The Past, Present, and Future of Technology in Healthcare

Strategy

The Past, Present, and Future of Technology in Healthcare

Jess Walrack
Jess is a writer and content strategist at Brightscout. She is passionate about innovative and disruptive ideas in marketing, tech, and design.

Technology has enabled a new way of life. However, we are only beginning to see how it can help in the realm of healthcare. Not only can technology improve our current practices, it has the potential to completely transform them. Innovations are arising that can help to cut costs and improve efficiency while improving the quality and transparency of care available. Let’s take a look at what changes we’ve seen so far, what is being worked on now, and what experts predict is in our future.

Tech in Healthcare: The Past

Technology has already permeated several aspects of healthcare but four of the most prominent developments have been in electronic health records (EHR), telemedicine, mobile health applications, and 3D printing.

Electronic health records (EHR)

Electronic health records began to appear in the 1960’s. However, implementation grew significantly between 2007 and 2012, jumping from 34.8% to 71%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why? During George W. Bush’s presidency, the healthcare IT budget was doubled, a National Health Information Coordinator sub-cabinet position was created, and an industry-wide mandate was issued requiring healthcare professionals to adopt electronic health record systems by 2014.

Obama supported this initiative as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The ARRA gave additional funding and incentives to healthcare professionals that adopted the EHR systems by 2014. It also charged penalties to those who failed to do so.

What do EHR systems do?

EHR systems enable healthcare professionals such as nurses, technicians, medical assistants, and coding professionals to electronically record patient data instead of keeping physical records on paper. This can include a patient’s vital signs, weight, test results, conditions, allergies, procedures, immunizations, and more. Additionally, the EHR is used for administration tasks like scheduling appointments, submitting medical claims, and updating patient records with diagnostic codes.

Why the push for EHR systems?

These systems make it easier for medical professionals to view a person’s medical history in full. They have access to more information which can help them to better diagnose problems while helping to reduce the likelihood of mistakes. The systems also help to optimize administrative work flows while lowering the costs. 

At large, clinical researchers can use the patient data to gain important insights about public health such as early detection of a viral or bacterial outbreak.

Telemedicine

Next up is telemedicine. As the use of smartphones has become the norm in the U.S., two-way video consultations between patients and health care providers have also entered the mainstream. Using a smartphone or computer, a patient can video chat with a healthcare professional without leaving the comfort of their home.

MDLive, for example, enables virtual visits with doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, or dermatologists by phone, video, or mobile app. The medical professionals can monitor symptoms and vital signs remotely and can even send a prescription to your local pharmacy if medically necessary.

This helps to alleviate the inconveniences and risks that come with traveling to the doctor’s office and waiting with other sick patients. Further, it has led to savings for patients and healthcare providers, while improving access to patients in rural areas.

Mhealth (Mobile health)

Mhealth is the coined term for mobile health and it encompasses all mobile apps designed for healthcare purposes such as:

  • Patient education
  • Decision support
  • Healthcare provider tools
  • Wearable sensors and point-of-care diagnostics
  • Electronic health records
  • Healthcare management
  • Disease and population registries
  • And more

As of 2016, there were 259,000 mHealth apps on the market. These are helping to support patients and providers with their healthcare needs. 

3D printing

Lastly, 3D printing is a technology that has played a large role in health care thus far. Here are a few examples:

  • We have already seen the successful recreation of complex blood vessels and organs.
  • In 2013, over 10 million 3D-printed hearing aids were already in circulation worldwide.
  • Pharmacologists have designed pills with a new level of precision, combining several drugs in one pill with varying release times. One such drug was created to treat sufferers of diabetes and hypertension.
  • 3D-printed prosthetics have also debuted on the medical scene offering the same functionality as traditional models but at a lower cost.

As you can see, new applications of technology have been making waves in recent years.

Tech in Healthcare: Current Events

Now, let’s look at what’s going on this year in healthcare tech.  

Blockchain

While the adoption of EHR was a step toward digital optimization, it still lacks security, transparency, and a cohesive, unified system. Blockchain has been identified as a technology that could possibly solve all three problems.

In early 2018, five major U.S. healthcare companies began using blockchain technology to collect demographic data on patients. Several of these companies were in direct competition with each other which Scientific American claims is a step toward an industry-wide approach to handling healthcare data

mHealth on the iPhone

Mobile health apps are now stepping up a notch. On June 4, 2018, Apple delivered a Health Records API for developers and researchers which lets users share their health record data with apps. Patients of over 500 hospitals and clinics will be able to access medical information through apps on their iPhone.

