The healthcare industry is the top government concern all over the world. In the US alone, the annual healthcare expenditure has risen by 5.3% in 2018. By 2026, this is expected to reach 20% of the federal budget.
This shows how the healthcare industry is evolving with a special emphasis on making healthcare operations more efficient and productive.
It’s not surprising that people, in general, are pressed for time. To capture the gist of how this correlates with the healthcare industry, here’s an anecdote.
Back in the 80s and 90s, the traditional clinical model was a huge success. Patients would line up and wait in long queues to consult a trusted doctor. Waiting rooms would be crowded, even for hours at a stretch. The profession was highly rewarding even if the doctors charged much lesser per patient than what they do today.
Two decades later, the same model fails to bring in the same revenue. Patients try their level best to avoid crowded waiting rooms. And this began when patients prioritized their time as much as their physicians.
There are shorter queues even for the most accomplished practitioners. While the insurance policies are to be blamed for this diversion, a major responsibility lies with changing consumer trends.
Why would anyone want to miss out half a day or a full day at work to consult a doctor when technological advancements enable them to get things shipped from halfway across the globe much quicker?
Technology’s influx into the healthcare industry didn’t happen by chance or choice – it was necessary to bring efficiency and productivity to the table. With healthcare being one of the most significant cost centers for governments everywhere, it is essential to improve operations via technology to cut down costs and improve efficiency in medical care provision.
The importance of patient-practitioner relationship and its impact on health outcomes is gaining unmatched popularity. Healthcare is being transformed into a retail-like business where customer satisfaction is the top priority.
Gone are the days when medical practitioners were considered authority and treatments were essentially a one-way regime dictated by the learned. These days, patient inclusion and patient compliance are the latest trends whereby a patient’s involvement in crafting the treatment is considered pivotal to successful health outcomes.
Patient satisfaction, as graded by patients, is the key to institutional success. Healthcare institutions have fierce competition pretty much as any other business would do. And just as retail businesses strive to improve their customer offerings via minor and some major tweaks, the healthcare institutions try to upscale their services to impress patients and achieve high ratings.
1. Big Data
Since the digitization of medical health records, patients have experienced the massive difference in the mode of healthcare delivery. From not having to maintain bulky medical records at home to not having to brief the medical practitioner about personal medical history, digitization enables seamless processing of one of the most complicated services. And with digital information accumulated on bits and bytes, this industry has been touched by Big Data.
Big Data enables the healthcare institutions to predict emerging patient trends and behaviors and craft solutions to counter emergencies. For instance, statistics show an alarming increase in childhood obesity. Big Data shows why this is happening and how it can be controlled. This enables doctors and other medical practitioners to debunk myths associated with obesity.
In much the same way, institutions can craft and propagate health awareness campaigns to educate masses in a way that resonates with them. Big Data amplifies the power held by these institutions, equipped with the power of experiential knowledge. The goal is to make healthcare efforts more effective, more powerful, and more yielding.
Another major revolution in the healthcare industry revolves around the concept of telemedicine. Thanks to technology, people from any part of the world can connect via multiple channels to communicate distress and exchange opinions. In the world of healthcare, this has emerged as telemedicine.
Imagine being home alone when you felt queasy for no particular reason. What is causing ear pain? Is it something to be worried about? Do adults get ear infections? In a situation like this, making a solo trip to the hospital emergency sounds ridiculous, because you’re not even sure if it is an emergency. But ignoring the instance might end up costing you dearly. This is where telemedicine can be a lifesaver.
Telemedicine connects medical practitioners and patients over technology like Skype, Social Media, and other similar channels. The least any doctor and/or nurse can do is tell you if the issue deserves serious attention. Some advanced telemedicine channels can even guide you to the nearest hospital and clinic for timely medical attention.
This also means there is no limitation for physical presence. You can consult a doctor who lives halfway across the globe and have an experience as good as in person. This is handy for follow-ups and cases where the medical practitioners need to actively follow medical progress. Instead of going back to the clinic and waiting in long queues just to show your medical reports for diagnosis, patients can now turn to telemedicine and find that medical advice within the comfort of their homes.
