Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), medical IoT (Internet Of Things) and other technologies have transformed traditional healthcare into a smart ecosystem. Thanks to innovative systems, medical professionals can better diagnose and treat patients’ conditions. With more advances on the horizon, the future looks exciting, and who knows, maybe modern technology could soon wipe out deadly diseases.
Patients that have chronic illnesses often require ongoing care from their physicians. This care can include patient education, symptom monitoring, medication adjustment, and behavioural changes. Not only is this care costly, but it is also very time-consuming for both medical staff and patients. Now, there are new digital therapeutics that can fill this role.
Digital therapeutics are prescribed by doctors to patients for particular medical conditions. These sophisticated software programs can be accessed as applications on a patient’s smartphone or through a personal computer. Medical conditions that are well suited for digital therapeutics include diabetes type I and type II, cancer, anxiety, musculoskeletal pain, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) asthma, migraines, insomnia, and substance abuse (Kishore, 2015). As patients use the applications, information about their wellbeing is reported back to their physician. This allows doctors to be able to monitor patients without having to see them regularly, as well as spot problems much earlier than when a patient needs to wait for an appointment.
AI solutions improve efficiency in the operating room
Surgical departments can also benefit from AI. In 2018, a tech startup called “Digital Surgery” created an AI solution that assists surgeons in the operating room by playing the role of a navigation system. Relying on a camera and computer vision, the system monitors what is happening during the surgery and then “cross-checks and correlates the anatomy and actions against the largest library of surgical road maps,” guiding surgical teams.
Thanks to the machine learning algorithms, the system also predicts the next steps a surgeon has to take, which makes surgery a lot safer. Digital Surgery is known for its contribution to the healthcare tech market. Earlier, this company created a surgical training app featuring over 200 different simulations that are currently used by over two million surgeons worldwide.
The internet of things
The internet of things refers to the invisible network formed by physical objects that are connected to the internet. For healthcare, this encompasses new technologies such as remote patient monitoring, 5G-enabled devices, and wearable sensors. The more than 500,000 web-enabled medical devices are increasingly interconnected to be able to provide the most accurate and up-to-date patient data.
As technologies and softwares improve, smart medical devices will be able to network with other nearby smart devices to help improve patient outcomes. This will eventually allow doctors to monitor patients’ status holistically and systematically. For example, in 2020, a study found that FitBit, a wireless-enabled wearable, is more reliable at measuring physical activity and better at assessing a five-year risk of death than more traditional methods (Hooijdonk, 2019). All patients need to do is make the data they already have accessible.
VR therapy assists in treating phobias and disorders
Virtual reality exposure therapy combines the best of cognitive behaviour therapy and in-vivo exposure. It allows people to work through their fears in a realistic environment without actually leaving the comfort and safety of their therapist’s office. Patients experience what they fear in a controlled way and in small doses. By taking small steps, they can confront and gradually conquer their phobia.
At eHealth4everyone, we have created an internal prototype 3D VR mobile application which provides incremental exposure to users with phobias who want to treat them without leaving their homes. Moreso, conditions such as obesity and anorexia are increasingly common, and even though their main cause isn’t known, a combination of factors – nutritional deficiency, poor self-esteem, childhood trauma, genetics, as well as careers or sports focused on maintaining a slim body (modelling, ballet, or gymnastics) – can lead to its development. VR simulations help to address these eating disorders regardless of the cause.
In a VR environment, patients can confront their body image issues directly. For instance, a patient can virtually recreate their body shape as they imagine it, allowing a therapist to see how they perceive themselves. Then, a therapist can create another virtual model, based on a patient’s real body measurements this time. By comparing both models together with a patient, a therapist will be able to achieve a deeper level of understanding of the issue and provide better guidance (Ngoepe et al., 2013).
Wearable sensors and trackers were named by a quarter of respondents in the West Monroe survey of which technologies healthcare executives wanted to acquire. While their use was initially plagued by an excessive quantity of data that just wasn’t getting analysed, that is changing with the availability of new analytics tools. However, it is important to figure out what you want to do with all that data before you start collecting it (Zheng et al., 2014).
3D-printed implants can help patients with spinal cord Injuries
Another groundbreaking technology set to reshape the healthcare world is additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D-printing. Recently, engineers from the University of Minnesota have published a paper in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, explaining the procedure of developing a 3D-printed implant for patients suffering from spinal cord injuries.
The researchers combined 3D-printing with bioengineering techniques to design a silicone spinal implant with neuronal stem cells. Once the implant is in a patient’s body, it acts as a “bridge between living nerve cells above and below the area of injury.” This way, neuronal cells in the implant can help patients regain control of their muscles, bladder, or bowel. For people suffering from long-term spinal cord injuries, this technology is truly revolutionary.
Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed incredible technology-driven changes in the healthcare industry, but there’s still more to come. As technology continues to advance at a mind-boggling pace, the future of healthcare has never looked more exciting. So, don’t be surprised when even greater medical breakthroughs become our reality (Marr, 2015).
To maximise the effectiveness of the technologies to empower doctors and improve the patient experience, hospital management must also be smart (Hyves, 2013).
Open, connected digital platforms can achieve the real-time visual management of operations and resources in hospitals, from patient flow and doctor workloads to bed occupancy and medical device use. This in turn can enable hospital management to plan and improve resource use and make decisions based on full datasets, underpinning overall healthcare performance and outcomes (Jayanthi, 2014).