis

One significant challenge for physicians is to sift through the immense amount of data that contribute to the diagnosis of a patient. More efficiently than any human, AI can scan the electronic health or medical record of a patient and pattern-match the data to an existing database of real world patient cases to suggest potential diagnoses.12 A recent study published in Nature showed the potential of this technique in diagnosing common childhood diseases, and also dangerous or life-threatening conditions such as acute asthma exacerbation and meningitis.13

Assisting image analysis

Faster than any human, AI can find slight anomalies or changes in patterns that can help in the diagnosis, tracking, progression and treatment response of a disease. This holds huge potential to support clinical decisions in time critical situations or when there is a lack of expert knowledge available, such as in remote or poorly funded medical facilities.

AI is not only being used in the assessment of common radiology exams that look inside the body, such as x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The physical appearance of patients can also be analyzed by AI to diagnose disease.14-16 The app, SkinVision, allows users to perform regular self-checks for skin cancer by analyzing photos taken with their phone.15 Facial analysis to identify genetic conditions using AI also shows great promise to diagnose patients earlier than traditional methods.16

Streamlining administrative tasks

Administrative tasks are a tremendous drain on financial resources for healthcare organizations. From 1975 to 2010 the number of healthcare administrators is estimated to have grown by 3,200%.17 This has been attributed to the drastic changes in healthcare delivery during this time frame driven largely by technological advancements and increasingly complex regulations.17 Although we will not witness a slow down of tech advancement or regulatory obligations, the right AI-powered back office software will help balance these costs. A recent report by Accenture estimates that by 2026, AI applications that streamline the administrative workflow of healthcare organizations will lead to annual cost savings of US$18 billion in the US alone.18

3D printing of synthetic heart

3. 3D printing

By 2025, 3D printing in the medical field is forecast to be worth US$3.5 billion. Compared to US$713.3 million in 2016, this represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.7% between 2017 and 2025.19 This revolutionary technology will improve patient care by enhancing the medical training of doctors and increasing the personalization of healthcare solutions.

Creating anatomical models

3D printing has made it possible to create physical models of anatomically accurate structures that can be used for surgical planning and education of both patients and trainees.20 Surgical simulations on patient-specific organ replicas can similarly be designed, helping to diminish the risk to the patient.20 This is extremely advantageous for complex procedures where a mistake could be detrimental, such as neurosurgery.

Designing custom devices & tools

Medical devices, prosthetics, dental implants, and even surgical tools can now be customized as never-before imagined. Sterile surgical instruments, such as forceps or scalpel handles, can be produced at a significantly lower cost.21 3D printed prosthetic limbs specifically catered to the wearer have the same functionality as traditionally manufactured prosthetics, yet can be faster and cheaper to produce.21

Enhancing precision medication

As the demand of individualized and precision medicine grows, so does the emphasis on patient-specific dosing. It has been reported that 75–85% of adverse effects from drug therapy occur as a result of inappropriate dosing or dose combinations.22 Just as there are no two patients that will share the same age, weight, severity of disease, etc, there is no “one size fits all” in pill form. With 3D printing, doctors and pharmacies will soon have the power to print pills of exactly the right sized dose, consistency, and even combinations of medicines for each individual patient.22 This will ensure a more relevant, effective and safe dose to the patient.22

4. Augmented and virtual reality

Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) have already revolutionized the gaming world. Their applications to the medical field are now being explored and show promising results. By assisting in the training of doctors and as a therapeutic tool to treat patients suffering from pain and dementia, these technologies will improve patient care.

Simulating medical procedures

AR and VR are both able to create vivid and detailed simulations of medical procedures, allowing doctors to walk through their first one, dozen, or hundred procedures before ever working directly with a patient. Simulation technology has become so good that doctors and medical students can practice with detailed accuracy and experience procedures with near-full immersion. This grants the ability to make decisions and view the results without putting patients at risk during learning and experimentation.23

Easing pain symptoms

Studies applying VR to help treat patients with a variety of acute and chronic pain conditions show promising results.24,25 Patient immersion in an interactive and virtual world can serve as a distraction, lessening the pain and anxiety experienced.25 There are medical facilities currently testing this application on a trial basis.

