In our digital age, technology and healthcare have increasingly partnered with each other to improve health care and delivery. Because of the technological tools that have improved the delivery of healthcare services—and given how essential technology has become during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that the relationship between technology and healthcare will deepen. In this article, we’ll explore four key concepts to watch as technology continues to lead the future of healthcare services.
1 – Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Health care increasingly relies on Artificial Intelligence, or AI, to augment human delivery of medical services. AI uses complex algorithms and software to analyze and interpret patient medical data and suggest diagnoses and conditions. It holds the promise of greater accuracy and less overt or covert bias than a human might bring to decision-making or diagnoses. It uses only the information that’s input, processes it, and produces a result.
Naturally, AI is only as good as its programming. So, if the medical data suggests certain patterns known to the software, bingo! Condition diagnosed. Using machine learning, AI may be able to move beyond what was programmed into it. But AI also errs, so to reduce the margin of error, AI algorithms require regular testing.
There are two ways in which AI algorithms behave differently from humans. First, algorithms are literal. This means that if a goal is set, the algorithm can’t adjust itself as it only understands what it was told. Second, some deep learning algorithms can predict results with an extremely high level of precision. However, they cannot predict the cause or why something happens. But AI holds immense promise for improvements in both the pace of diagnoses and their accuracy.
2 – Digital Health
Digital health combines digital technologies with healthcare to create a whole new way to collect patient data, monitor patients, and diagnose conditions. Using specific information-gathering and communication technologies, digital health helps medical professionals and patients address health issues and improve people’s lives.
Digital health solutions include both hardware and software—like mobile phones and wearable devices to both provide medical apps for treatment or diagnosis or to capture medical data and monitor conditions; web-based analysis of symptoms; telemedicine; email and text messaging between medical providers and patients—these innovations and more are how digital solutions are being leveraged to improve health care delivery and treatment.
Digital health also works to improve the use of smart devices, various analysis techniques, and communication methods used by medical professionals with their patients.
Digital health is much more than tools to monitor and manage health conditions and potential health risks of patients. It also is used to promote healthy living with numerous apps, programs, and digital media to help educate patients on conditions, treatments, and possible procedures they may need to undergo. And as Orthogonal covers in depth here, digital health solutions are a accelerating in number, variety, and quality, bringing us new ways to explore and improve our health.
3 – Telehealth
Telehealth is the distribution of information and health services through electronic information and telecommunication technologies. It permits patients and medical professionals to communicate, share information, and work together to create treatments without either party physically being in the same room.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed telehealth to the forefront as a means to connect doctors and patients, and doctors, nurses, and medical professionals now regularly hold appointments with patients using handheld devices, tablets, laptops, or desktop computers. Telehealth has also provided patients living in remote regions, or who cannot travel to a clinic due to adverse weather conditions or mobility issues, access to medical care that they may not have been able to connect with before. Telehealth has saved the medical industry time and money by providing instant, real-time connections between doctors and patients. It is a delivery method that will have a lifespan beyond the pandemic and well into the future.
Telehealth also provides the means for clinicians to monitor such things as a physical therapy session with data collected remotely by digital monitoring instruments. Adjustments can be made to the therapy session and then sent to the patient to follow without either party seeing each other.
4 – Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality, or VR, involves applications that produce an immersive sensory experience. A VR headset is often used to digitally simulates an environment. There are many ways in which VR is currently used in healthcare with many more possibilities yet to be explored.
VR is currently used in providing education where medical students can see and perform tasks in a virtual lab setting, architecture where buildings and structures can be built and stress-tested in a VR environment without the need for actual materials and space. VR is also effective in healthcare when used as a tool to provide pain management. Essentially, the VR headset puts a patient into a different, calming setting which in effect distracts the brain from the pain they are experiencing. With the brain distracted, it often believes that the pain has gone and will not respond to the pain sensors it would ordinarily pay attention to.
Virtual Reality is commonplace is many non-medical applications and is probably best known as a tool used by gamers. But the technology has come a long way, and VR will continue to positively impact healthcare in the future.
Technology continues to leave its mark on healthcare. Its greatest benefit thus far has been in the delivery of healthcare services—and there are no signs of the partnership between medicine and technology abating. In fact, from operating theaters to online monitoring, technology and healthcare continue their marriage and development.
One thing is certain—the technological tools available now will improve and become more refined and accurate, while new tools and technological solutions will develop, all while technology continues to drive healthcare into faster and better delivery of services to those who need it the most