Technology transforms all spheres of our lives and healthcare is no different. From Artificial Intelligence to Internet of Things, new technologies are popping up in the healthcare sector with a promise of making patients’ lives easier.
Here’s an overview of what the emerging trends in healthcare might mean to you and why technological disruption is not always good news.
Snap diagnosis with AI
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a huge potential for the future of healthcare. Machine learning can unlock the power of medical knowledge by memorizing all of the information available and providing physicians with the relevant, real-time knowledge they need. AI will even be able to analyze patient’s electronic records and cross-reference it with the database for immediate diagnosis and treatment suggestions.
Researchers have already made great advancements when it comes to cancer diagnosis by AI. Today, AI can diagnose breast cancer as accurately as a human doctor. And that’s no small feat — breast cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose with half of the results yielding false positive results and 10% of cancers misdiagnosed as not cancerous. Interpreting a mammogram is a complex and time-consuming process that needs to be performed by a skilled radiographer.
If healthcare organizations are equipped with highly accurate AI technology for diagnosis, they will be able to improve workflows, reduce costs, and ultimately, increase the accuracy of diagnosis.
Automatic alerts with IoT
Like AI, Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the technologies that can completely transform the future of medicine. IoT devices collect and transfer crucial health data, such as blood pressure, oxygen and blood sugar levels, and ECGs. This allows doctors and healthcare organizations for real-time monitoring (even if the patient is at home) and automated reporting.
IoT devices can even send alerts in case of an emergency situation, making sure that help is on its way even if the patient lost consciousness. This is a major advantage to people living with a medical condition on their own.
One of the conditions that is being revolutionized by IoT is diabetes. Devices such as Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) can be life-changing. CGM continuously monitors blood, by taking readings at regular intervals. The information can then be easily accessed through a mobile app and is also available remotely to caregivers. In 2018, NHS announced that it would make CGM devices available on prescription to all diabetes I patients in hope of expanding the reach of this technology.
But monitoring and reporting isn’t the end of IoT capabilities. There are now devices that can automate insulin delivery — they monitor the patient’s blood glucose and adjust the amount of insulin accordingly, making sure they stay within a safe range. The device can also prevent blood sugar from dropping during the night and allows patients to sleep peacefully.
3D printed human organs
On average, 20 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant, according to the American Transplant Foundation. This is not just due to low organ donor registrations — often times, organs can’t be used after the registered donor’s death.
3D printing organs could be a game-changer for thousands of patients waiting for a transplant. Currently, researchers are still struggling with the challenges of manufacturing complex human organs. With millions of funding poured into research, however, we can expect developments in the near future.
3D printing is already used in medicine for printing prosthetics and medical devices. Being easily customizable, 3D printing reduces the medical costs and surgery time. But it’s true potential is yet to materialize with organ and tissue printing.
AR (augmented reality) has taken the world by storm with games like PokemonGo. But this technology can also have very serious applications. Medical manufacturers and tech startups are experimenting with implementing AR technology in the operating theatres.
AR could allow surgeons to enter patient’s MRI scans into a headset and overlay specific patient anatomy on top of their body before and during the surgery. Doctors could project bones, muscles, and internal organs onto the body, increasing the safety of the operation and possibly decreasing its time.
AR and VR (Virtual Reality) can also be used in medical training. In medical schools, students have limited access to cadavers, with most only practicing on one during the entire year. AR and VR could be used to simulate different procedures in a 3D, realistic environment. This kind of tech can help to develop the confidence and skills necessary in the future.
In another interesting educational effort, a company called Embodied Labs created a VR simulation which puts the training doctor or nurse in the body of an elderly, ill patient. This kind of projects are supposed to help future practitioners understand what the patients are going through and how to best help them.
Remote care made possible
Remote care, also referred to as telehealth or telemedicine, describes providing care through telecommunications means, such as phone or Internet. With many Western populations aging rapidly, remote care will certainly play an important role in the future of healthcare.
There are many technologies that fall under the umbrella term of remote care. Sensors, for example, can provide alerts to caregivers in case of any abnormal activity, such as a patient’s fall. There are also sensors that track and send notifications if the patient misses their meals, which is particularly important in the case of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Healthcare technology and cybersecurity concerns
While emerging healthcare technologies have incredible potential, they also face various challenges. One of the biggest of them is cybersecurity. IoT devices, such as those used as medical devices or for remote care, are infamous for low security protection.
IoT devices are often unencrypted or using an outdated operating system with known vulnerabilities. In 2018, a pair of researchers proved just how easy it is to hack these devices — they remotely disabled an implantable insulin pump, preventing it from delivering medication, and took control of a pacemaker system. And that’s just one of many experiments dedicated to IoT cybersecurity, most of which yield pretty grim conclusions for the users.
From implantable devices, to vital monitors used in healthcare organizations, to remote care sensors and trackers, the medical IoT devices are the future of healthcare. Which is why it’s so important that users, health practitioners, and healthcare organizations are aware of their limitations and even threats.
Patients and caregivers can take some actions to make their IoT devices more secure. For password-secured devices, they need to set a new password immediately after the purchase as manufacturers have been known to pre-install the same password on all items. In that case, a password exposure of one device, makes all other devices easy to hack.
If a device has a UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) feature, it should be disabled. UPnP allows IoT to discover and connect to other network devices, giving hackers an easy way of infiltrating the device.
Another relatively easy way to protect connected devices is downloading a VPN app onto the home router. VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a cybersecurity technology that encrypts Internet traffic and protects the data stream from unauthorized party. It cannot be downloaded directly onto most IoT devices, but users can bypass this by getting a VPN on the router. This means that any device connected to home Wi-Fi is automatically encrypted.
With time, we will witness more and more tech disruption in healthcare sector. For the most part, that’s great news to patients and healthcare organizations. We’re looking at a bright future of faster diagnosis, better treatment, and more efficient workflows.
While the industry strives to make this dream a reality, they need to ensure they are not opening up a new avenue to harm patients in the process. Hijacked medical devices could be dangerous and, in the worse cases, even lethal to patients.
The future developments in the IoT and remote care spheres need to include stricter regulations, more thoughtful manufacturing, and better clinician training. Only this way can patients reap all the benefits of this technology in safety.