No one can predict the future, but trends let us know what direction we’re heading. Trends are dictated by a wide range of economic and political factors, but the biggest disruptors of the past few years have come in the form of technological developments, especially when it comes to the healthcare industry.
Despite (or maybe because of) their ability to make a significant difference to the way we work, executives are often reluctant to fully embrace new healthcare technologies, especially if they clash with long-standing practices. Recently, however, with the coronavirus pandemic revealing the gaps and inefficiencies of healthcare systems around the world, the newest developments in healthcare technologies are suddenly getting a lot more attention.
There is perhaps no technological development more obviously useful in the time of coronavirus than telemedicine. This broad term describes any tech solution that negates a patient’s need to physically visit their doctor. Telemedicine includes remote diagnosis and treatment and takes the form of audio or video calling, or even textual exchange.
In reality, this trend is already widely adopted across the U.S. Telemedicine visits have been reaching tens of millions since 2016, and the number is only increasing. There are, of course, scenarios in which a virtual meeting will not solve the problem, but in a time where physical interaction poses a serious public health risk telemedicine could be a useful alternative.
Wearable tech is hardly a new phenomenon — we’ve been used to the idea of the smart watch for around two decades now — but its adoption by the healthcare community has been slow and cautious. Today, however, wearable devices track an unprecedented amount of information about their users, data that could change the way we understand patients.
The potential for wearable devices in healthcare is yet to be fully explored. Wearable devices, linked to healthcare tech systems by the IoT, could provide instant updates on physical health metrics like blood pressure, heart rate, and sleep habits on a regular basis without the need for costly multi-day observations. Doctors could focus on preventative rather than curative measures, and patients could be empowered with unparalleled knowledge of their own health.
Blockchain has been an increasingly popular term for nearing a decade now, especially when it comes to the financial industry. But while the technology was originally invented to facilitate currency exchange, new practicalities of the distributed ledger are being discovered all the time.
Perhaps the most talked-about use of blockchain in healthcare is for sharing patient data. For the uninitiated, blockchain technology is built around a ledger, essentially a Bible that contains all the information about a particular data network, distributed across every individual in the network.
What could this mean for healthcare? In one example, patients and doctors could have immediate access to records no matter where they were. This could mean safe and instant record transfer between professionals or institutions or even vital seconds saved in emergency scenarios.
Talking of buzzwords, Big Data rivals Blockchain as an exciting new technology concept. Again, Big Data isn’t that new, but its applications in healthcare are only just being fully explored.
Any collection of information on a massive scale, we’re talking billions and trillions. As far as healthcare is concerned, big data could mean comparing thousands of healthcare studies from across time in seconds, speeding up the creation of drugs or the development of vaccines.
Coronavirus is one area of public health where Big Data has already proved its worth. From tracking exposure to cracking the virus genome, systems trained on Big Data are able to work harder and faster than human researchers possibly could. In the right hands, systems like these could prove to be the future of diagnostics.
We are living at a particularly scary time for public health, but for that reason it’s also a notably innovative time for public health solutions. As nations and companies that were once competitors begin to collaborate, one can only hope they continue to embrace technological solutions in healthcare.