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What is the ultimate goal of technology in healthcare?
Some say that it is to make us live longer, cure all diseases, and possibly allow us to live for hundreds of years. Others say it is not to eradicate diseases but to improve care. It’s no surprise, therefore, that technologists are dedicating time and financial resources to develop the very best technology to facilitate healthcare.
There’s no shortage of large tech firms trying to leverage the power of technology to beat disease. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, for instance, is committed to ending all diseases by 2100 – an unimaginably audacious goal. And Google has been working on its highly secretive Calico for many years – a project it hopes will allow us to beat troublesome and yet inevitable features of human life, such as aging.
For many observers, though, it’s not clear how technology is actually changing healthcare. What technology is being developed to improve patient outcomes behind the scenes?
In this article, we take a look at some of the emerging technology platforms and how the healthcare sector might use them to improve patient outcomes.
E-prescriptions came into their own during the pandemic. Doctors originally said that such practices were impossible. But just a couple of months into the shutdown and things soon changed. All of a sudden, it became apparent that providing drugs over the internet was just as simple as anything else. Modern e-prescriptions do things like warn patients of harmful interactions, improves medical reconciliation time, and also provides allergy warnings.
Patient portals are another technology that is already out there in the wild and making a difference to people’s lives. Patient portals make it easier for doctors to learn about their patients and provide them with the correct medications and treatments. They are also great for patients who would rather consult their doctor from home instead of driving through town to see them while they feel ill.
There have been many ‘behind the scenes’ developments with regards to healthcare software. Hospitals and healthcare practices are increasingly using software that integrates across different departments and locations, allowing healthcare professionals to administer care far more quickly and efficiently than the previously fragmented systems allowed. For example, Wellbeing Software has developed a LIMS system (Laboratory information Management system) that “provides thousands of healthcare professionals access to a full range of diagnostic patient data from one place. It enables better management of lab data to improve patient care and increase efficiencies within the healthcare setting.” Other systems have been developed for multiple functions including the management of electronic healthcare records, or software that allows quicker facilitation of medical imaging.
People already routinely interact with chatbots whenever they interact with private companies. The hope is that in the future, patients will be able to use the same technology whenever they contact their local clinic. Instead of wasting a medical professional’s time answering questions, a computer provides all of the answers they would give on their behalf.
Patient chatbots are highly scalable. So, in the future, there might be a central chatbot everyone uses to get medical advice before contacting their doctor.
The interesting thing about this innovation is that it isn’t far away at all. In fact, there are already medical chatbots operating and their capabilities are improving all the time.
Imagine if you were able to predict which diseases you were likely to get in the future. If you could, it would allow you to make any necessary lifestyle changes today.
Well, it turns out that that technology might be closer to hand than you think. Predictive diagnostics pools all of the current information that doctors have about a patient and then compares them to similar patients and how they developed. It then uses the data to assign a probability that a patient will get sick from a particular disease or not. The patient is then free to make lifestyle and medication changes to try to ward it off.
Nanorobots are still a distant technology – perhaps over thirty years away – but nevertheless, an exciting one. That’s because these tiny machines will be able to travel around inside the human body, repairing tissues according to a computer program.
With that said, nano robot technology may arrive sooner than first thought. Incredibly, teams around the world in the US, South Korea and Switzerland have already developed nanobots with medical applications. For example, it is possible to control some of these bots using an MRI machine, using them to deliver drugs to clogged arteries, causing plaques to break down and recede.
Cyborgization is perhaps the most advanced-sounding technology on this list. It’s the idea that we can improve human health by replacing defective natural tissues with synthetic alternatives.
There are already some cyborg humans – those with artificial limbs or pacemakers. But most technologists envision that this process will accelerate over the coming decades as our technology improves. For instance, recent advances in neural interface technology could mean that people who have lost limbs can exert much more control over prosthetic arms than at any other time in the past. Improvements in robot technology could also make it easier for doctors to control robotic equipment during surgeries.
3D printing also promises to usher in a new era of advanced medical technologies. Early applications will likely include things like making custom synthetic devices that exactly fit the shape of patients’ bodies. But in the future, concepts are likely to extend much beyond this and into the biological realm. Already, researchers have examples of 3D-printed hearts on the test bench as a proof of concept. In the future, it may be possible for machines to print out new body parts for people – such as skin grafts – that their immune systems won’t reject.
Artificial intelligence may be the ultimate technology platform. It’s a general-purpose innovation that allows humans to outsource thinking for the first time in history. Early artificial intelligence applications will scour patient data, looking for patterns that might indicate diseases or improper drug combinations. Later, we could see AI conducting its own medical research or scanning the literature to find promising new hypotheses. It could even speed drug discovery by seeking new candidate molecules. You can read more about how AI can help in healthcare customer service here.
There are many other healthcare technologies that are already in use such as wearables or technologies on the brink of becoming mainstream such as the use of augmented reality in healthcare. It’s exciting to see what the future holds for healthcare with these exciting developments.