Treating dementia

VR and AR may also benefit patients suffering from dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The technologies can simulate calming experiences and provide memory aids as well as cognitive stimulation.26,27 VR has also been used as a learning tool enabling carers to gain a better understanding of the challenges that persons with dementia face every day.27 These technologies have been found to significantly improve the quality of life for dementia patients among other elderly patients who can benefit from virtual environments and experiences.28

Wearable wrist fitness tracker

5. Wearable health monitors 

As the systems and applications of wearable technologies grow in diversity, they are expected to become an indispensable part of our life, similar to how smartphones have in the past.  With today’s long-lasting tiny batteries, wifi-powered data sharing, and mobile app support to generate meaningful insights from the collected data, wearables are quickly becoming an integral part of health management.

Timely diagnosis and clinical support

Wearable health monitors have evolved quickly and can now collect real-time, clinically accurate medical data.  Paired with well-designed mobile apps, users can view the analysis of their collected data and share it with their healthcare providers. Alerts can also be received in case of irregularities in vital signs such as heart rhythm, which could indicate a serious condition. This technology and the data provided could allow for the timely diagnosis of patients, potentially identifying conditions before they worsen and/or become life-threatening.

Improved patient engagement 

Wearables provide an effective opportunity for healthcare organizations to involve their patients more in the management of their own health. Research shows that more engaged patients have better health outcomes and care experiences than patients who are less engaged.29 As patient’s become more tech-savvy, there is also a heightened expectation that care providers will use the data they have personally collected in their treatment and care plan.30

Clinical trial participation

Today, clinical trials are challenged to find enough people to participate and, even then, participants are faced with the burden of coming in frequently for tests and monitoring. Wearables can change this paradigm for many clinical trials by making trial monitoring more accessible.31 In addition, the real-time and continuous data collected for a parameter will likely be more robust and representative of reality than a measurement taken in a clinical setting on a specific day and time.

6. Next-generation sequencing

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) offers transformative opportunities in healthcare. Expected to play a central role in the evolution of precision medicine, NGS has immense potential to add value for clinical and research applications, on an individual as well as population level. Major benefits of the technology include increasing diagnostic accuracy, reducing healthcare costs, improving patient quality of life, and advancing science and innovation.32

Identifying at-risk populations

As a direct consequence of the introduction of NGS into labs, the number of genes associated with causing human inherited disorders has increased.33 By sequencing a patient’s genome, these genetic predispositions can be identified. Subsequently, doctors can monitor their patient before the manifestation of disease and important disease management steps, such as preventative measures, can be acted upon early.

Targeting therapies to patient response

Gene sequencing can also reveal how patients may respond to certain medications. While NGS has been tested across multiple healthcare settings, its application is most developed in oncology. Physicians have the ability to sequence their patients’ tumors to match them to targeted therapies to slow tumor growth.34 Targeted therapies can benefit disease management greatly by avoiding the risk of treatment delay due to trial-and-error of ineffective medications with possibly unpleasant side effects.

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing

Nowadays, anybody can have their DNA analyzed. Over 250 companies offer customers DNA tests in applications including forensics, ancestry, health, pharmacogenomics, fitness and nutrition.35  Besides revealing information about family ancestry or genealogy, they can also reveal if someone is at risk for certain diseases and conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and even cancer.36  

Customers can also be given the opportunity to provide their genomic information to large research studies.37 These studies can help further advance genomic science and improve human health on a rapid basis.

How these technologies and their evolution will transform the future of healthcare is incredibly exciting. Both the realized and unrealized potential of these advancements offer great steps towards improved quality and delivery of care at decreased costs for a sustainable healthcare system.

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Simone Edelmann, PhD is an editor and contributor at HealthcareTransformers.com. After completing her PhD from the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, she found her passion in medical and scientific communications. She is dedicated to delivering high quality content on the topic of the future of healthcare to our readers.

References

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