This technological implementation not only has made medical advice provision easier and seamless but it also ensures maximum patient compliance is maintained at all times. The aim is to lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes, both of which are being delivered via telemedicine.
Another important aspect of telemedicine is tele-pharmacy. Much like healthcare advice, patients can now gain access to pharmacies via technology and have their medicines delivered at home. Not only this, they can tweak their medicine routines, schedule timely delivery and maintain an eye on consistent consumption for definitive outcomes as per their symptoms and diagnosis.
There are two aspects to healthcare provision. One deals with treating a problem that already exists. The other aspect deals with gathering intellect from Big Data and using it to battle emerging threats.
A person with a heart complication needs to be treated via therapy, medicine, and activities. Thanks to consumerism and blasphemous advertising techniques, people are sold things they don’t need. This usually ends up badly for the buyer who in fact pays to contract illnesses.
Telehealth deals with raising ample awareness against these disguised poisons to limit their spread. The idea is to educate masses regarding what’s healthy and what isn’t, enabling them to make better health choices. The success of health campaigns depends on how well they’ve been propagated, and how well-trusted the advisors are.
While telehealth in its purest form does little to improve efficiency, it plays an important role in cost-cutting. This allows a greater proportion of the healthcare budget to be apportioned for other activities. The fewer the people fall ill, the better the community is served.
4. 3D Printing
Most people have heard about 3D printing, that is, utilizing the printer to print a three-dimensional object. The act primarily involves construction rather than printing. However, given the similarities between the processes, the act is given the name of 3D printing.
3D printing began as a rare form of art, printing everyday objects just for fun. However, it is now effectively being used in healthcare to print a wide range of customized medical equipment to fit each user. The cast, for instance, is printed in three dimensions to fit the user perfectly. 3D printing comes in handy to print stents, implants, prosthetics, and more.
More recently, 3D printing of biomaterials became a thing. Experts could replicate functional tissues from biomaterials using the 3D printing technology. And this is a huge breakthrough in this profession.
Imagine being able to get an ear printed for ‘ hearing impaired ‘ babies. Or getting bones printed for individuals who have been in a rather bad accident. Synthetic and functional organs can now be printed for the less privileged individuals, giving them an opportunity to enjoy life as others do.
3D printing of organs has another important implication. For complex surgeries where medical practitioners would rather gain hands-on experience with the task at hand without putting the patient’s well-being at risk, 3D printing enables the replication of the organ(s) in question. Surgeons and their teams can get a feel of the task without cutting through the patient’s body or invasive surgery. Sometimes, this can make a difference between life and death.
And while 3D printing plays a role in saving lives and influencing the quality of sustenance, it offers quite a treat for aesthetic lovers as well. Imagine being able to adorn a stylish cast that serves its purpose and also looks great, preferably in the color of your choice. Who said being medically unfit means you have to look ugly?
And while all this looks believable, there’s another very important use of 3D printing that is revolutionizing the healthcare industry. 3D printing of drugs.
Although still in its preliminary stages, it is becoming a possibility. The FDA has already approved the first ever 3D printed drug. Over time, this technology is expected to become rampant with a 3D printer in every second or third pharmacy, shelling out custom-made pills for people with various complications.
This may even reduce the need for consuming multiple pills by aggregating their goodness in one. While this may be bad news for pharmaceutical companies everywhere, it will play a positive role in furthering healthcare provision.
The primary benefit revolves around cost-savings and making healthcare affordable for all. In a parallel world, this translates into enhanced efficiencies.
The world is becoming smaller. The floppy disks shrunk into more powerful USBs. In much the same way, nanotechnology in the world of medicine has had its fair share of the limelight.
There was a time when all surgeries were major and involved incisions. Over time, operational efficiencies reduced the size and quality of incisions. Now it is possible to conduct the surgery without an incision using a mobile camera and Nanotools.
