But the healthcare industry as a whole is about to experience dramatic change, driven by digitalization and the Internet of Things (IoT). These changes will have enormous implications for all stakeholders, from healthcare providers to insurers to patients.
Until now, health informatics – the intersection of IT and healthcare – has largely involved the digitization of patient records. But while electronic medical records (EMR) will remain an important long-term effort across the industry, it’s only the beginning. Whether you’re in the healthcare industry or a consumer of healthcare, you’ll want to watch for these five developments:
- Health wearables – From smart glasses to activity trackers, wearables are beginning to impact both work and play. Now, they’re moving into healthcare settings. If you’ve even visited a hospital, you can’t help but notice how much time nursing staff spend capturing vital statistics. Medical-grade wearables that automate the process – combined with analytics software that filters out false alerts – will dramatically streamline those processes. Even more significant, aggregating that data could change how hospitals are organized. By looking across various aspects of healthcare delivery, from diagnostics to monitoring to therapeutics, providers can uncover connections among seemingly unrelated diseases. For example, epilepsy has been found to have connections with 17 other conditions. Technologies developed for the connected conditions may have application to epilepsy with little or no modification.
- Electronic surgical tools – Many surgical procedures rely on near-real-time imaging to guide surgeons and their implements. New technologies go a step further, creating detailed 3D images in real time of structures deep in the body. For example, Chimaera is a surgical tool that guides neurostimulation implants to treat chronic pain. It leverages a handheld device and sensing technology to aggregate preoperative and intraoperative data from multiple sources, overlaying images on a screen to help surgeons target – or avoid – specific structures such as blood vessels and nerves.
- Smart inhalers – Worldwide, 235 million people have asthma, and 60 million have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). For many of these patients, medicated inhalers are a necessity. But lax adherence is a problem for as many as 70% of patients, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Enter smart inhalers, which allow both providers and patients to track usage data in real time. That can promote personalized treatment plans and lead to better health outcomes.
- Home health gadgets – Consumer wearables don’t just track personal fitness. They’re beginning to monitor medical conditions like diabetes and epilepsy. Devices as small as Band-Aids can monitor heart rate, caloric intake, smoking habits, and more – and automatically alert healthcare providers if treatment is necessary. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now has health scientists specifically focused on reviewing digital-health products. And innovative providers such as Carolinas HealthCare System are introducing apps that consolidate health-gadget data with EMRs – giving patients a clearer view of their overall health.
- Revolutionary cancer treatments – Cancer is a general term for more than 100 diseases, each of which can behave very differently. Cancer patients need treatments tailored to their specific circumstances. But developing therapies at the patient level requires the rapid analysis of vast stores of clinical and research data.
The National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg, Germany, is working with SAP to co-innovate a solution to filter and group cancer patients by attribute. By combining patient data from clinical information systems, tumor registries, biobanks, and even doctors’ notes, NCT can assemble a comprehensive view of each patient’s medical history within minutes. The results include greater insights for clinicians and improved care for patients.
These applications of digitalization and IoT are just the beginning. The next few years will see rapid advances in healthcare – some of which we can’t even imagine today. Whether you’re a provider or a patient, you can agree that it’s just what the doctor ordered.
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