While electronic health records (EHRs) are improving the quality of healthcare by optimizing data management and communication, online appointments have already become a part of our daily lives. Medical records and diagnostics are digitalized throughout the globe, and as the world is moving forward, modern discoveries bring a wave of innovative solutions to the medical field. Next year can become a decisive point in adapting the latest technology advancements to healthcare environments.
Experts say that by 2020, the market of digital medicine will hit $205 billion, and wearable technologies are becoming the most profitable segment of it. However, in the nearest future other high-potential areas will show a notable growth as well.
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a concrete industry embodiment of the worldwide IoT model. In systems connected to online networks, medical equipment can exchange data by communicating within the network. IoMT solutions are developing extremely fast. Now they are mainly applied to monitor patient condition. Wearable devices with medical sensors collect information on physical condition and transmit it to healthcare systems which will inform doctors if there is any danger present. It is estimated that in 2020 there will be around 30 billion IoMT devices connected and used worldwide.
If patients are using wearable sensors, doctors can monitor their condition even when they are at home, in a different city or even country. Doctors can monitor blood pressure, medication, diabetes, send messages and remind patience to follow their treatment plan. Equally, popular gadgets meant for the average users are gradually overgrown with healthcare functions. Wearables like fitness trackers are collecting and storing such statistics in special mobile apps. The new Apple Watch can count how much calories you are burning, trace your pulse, and notice if the user has fallen down.
Wearable technology also serves to adjust in-hospital processes. So, RFID tags —utilizing radio frequency technology — help tracking the daily activity of hospital personnel in order to optimize some processes and improve efficiency. Digital pills are another technology of this kind: unlike regular tablets, smart pills have an indigestible sensor and will transmit information to a device worn by the patient; in turn, it can be shared with caregivers or doctors. The first digital pill was approved by the FDA in 2017.
The utilization of AI technologies in healthcare is waiting for its moment. Hospitals are already using AI robots to watch over the patients and this is only the beginning. Combining AI, image recognition systems, and computing technologies to process big data is becoming a breakthrough for the IT medicine market in such practical fields as:
Diagnostics: here AI solutions notably increase the diagnosis accuracy and speed. In AI systems health data is analyzed more thoroughly and precisely; such solutions are presently used for making diagnoses in certain branches of medicine, for detecting diabetes and other diseases, characterized by obvious symptoms and physical changes.
Optimization: Paper-based systems and scheduling can also be replaced and automated with the help of AI. Paper work is something that is fraught with errors on the personnel s part, since this work is very monotonous.
Drug development: Creating new medicines is complex and cost-intensive; pharma companies have to deal with many problems, such as ethical and legal issues. Nowadays, AI is becoming an assistant in studying early clinical data on how medicines interact chemically and biologically. Additionally, AI technologies are used by researchers to develop medicines against cancer.
Big Data and Analytics
The development of IT in medicine has led to an explosive growth in medical data on specific cases and patients. This creates new opportunities for analysis and comprehensive study of a huge amount of health information. New integrated solutions are currently collecting, processing, storing and analyzing big medical data. Conclusions acquired from such analysis will help to diagnose diseases, select treatment tactics, forecasts treatment outcomes, and help insurance companies in assessing their risks.
EHR systems accumulate tens of thousands of medical histories, and such records are standardized internationally so that medical organizations and research institutes can exchange information (with the preservation of patient privacy, of course). Statistics show that currently, more than 90% of US hospitals use, develop or try to implement EHR systems. By 2020, a unified European health records system will become a reality.
Telemedicine is not an innovative breakthrough, but its incorporation remains very important and this trend may last for a long time, as in many remote areas around the globe people have difficulty in getting medical help. Presumably, by 2025 the global market for telemedicine solutions will hit $115 billion. Among the technologies, video chats dominate so far, allowing to contact health workers remotely. According to Deloitte, in 2018 a quarter of Americans have had a remote session with a doctor, while the number of global telemedicine users has reached 7 million.
However, there are many other ways to use telemedicine: it is possible to manage chronic diseases with great comfort, as you don t have to visit the hospital often. A decisive example of the transition to telemedicine has recently been demonstrated by Southwest Medical. With their NowClinic online care patients can get remote medical service round the clock: on average, the doctor will respond in less than 10 minutes. Southwest Medical claims their mobile app has been used by more than 30 thousand people.
Virtual and Augmented Reality in Telemedicine
VR and AR are widely used in gaming and recreation, but they prove to be extremely useful in medicine as well. This technology is already helping to diagnose diseases and train healthcare workers, and the trend is expected to grow in the comming years. VR and AR are commonly applied in:
- Educating medical personnel: Education can be improved by means of simulation systems, which allow the trainees to touch, feel and manipulate organs in a virtual environment, seeing the results of such manipulations as in a real surgery. VR can be applied by surgeons and students to practice various techniques: such solutions are already implemented on base of Microsoft HoloLens system.
- Emergency cases: VR tools have the capacity to enhance medical data transmission: by using VR platforms, doctors can access the patients’ medical data in real-time even before they arrive to the hospital in case of emergency.
- Prevention and diagnosis: different conditions can be simulated with the VR technology, potential effects of the treatment predicted and reproduced virtually; moreover, by manipulating the camera, one can compare certain practical cases with information available in health databases.
- Emotional recovery and rehabilitation: medical research has shown that virtual reality can be effectively used to lower opioid drug use in severe cases. Nowadays, VR systems are used for dementia and other mental diseases treatment in some hospitals.
- Surgery: in this area, VR is applied to digitally reconstruct and visualize internal organs in 3D. This method is extremely helpful for minimally invasive surgery or cases when doctors are working in restrictive conditions.
From IoMT to cloud hosting, using blockchain in healthcare will help to increase safety and reliability of solutions in various fields. Secure interfaces for exchanging medical information between health workers and companies will be developed based on blockchain, which at the same time will allow to maintain anonymity and compliance with HIPAA and GDPR requirements. As incidents with data breaches become common and safety regulations get stringent, blockchain has the capacity to support a structure that will meet the new data protection requirements. In 2017, a research project was initiated by the FDA to explore how this could be put into practice. Currently, a platform called the health information exchange (HIE) is facilitating P2P exchange of electronic health records (EHR) among its members. Many healthcare technology companies can work with the platform. With the emergence of 5G networks, we also have near-real-time request processing, i.e. more efficient exchange with reduced transaction costs.
It is quite obvious that AI, IoMT, VR, Big Data, and blockchain can cause ground-breaking changes in medicine and healthcare.