Modern Medicine

The Latest in Healthcare Technology

As we continue to march forward, the specifics have certainly changed, but the healthcare industry is still working to accept and effectively incorporate the latest technology trends.

In today’s economy, the industry is under more pressure than ever to reduce operating costs. For example, a recent report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics states that the largest global pharmaceutical companies will need to reduce combined operating costs by a whopping $36 billion every year through 2017 just to maintain their current levels of R&D activities and operating margins. Increasingly, the use of new technology is providing a solution to budget pressures like these. From telemedicine to cloud-based storage, the newest digital solutions can dramatically increase efficiency and optimize patient outcomes.

2014 is seeing the adoption of several key technology trends and tools; Big Data is at the top of this list. Instant, hassle-free access to information is imperative in today’s world, especially when a patient’s health is on the line, and as Big Data advances and becomes more integrated, healthcare providers are able to gain a more complete picture regarding a patient’s specific needs. Mobile devices give multiple providers – and the patients themselves – instant access to multiple steams of information.

Mobile apps are becoming an increasingly important healthcare tool. The technology has the remarkable ability to provide instant, personalized support regarding everything from chronic disease management to maintaining a fit lifestyle. Both medical professionals and patients can utilize these apps for easy monitoring and access to data. Furthermore, these apps are constantly being improved to meet the complex needs of the industry. As a result, today’s healthcare apps are no longer limited to counting steps or caloric intake; they now have the ability to monitor serious medical conditions and help patients maintain more control over their lives.

One example of a next generation healthcare app is the AliveCor Heart Monitor. Patients simply place their fingers on a sensor and receive an ECG readout 30 seconds later. The recorded data can then be sent to a cardiologist for analysis. Using conventional technology to collect this data requires at least 30 minutes and a trip to a medical clinic.

Mobile devices allow healthcare professionals quick and easy access to Big Data and to the latest healthcare apps. As a result, an increasing number of healthcare facilities are finding that it is imperative that their employees bring their own devices to work every day. This may require an update to current IT infrastructure to ensure that it accommodates multiple operating systems, but the payoff is worth it, technology experts insist. HIPAA compliance and security is a critical issue, of course, leading some providers to question the practice of using personal devices on the job. Providing appropriate security is essential, as is clearly defining – and enforcing – confidentiality and privacy policies. Switching from facility owned and managed devices to those owned and managed by employees remains somewhat controversial, but the tide appears to turning; in today’s information crazed society, limiting access to data and technology is no longer readily accepted by staff members.

Telemedicine is also on the rise. With today’s easy access to information, patients who have difficulty visiting a healthcare facility in person can connect with healthcare providers via webcams and mobile devices. Self-monitoring devices also allow patients to keep tabs on their vital signs and share that information with their provider without being seen in person. Appropriately compensating healthcare providers for telemedicine services has been an issue, but the industry is working to iron out a solution. Overall, virtual care has huge potential, and the concept is expected to continue to increase in popularity.

One specific example of off-site monitoring technology is the MobiUS, a device designed to assist patients who are suffering medical emergencies but lack access to medical care. The MobiUS can detect life-threatening issues using an ultrasound wand and a smartphone, then relay the data and images back to a physician’s computer. Physicians utilizing the technology will need special training in order to properly diagnose and treat patients, but experts believe the MobiUS has great live-saving potential, particularly for people who are trapped in a disaster zone or living in remote areas.

Technology is also helping healthcare professionals keep tabs on patients closer to home. For instance, anaesthesiologists are getting a helping hand from new perioperative information management systems that monitor a patient’s vital signs during surgery. The software, which operates on touchscreen-enabled computers, also manages the surgeon’s workflows and documents each step of the operation.

Proteus Digital has developed an ingenious health feedback system delivered via a pill. After the patient swallows the high tech capsule, it sends binary signals to a patch placed on the patient’s abdomen that help physicians track treatment results. Another new monitoring invention helps physicians detect early lung cancer. The Cell-CT platform is an automated 3D cell imaging system that uses a special computer program to identify lung cancer cells in sputum samples. The system analyzes over 800 physical characteristics, some of which are not easily identified using a microscope, to determine if cancer cells are present.

Modern technology is even creating new body parts from scratch. In one of the most astonishing recent medical breakthroughs, scientists at Cornell University have printed out an artificial outer ear that looks and functions like a real one. Researchers at Wake Forest can now print skin cells directly onto a wound and scientists at M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania are using printers to create blood vessels, Smithsonian.com reports. And, this is only the beginning. Organs are the next step, with San Diego based company Organovo already printing layers of living cells to create a slice of functioning liver. At this stage in the game a printed organ could only be used for research, not for human implantation; but with so many breathtaking advances made in just the past few years, it is anyone’s guess what 3D printing might be capable of delivering soon.

Many of healthcare’s most recent technological breakthroughs seem like they came straight out of a Star Trek episode. From a smartphone app that can monitor a patient’s heart rate to an ear printed by a computer, yesterday’s science fiction has become today’s reality. Learning how to utilize the latest technological developments can be complicated, however. For instance, as data becomes more accessible, security concerns have increased accordingly. Patient confidentiality and adherence to HIPAA requirements are becoming more and more complicated. Fortunately, encryption technology continues to improve. The industry also has the ability to erase data from a compromised device. Even so, security is likely to remain a major issue as technology continues to evolve. Securing personal data will continue to be a key responsibility – and challenge – for the industry’s IT departments.

While there will always be challenges associated with progress, the industry cannot afford to stand still. With so much new technology at our disposal, we can only imagine where the future will take us. In fact, standard procedures that we take for granted in 2014 may, in the near future, seem as outdated as bloodletting does today.

September 25, 2017, 4:39 PM EDT

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