There’s more to this story though. Nanotechnology these days has evolved into self-sufficient robots that can move into your bloodstream. So whether it is about the targeted delivery of medicine or the installation of a stent, the Nano healthcare robot does it with little invasion.
And with robots, technology hasn’t just made it easier to treat the body but also keeps the mind occupied. Personal robots are lifelike and perform as well as individuals, particularly for those suffering from mental health issues like depression.
They communicate and assist the elderly and the young alike, giving them company when they most need it. As personal assistants and “friends”, these robots can not only keep the patient occupied but also trigger an alert when and if required.
Nanotechnology eliminates the need for expensive surgeries and brings down healthcare costs, making them affordable. As robots are less likely to make mistakes and more likely to exercise precision, this works in the favor of most patients. Healing is apt, timely, and well-monitored.
6. Health Apps
Smartphones are a lot smarter these days. From connecting you to your friends to keeping you in good shape, there’s a whole range of apps for dedicated tasks in your life.
For instance, there are hydration apps to make sure your water intake is in line with the recommended daily guidelines. If you’re like your neighbor who forgets to top up the water levels in their body, setting a reminder via app might help solve the problem. This applies to pretty much every aspect of your health.
Whether it is about taking your medicines on time, or having meals at the same time every day, calorie counting, recording your cheat days, or just about any other action regarding your health, there’s an app for it.
And to take matters a step forward, there are health apps that connect you with medical practitioners. You can use it to schedule appointments, seek medical advice, follow up with your treatment plans and more. Smartphones are bringing health to you in ways you could’ve never imagined.
This form of healthcare provision is preventive in nature. It revolves around changing habits for the better, improving health and sustenance in the long run.
7. Fitness Trackers
Fitness trackers are a huge affair these days. The manufacturers have shaped them as wrist watches for convenience, allowing them to sit on your body without placing the additional burden.
These fitness trackers can read most vitals and keep a record for future perusal. They’ll be monitoring your steps, heart rate, pulse, temperature, and other such vital statistics impertinent to gauge physical health. Even if you’re not a fitness freak, these gadgets will make you want to pursue fitness routines for a healthier, fitter you!
On the same note, tricorders are worthy of mention. These handheld gadgets can analyze body samples and diagnose precisely where the problem lies and what the disease is. Although building the perfect tricorder is more theory, research and development are already underway to build a practical solution.
For the healthcare industry, the possibilities associated with tricorders are massive. Imagine being able to diagnose diseases at their earliest instance, facilitating their resolution in a timely manner. This reduces the possibility of erroneous diagnosis, delayed treatment and in fact ensures health care is prioritized the way it should be.
8. Genome Sequencing
This takes the healthcare business on the minutest level, right down to the DNA! Every person’s DNA is unique. It is self-replicating and unchangeable, a carrier of genetic information. Some professionals believe there is almost 4 MB of data contained within a person’s DNA. It has taken mankind ages to decode the DNA and to understand what makes a person what s/he is.
The DNA contains nucleotides, each of which consists of a phosphate, sugar group, and a nitrogen base. There are four nitrogen bases, adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. It is the combination of these bases that determine the information encoded on the DNA.
Since medical advancements enabled humans to decode their DNA, they’ve put this information to even better use. Genome sequencing pertains to reading the information found within the DNA to identify medical problems like sensitivities, allergies, multifactorial or monogenic medical conditions, and family history. So if a medical issue “runs in the family”, it is impossible to miss.
There’s more to this. Genome sequencing is not only about identifying health risks but it can also help decide the best way to counter these risks. In the world of fitness, genome sequencing uses the power of genetics, diet, and exercise to create a regime that will definitely yield the results you are looking for. It is about micromanaging every little aspect of the regime. It is about conditioning your body the way your DNA dictates.
Besides this, the science of genetic screening has massive implication in the sports world. It makes use of the same three characteristics – diet, genetics and exercise – and couples it with athletic goals, customizing the pathway accordingly. Talk about maximizing your athletic potential and genome sequencing has the solution for it.
