8 Technology Trends in Healthcare to Watch in 2018
While healthcare has historically been slow to adopt technology, the industry is about to witness significant changes over the next several years. The digital health market is expected to reach $206 billion by 2020. Leading companies are already redefining themselves with digital transformation, applied to their main functional areas with customer-centric approach.
For us, keeping an eye on the latest industry-specific tech trends is essential. These trends are typically best showcased at the world's leading events—in our case, healthcare conferences. Today we're going to share our insights gained at Med-Tech Innovation Expo, spotlighting 8 major technology trends in healthcare to watch in 2018.
MobiDev at Med-Tech Innovation Expo 2018
All the trends we observed earlier at HIMSS18 remain in place. While businesses tend to rely on proven systems, they are continuously looking for new ways of boosting performance and productivity by means of technology. They have the same security concerns and do extensive research on new ways of delivering services. We can illustrate it with our own case of digital transformation in healthcare. Now let's proceed to further observations.
Trend #1: Telemedicine
Evolution in telemedicine is one the biggest sources of rapid change in the US healthcare system. In a large country where access to providers is limited, telemedicine is increasingly proving to be transformative. In urban areas, underserved communities also face problems arising from wait times which have increased from 18.5 to 24 days from 2014, according to the 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicare and Medicaid Acceptance Rates. Telemedicine is improving diagnosing and treatment by making it easier for patients to get access to specialists, too. The availability of electronic records has also made it simpler to forward documents to specialists. In rural areas, this can mean the difference between having or not having expert input into a case.
Data exchange platforms are transforming what we think of as telemedicine. While the current video chat platforms that dominate the sector serve immense purposes, telehealth services can do a lot more. For example, hospitals have been able to reduce readmission rates by providing real-time monitoring of patients outside the office. Thanks to the advent of wearable devices, it's normal for remote monitoring systems to now be included in post-discharge plans for patients.
Our own experience in this area can be illustrated with this case study of a product for personal insurance management and automation of care delivery for a $14B healthcare business.
Trend #2: The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
Various devices and mobile apps have come to play a critical role in tracking and preventing chronic illnesses for many patients and their doctors. By combining IoT development with telemedicine and telehealth technologies, a new Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has emerged. This approach includes the use of a number of wearables, including ECG and EKG monitors. Many other common medical measurements can also be taken, such as skin temperature, glucose level, and blood pressure readings.
By 2017, nearly 60% of operations in the healthcare field had adopted IoT or IoMT systems, according to Frost & Sullivan. This trend has given rise to improvements in everything from patient experience to profitability. Between 20 and 30 billion IoMT devices are expected to be deployed by 2020. By 2021, the market for IoT devices in healthcare is anticipated to reach $136 billion, Allied Market Research reported. With the arrival of new delivery methods, such as the first smart pill approved in 2017 by the FDA, practitioners will have many interesting options for providing care in a more effective manner.
Providing consistent and effective communication with numerous medical IoT devices is one of the biggest challenges that the sector faces. Manufacturers still regularly utilize their own proprietary protocols for talking to devices, and this can present problems, especially when trying to collect large amounts of data by servers. Connectivity issues are also still common, as the collection of data by microcontrollers and smartphones can be disrupted by a number of factors in the surrounding environment. Buffering methods on local microcontrollers need to become more robust in order to avoid lossiness. Potential security concerns also need to be addressed, as indicated by a report from the Ponemon Institute's Sixth Annual Benchmark Study on Privacy and Security of Healthcare Data that showed that 89% of healthcare operations had been the subjects of at least one data breach.
Trend #3: Cloud computing in healthcare
A variety of public, private and hybrid cloud-based platforms are available for the sharing of large files. Healthcare organizations are trying to address the need to build out, run and maintain infrastructure for record-keeping needs. Here cloud computing becomes an appealing choice for digital technology in healthcare.
Patients and healthcare providers both tend to get better access to records through cloud-based solutions, and they make the consultation process more convenient. These telemedicine applications, though, place greater demand on synchronous and asynchronous messaging systems. The desire to integrate video for live consultations also creates pressure to deploy WAN connections that are speedy, secure and stable.
