The pandemic has not only disrupted day-to-day lives, but also entire industries — healthcare is no exception. Before COVID-19, ideas like telehealth, data analytics, and digital engagement were seen as worthy goals to strive for in the future.
But as patients found themselves in the impossible position of receiving healthcare in a traditional setting, the adoption of these technologies has accelerated greatly. Here are five ways some of these innovations are bound to revolutionize medical practice in the future.
Gathering big data in minimal time is another significant benefit of technology. It enables the instant data collection from a more massive and much more diverse population than ever before among those conducting clinical trials, research, or epidemiological studies. Such improved data collection permits healthcare professionals and companies to stay on top of trends and cutting-edge techniques. A meta-analysis also becomes possible because of big data.
One of the beneficiaries of this advancement is the biopharma industry. This is because they’re now capable of performing in silico drug trials better than ever before. In silico trials are individualized computer simulations that can be used in sterile drugs from active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) development. It’s known as API-to-sterile compounding. Now that we’ve mentioned it, you can navigate here if you’re a pharmacy manager or administrator who wants to know if the API-to-sterile compounding method is better than sterile-to-sterile when working with 503B outsourcing facilities.
A 2020 AAMC study projects a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033 in the United States. The pandemic, which struck after the projections were completed, magnifies the need to address shortfalls in both primary care doctors and specialists. What to do?
Training more people and attracting healthcare professionals from other countries are some obvious changes. The other option is to do more with less manpower — and this is where artificial intelligence can and will be huge in the future.
IBM’s Watson diagnoses heart disease better than cardiologists, chatbots dispense medical advice for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service in lieu of nurses, smartphone apps now detect skin cancer with expert accuracy, and algorithms identify eye diseases just as well as specialized physicians.
According to one study, 80% of what doctors do today could be replaced by AI in the future. While AI won’t replace doctors, but rather complement their work, it will still be a disruptive change, but one that can be helpful, particularly where hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed and understaffed.
Seeing a doctor without actually seeing a doctor — how does all work? Telemedicine has been, in fact, around for more than 50 years, but as the stark reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, telemedicine is no less effective — and may be here to stay.
Now, a patient can seek medical guidance on symptoms they’re having, perhaps even just using their smartphone, and receive guidance from a professional remotely without having to ever set foot in a hospital. Beyond convenience, telemedicine can sometimes be the only opportunity for medical counseling that patients who live in remote areas or cannot travel may have. For these people, telemedicine boosts their chances of receiving the care and treatment they need.
Around three-quarters of healthcare providers offered their patients some form of virtual medical services in 2017, and the figure has risen since then. By 2023, analysts estimate the telemedicine industry will be worth $13 billion. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and distancing measures have taught us that some things can also be done remotely — and telemedicine is bound to benefit from that in the long run.
Surgery is hard and it takes many hours to train a person in the skillsets necessary to become a good surgeon. In the future, medical training could become vastly enhanced by virtual reality (VR) technology, such as the kind supplied by companies like Osso VR and Immersive Touch.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, VR-trained surgeons had a whopping 230% performance boost compared to their traditionally-trained peers — and VR is just getting started as a practice method, so we’re still only starting to see the potential benefits. It could also be used as training in areas where there are insufficient instructors and experienced doctors. Just like with AI, the VR environment could ease the existing workload, in addition to providing other benefits.
Patients themselves also stand to benefit from VR-enabled healthcare, particularly for mental care. Studies show that patients suffering from post-surgery pain experienced a significant decrease in subjective pain when they used a VR environment to distract themselves. The patients also experienced less anxiety and improved their overall hospital experience.
Wearables and sensors
There are now wearable devices on the market, such as wristbands and smartwatches, that measure heart rate, blood pressure, sleep quality, and other parameters for health. In the future, these devices will become increasingly common, offering healthcare providers a wealth of data that they can then use to provide personalized care.
The range of devices that can be used will also expand drastically. Devices and sensors that used to be industrial in nature can already be adapted to medical uses is impressive, ranging from monitoring health parameters like blood pressure or oxygen levels to administering drugs and medication control. For instance, in diabetes control: an IoT device could measure glucose levels in real-time and even pump out insulin when necessary. In fact, thanks to improvements in both hardware and software, unconventional devices like pumps can also make their way into medical use, as you can see here. Last but not least, wearables can become incorporated into things like watches and smartphones, where they can keep a virtual eye on indicators of people’s health, helping predict and monitor a range of conditions or just general health.
No doubt, the demand for wearables is bound to surge. As more consumers are interested in their own health data (either for themselves or for sharing their wearable data with their providers and insurers), and as medical practitioners realize the value of having a continuous flow of medical information, the use of wearables and sensors will become more and more common.
Blockchain is often synonymous in people’s minds with Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. But that’s not all it’s good for.
Bitcoin’s blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed across the entire network of computer systems participating in the blockchain. Rather than transactions, the same blockchain tech can be used to develop an open and decentralized medical care platform where patients are in complete control of their personal data.
During times when privacy concerns are increasingly important, medical chain may address many long-standing problems faced by the industry today, especially with so much new patient data flowing in on a daily basis.
Such blockchain-based platforms link patients with doctors and pharma companies to manage health records more securely, thereby bolstering the trust of patients in the healthcare system.
Ultimately, technology is changing (and will continue to change) medical practice in a number of consequential ways. To make matters even more exciting, these technologies are not actually futuristic — they’re already here and are being used to boost productivity and improve patient outcomes. We can probably expect most (if not all) fields of medicine to be positively impacted by these emerging technologies.