In terms of healthcare provision, genome sequencing not only enables individuals to screen for particular conditions but also puts them on guard against what might work negatively. It is about improving life opportunities by limiting risks.
9. Drug Development
Drug development has always been a rather tedious task. From collecting the active ingredient to processing the excipients, creating drugs has always been a lengthy commitment. Pharmaceutical manufacturers all over the world have experienced it and understand the need to keep up with market demand. This is where batch production comes into play.
Technological advancements have made a difference to drug development. Now it is possible to create drugs on demand. One way is to utilize the power of 3D printing as mentioned earlier. Another way is to use the power of artificial intelligence to decode medicinal compounds, recommend changes, and create simulations that are targeted at achieving a particular result at a target site.
Silico trials gained popularity fairly recently. These computer simulations are used in the development of medicinal products, devices or interventions. The full scale of possibilities associated with silico trials still remains to be unveiled. However, as much as silico trials have been put to practice, these are indispensable in providing individualized attention to special patients, factoring in all their concerns while developing a medical solution customized for them.
10. Mobile Healthcare Systems
Traditionally, healthcare systems were built in a way that the persons seeking medical attention had to visit hospitals and clinics. With technological advancements and general consumer behavior changes, the system has been revolutionized in a way that healthcare is reaching people in need.
Mobile healthcare systems come in handy at places where hospitals can’t be built. This would include the many areas in developing countries where access to healthcare facilities is limited and those few emergency sites where medical camps were set up.
The good part about these mobile healthcare systems is that they are fully integrated with traditional institutions. The equipment can collect information and maintain patient files remotely. Some better units even have a dedicated space for lab works, making it possible to diagnose right away.
Combine it with telehealth and HIPAA compliant telemedicine apps to multiply the outcome by a thousand. Besides basic healthcare, these technologies bring specializations within the reach of the common person. Not everyone has access to traditional healthcare settings; mobile healthcare systems do the trick.
These systems, although an additional financial burden on the healthcare sector, makes it possible for every individual in the country to avail basic healthcare facilities irrespective of demographics. It takes the burden off the traditional healthcare facilities and improves outcomes for everyone.
IOT, or the Internet of Things, was a term coined to symbolize integration and connectivity. It has been used in techie households, connecting several household items with a central body wirelessly. This central body is controlled by an individual, enabling them to synchronize house activities at just a touch.
IOT in the world of healthcare is fairly recent. It involves wearable technology as well. But what deserves special mention is the existence of centrally maintained electronic health records.
Previously, all health records were stored at the local hospital, typically in paper form. This not only meant less portability but also less accessibility, particularly outside that hospital. With time and development, however, it was understood that medical records need to be centralized in a way that facilitates seamless sharing.
This is where electronic health records came into being. Merging all information about a particular patient in one cloud location, this record can be accessed from just about anywhere, shared for the doctor’s assistance, and updated in real-time.
IOT in relation to electronic health records means patient statistics are being collected and communicated in real time. This calls for greater accountability and surveillance, prioritizing patient care over everything else.
Healthcare, has been for over a century now, dominated by rigid corporate structures where entry into business is highly restricted to those who have a large amount of capital on hand. Medical facilities are expensive to build, maintain and run, requiring a large fleet of workers and an experienced management to successfully bring in consistent revenue by upholding the highest degree of value in patient care. Healthcare, for its pivotal role in societal development, is at the top of every person’s mind. Whether it is about sustaining a healthy lifestyle or about overcoming deadly health conditions, healthcare systems have a major role to play in it. Technology in all its forms is only making it easier, more effective and more efficient to deliver healthcare facilities where they are needed the most.
The near future is likely to be even more laden with technological advancements. The research and development sector continues to thrive on emerging business challenges. What once was fiction, is now a reality. Those who embrace these changes will enjoy the first mover advantage for years to come.
James Crook is a passionate blogger who loves to write on health and fitness related topics. Currently, he is a working as a blogger for a Physical Fitness Dr Wilson shoulder Surgeon. Follow @jamescrook911 for more updates.