HIPAA compliance becomes a major issue in this environment. Enterprises often refrain from fully embracing cloud computing because of the strictures of regulations regarding electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). Conducting remote doctor calls makes it difficult to collect all ePHI data within structured formats that can be reasonably assured to be secure. Methods for securing messages, audio, video and emails all need to be in place to ensure full compliance with HIPAA. The next level is compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation, which concerns personal data of all EU residents—which naturally includes ePHI.
In a cloud environment, every step of the process needs to be judiciously monitored. When talking with cloud hosting providers, organizations need to be clear about what their requirements are. Numerous providers have emerged that now specifically cater to the requirements of organizations with HIPAA compliance needs.
Public cloud systems all access to a wide range of generic health information sources, and they permit storage and retrieval of organization's data. Private cloud systems can be utilized for more security-sensitive requirements, such as pharmacy orders, patient bills and physician inquiries. On-premises and hosted solutions are available within the private cloud hosting sphere. Employing an on-premises approach permits the IT department at an organization to have greater control.
In terms of disadvantages of cloud computing in healthcare, control comes with increased responsibilities for rolling out software updates, keeping tabs on security protocols and maintaining hardware. Hosted solutions typically offer more flexibility and lower costs. Conversely, the accompanying reduction in control may be problematic, especially for organizations with clear HIPAA concerns. Hybrid solutions provide some of the best benefits of cloud computing in healthcare, and they often permit more portability.
Trend #4: AR/VR/MR in healthcare
The arrival of virtual and augmented reality solutions has led to significant advances in healthcare technologies. Advances that could only be imagined a decade ago are now being implemented. From educating new students to planning procedures, the field of AR and VR in healthcare offers serious promise.
One of the biggest problems in overcoming motor deficiencies following a stroke is putting patients in robust enough environments to foster improvement. Enhanced and simulated environments enable more diverse interactions that might otherwise be possible during physical therapy. Data can be gathered using monitoring to assist therapists in devising customizes care plans.
Maplewood Senior Living in Connecticut has utilized VR headsets to work with individuals who have concerns ranging from dementia to cognitive impairments. They have access to activities and experiences that are otherwise unavailable in their current environments. This may allow patients to unlock memories and improve their emotional well being.
Augmented reality systems in healthcare offer one of the most intuitive options. By rendering 3D information on real-world scenes, AR permits surgeons and doctors to stay grounded in actual procedures while having ready access to all the data available through other emerging technologies. Students can use overlays to access information in an interface where they can quickly explore. Doctors can compare data to what they're seeing in the real world in order to make diagnoses and plan for procedures.
Trend #5: Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare
This is one of the nascent healthcare technology trends. Developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) machines—that can process information and provide decision-making data in a manner similar to what a human does—has given rise to an entirely new sector of innovative health technologies. AI applications can improve the speed and accuracy of the diagnosis process. Analytics can also identify concerning developments and allow practitioners to start looking at possible approaches for early treatment. Machine learning algorithms are also be utilized to safely explore chemical and biological interactions in the drug discovery process, bringing new drugs to market faster.
FDA has recently approved the first AI-based diagnostic device, a system that looks for eye disease by examining photos of the retina. High-quality images are uploaded, and the algorithm then proceeds to check for possible indications of diabetic retinopathy. The disorder was correctly identified by the software in 87% of cases, and it correctly identified individuals without the disease 90% of the time.
Microsoft is developing Project InnerEye, an AI tool for radiotherapy. 3D contouring of a patient's planning cans can be produced in minutes, rather than hours. Dosimetrists and radiation oncologists utilizing the system have full control of accuracy, and the consistency of the setup should allow organizations to realize significant cost savings. Microsoft is also working on Project Hanover, an AI-based system intended to catalog biomedical research papers from PubMed to produce cancer diagnoses and determine which drug combinations might be most suited to individual patients.
The potential for AI and other technologies to create synergies that yield digital transformation in healthcare is immense. Mobile devices and IoMT systems will drive increases in the sizes of available data sets for AI software to analyze. The large ecosystem is expected to become significantly more interdependent as the industry moves forward.
It's important to note that machine learning systems, even those using Deep Learning methods, will note outperform their original training sets. Applications of these algorithms in clinical environments depend on building good training sets to ensure that AIs are as informed as possible. Data scientists also need to be involved in the process to ensure that quality control is monitored by checking that statistically relevant answers are generated. Making quality services available to all, however, will compound the returns that can be achieved through the use of Deep Learning applications.