The health records data will be encrypted and protected by the user’s passcode. Consumers can opt to share their health record data with the third-party apps they choose. The data will flow from the HealthKit to the third-party app, never crossing Apple’s servers.

What kind of apps will utilize this information?

Medication management: A medication management app connects with the health records feature so prescription lists can be imported. Warnings will be triggered for problematic drug-drug interactions. Further, the app will feature pill reminders and information about relevant medications.

Nutrition planning: A nutrition planning app will help you plan your meals based on your medical needs (i.e., low salt, high fiber, etc.).

Medical research: When patients agree to share their medical history through the app, medical researchers can use the data to perform more comprehensive research than they are able to do through patient surveys.

Disease management: Apps for specific diseases like diabetes will help patients to track their lab results and diet and exercise details (using the iOS HealthKit integration).

The possibilities are far-reaching. It’s in the hands of developers, visionaries, and entrepreneurs to create apps that will utilize the user’s health records in a way that is most useful to them.

3D printing

Earlier in July, a team of surgeons at the Rashid Hospital in the UAE practiced a complicated surgical procedure on a 3D-printed model in which they placated four veins in a 60-year old. After the practice, they were able to successfully complete the operation. This highlights the potential of using 3D-printed models to improve the success rates of operations.

Additionally, researchers printed over 100 square centimeters of human skin within about a half hour which has great potential uses for burn victims. They used a biological ink made from human plasma and material taken from skin biopsies.

3D printing bones and heart valves have also been in the works.

More and more experimentation is being done which is showing great promise. 

Tech in Healthcare: Future Predictions

Last but not least, let’s look at what researchers are working on for the future.

AI

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is a hot topic as it continues to be refined and improved. According to an analysis by Accenture, key clinical health AI applications which can sense, comprehend, act, and learn, have the potential to generate $150 billion in annual savings by 2026.

The company analyzed 10 AI applications, the impact of each application, the value to the health economy, and the likelihood of adoption. It found that robot-assisted surgery, vital nursing assistants, and administrative workflow assistance represented the greatest near-term value for the industry.

  • Robot-assisted surgery will involve cognitive robotics integrating information from pre-op medical records and real-time operating metrics to guide and enhance precision. Plus, it will incorporate data from actual surgical experiences to inform new, improved techniques and insights.
  • Vital nursing assistants will remotely assess a patient’s symptoms and will alert clinicians only when care is actually needed. This will reduce unnecessary hospital and doctor’s office visits.
  • Administrative assistance will include voice-to-text transcription which eliminates non-patient care activities like ordering tests, writing chart notes, and writing prescriptions.

These are just the top three technologies Accenture identified. There are many more in the works. The future of healthcare could be heavily assisted by our non-human counterparts.

Blockchain

We talked a bit about the progress being made with blockchain systems and the benefits of using the technology. In the future, industry professionals think we may use blockchain for patient records, securing years of patient data while ensuring that human errors can be easily tracked down and corrected. Further, patients will be able to add new information or collect information about their own condition at any time. The individual will have complete access to their health data.

3D printing

Lastly, experts predict a not too distant future where 3D printing can facilitate cheaper organ replacement and better patient prognosis. We will likely continue to see customized prosthetics improve and evolve in the years to come. Further, 3D-printed medications are on the track to expand. 

As you can see, technology already has a strong foothold in the world of healthcare and it is only going to become more deeply integrated. While EHR helped to optimize patient data and medical office procedures, mHealth, 3D printing, AI, and telemedicine hold the potential to deliver us to a very different world ten years from now.

One in which you don’t go to the doctor’s office nearly as often because you can reach him or her through your smartphone.

Where a robot performs your next surgery. 

And, where you can use apps and your official health records to monitor your vitals, manage your own disease, and take a driver’s seat in your health management (with a doctor on-hand anytime).

The future of medicine is one that uses technology to empower the patient, who for many years, was completely at the mercy of their provider. Further, it is one in which advanced systems help to solve our health woes with greater accuracy and lower costs. 

Innovate with Brightscout

Do you have an idea for the healthcare industry that could help providers or patients? If you need a partner to bring your product or service to life, the development experts at Brightscout can help. We have worked with many clients in the industry and understand the ins and outs. Right now, health care is a growing sector with an immense demand for innovation. If you are ready to take advantage of this opportunity, contact us today and we’ll get started!

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