Trend #6: Chatbots
Dealing with routine queries using AI-backed messaging and voice systems can help organizations realize cost savings. In healthcare, the capacity to address easily diagnosed problems allows professionals to focus on matters that might require the full attention of a physician. Patients also benefit from feeling that simply questions have been fielded.
Utilizing smart bots in a digital assistant role allows practitioners to keep better track of contacts, offer appointments more readily and easily make changes. Patients also have an easier time getting refills of prescriptions orders, and the billing process tends to be smoother. Lab tests can be transmitted more readily, and patients can be informed of procedure outcomes sooner.
Chatbots may also be beneficial for practices dealing with older patients. A character can be created who'll serve as an assistant to provide friendly reminders. By connecting with other technologies, such as analytics and AI, the assistant can even warn about potential drug interactions.
A project at UCLA has combined chatbot technologies with AI systems to create a Virtual Interventional Radiologist (VIR). It makes evidence-based responses to FAQs quickly available to physicians by implementing IBM Watson cognitive technologies and Natural Language processing methods. This allows the questions to be read and answered in an intuitive manner, making the whole process simpler, faster and more useful for doctors.
Chatbots are already revolutionizing the business world, and they can be expected to be a big part of the digital transformation in healthcare, too. Attention does need to be paid to some of the risks. Automated systems should not be seen as replacements for the opinions of experts, especially when the risks include threats to patients. Any chatbot system will be subject to the same rules that govern the rest of the industry, so compliance with HIPAA in the US and the GDPR in the EU will feature highly.
Trend #7: Data Science and predictive analytics
Working with a patient who has a chronic disease can generate a great deal of information, but discovering and compressing all the available data into something actionable can be a challenge. Improvements in data science and predictive analytics, however, have made it possible for practitioners to look for deeper insights. A doctor can, for example, feed information gleaned from ancestry and family histories into AI-based systems to come up with a statistically grounded profile and to diagnose problems faster. Rich data can be derived from sources about the surrounding environment, allowing doctors to identify and address problems that are endemic to regions, families, trades and other population clusters.
Data can also be scanned and analyzed to improve efficiency within a healthcare organization. Patients who are at heightened risk for re-admission may, for example, be treated for longer periods during their initial admissions in order to improve long-term care. Information derived from studies of patients can also be employed to predict which individuals might be at higher risk of negative outcomes.
Analytics is another field why synergies can be achieved. With greater inflows of data from IoMT devices, data scientists can construct more detailed models.
Trend #8: Blockchain
Distributing transaction records through a peer-to-peer system with a shared digital ledger is a way to improve the availability and integrity of information. Blockchain technologies allow large numbers of users to faithfully and securely have access to a common ledger, all without requiring a basis for trust between parties. As digital transformation in healthcare moves forward, fostering this combination of security, portability and ready accessibility is important to an array of technology trends in healthcare, including IoMT devices and cloud-based hosting.
Interoperability is expected to improve dramatically with the arrival of blockchain in healthcare. Utilizing public-private key methods, healthcare information can be created, modified and distributed with greater integrity. For example, a specialist brought in for a consult can be granted quick access to patient records through a secure system that all parties are using. Information can also be kept as anonymous as the circumstances call for, allowing patients and doctors to opt-in to provide data for research, all while complying with HIPAA and GDPR standards.
If questions arise about the provenance of a data point, running down the origin of the information is as simple as reviewing the digital ledger. For example, concerns about the drug supply chain and counterfeiting can be addressed by seeing that all transactions are logged onto a blockchain-based system. At the organizational level, this can lead to significant savings.
Charting a route to industry-wide adoption is critical, and that's a challenge that remains to be addressed. A common technical standard has yet to be adopted, and agreement needs to be reached for verification, data limits and transaction speeds. The FDA signed off in 2017 on a research initiative with IBM to utilize Watson Health to test how such a system would be used to handle patient records, clinical study information and data from wearables.
Innovative healthcare technologies will remain the basis for digital transformation of business in this sector—while we will be keeping an eye on its trends. Feel free to contact us with any questions!
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