What once seemed only plausible in science fiction books and movies is finding its way to hospitals, healthcare practitioner’s offices, and even the patient’s wrists or fingers. While many of these health technology trends have been in the works for years, the current global health crisis accelerated their adoption throughout the healthcare industry. (38) If you’re a healthcare practitioner, you’ve likely relied on at least some of today’s tech to enhance patient care or help streamline your practice.
Whether it’s wearable health technology, telemedicine, or electronic patient records and billing, health management technology has become an integral part of hospitals, urgent care facilities, and practitioner’s offices worldwide. And it’s likely the integration of these health technology trends is here to stay.
Improving patient care is the ultimate goal of any health technology, and it was never more important than during the global health crisis when in-person office visits were off the table. While telemedicine is perhaps the best-known technology to improve patient care, it’s not the only one.
Many people use some type of AI in their daily lives, but when it comes to healthcare, AI has been shown to enhance patient care by improving how quickly and accurately a diagnosis can be determined, thanks largely to its ability to evaluate radiological images and pathology slides. (30) AI is such an effective tool for quickly and accurately discovering and diagnosing diseases that it’s received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (9) Among AI’s success stories:
- Stanford researchers have developed an algorithm that can diagnose up to 14 types of health conditions simultaneously from medical images. (9)
- Neuroradiologists at the Mayo Clinic are using AI to uncover molecular biomarkers in MRI brain scans instead of testing samples collected during surgery. (26)
- Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an AI mammography model that uses deep learning to predict the development of breast cancer up to five years earlier than traditional technology. What’s more, this model was designed to be equally accurate for all women, regardless of race. (37)
As AI becomes more widely integrated into healthcare, it’s likely that these technologies will become a routine part of diagnostics and treatment.
Electronic prescribing, also known simply as e-prescribing, allows health care providers to securely transmit prescriptions to a pharmacy via specialized software. (36) Studies show that e-prescribing reduces medication errors while improving patient safety and quality of care. (34) Currently, however, this technology typically does not extend to the prescribing of herbal and dietary supplements which can limit its value to integrative physicians, naturopaths, and other holistic practitioners. (35)
Telemedicine became a lifeline between health care practitioners and their patients during the pandemic. Because of its success, it may become one of the main ways practitioners see their patients going forward. This technology not only proves useful when a patient is infectious or too sick to come for an in-person appointment, it also expands care throughout underserved rural or more remote communities. (29)
In a nutshell, virtual reality (VR) is an immersive, computer-generated environment that gives the user the illusion of being somewhere else. Studies in both children and adults have found that donning a VR headset during a medical or dental procedure can effectively reduce pain and anxiety by providing a distraction. (13)(22)(28) Other research suggests that VR may also reduce chronic pain such as low back pain. (1)
But patients aren’t the only people that can benefit from VR. It can also improve conceptual learning and enhance visuospatial skills (the way you relate visual information to the space around you) in medical students by simulating human anatomy and surgical procedures. (4)(7) It’s also been shown to improve bedside manner by teaching empathy. One study conducted at the University of New England found that VR improved medical student’s understanding of patients with vision and hearing loss or Alzheimer’s disease by giving them virtual experiences of these age-related health problems. (12)
According to WHO, mobile health technology, more commonly known as mHealth, is any medical or public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants, and other wireless devices. (33) In other words, mHealth is a set of digital devices that allow users and their healthcare practitioners to monitor key health markers continually—and it’s set to disrupt healthcare.
If you’ve ever worn an Apple watch or Fitbit, you’ve participated in mHealth. These wearable devices can track the user’s physical activity, sleep, body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate variability, and blood oxygen levels outside of a healthcare practitioner’s office or hospital setting. Some devices, like the Apple watch, also allow users to conduct an ECG at any time, no matter where the user may be. The data collected by these mobile and/or wearable devices not only encourage users to make healthier lifestyle changes, they can allow healthcare practitioners to better monitor a patient’s daily behavior, as well as important health data over a period of time. (21)(25) But, while the technology of wearables continues to improve, there are some key barriers to their widespread use, including age, the high cost of these devices, and data privacy concerns among consumers. (8)
Did you know? Currently, close to 30% of adults in America use a wearable device to track their fitness and health metrics. (8)
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to a system of wireless, interrelated, and connected digital devices that can collect, send, and store data over a network without needing any person-to-person or person-to-computer interaction. Although still in its infancy, IoT has the potential to improve healthcare by proactively predicting the risk of future health problems, diagnosing disease, playing a role in treatment, and monitoring patients, both in and out of the hospital. (24) What’s more, by using these apps and devices to create “smart homes,” research suggests that IoT may help older adults to safely age in place instead of needing to transition to assisted living or other community living situations. (10) While IoT appears promising, especially for seniors who want to maintain their independence; safeguarding privacy and ensuring data security is still a concern. (2)
At its most basic, informatics is simply the use of electronic data to improve the delivery of health care. Although informatics can be used broadly as a tool to track global diseases, as well as real-time vaccinations, it’s more commonly used to maintain individual patient records and communication. (32)(38)
Mobile patient communication portals
Mobile communication and data capture software can enhance the relationship between healthcare practitioner and patient via the patient’s smartphone. These electronic platforms allow patients to confirm appointments, securely communicate directly with their healthcare providers, view lab results, and update forms. (19) The software can also be used in conjunction with telemedicine to conduct virtual health visits. What’s more, these apps and portals can help providers monitor a patient’s progress after a surgery or illness or their status in the case of a chronic condition such as diabetes. (5)(6)(27) Studies have found that these mobile portals improve preventative care outcomes and foster greater self-management on the part of the patient. (17)(31)
Electronic health records
Electronic health records (EHRs) have grown in popularity among practitioners over the past few decades. Not only have EHRs made a patient’s medical information easier to read, but the information is also accessible from almost any location in the world. This has made sharing patient data easier and more accurate among different providers. (16)
EHRs provide a host of benefits and include:
- Reducing errors up to 54% by improving the accuracy and clarity of medical records (3)(16)
- A 36% drop in adverse drug reactions (3)
- Reducing the duplication of tests (16)
- Decreasing delays in treatment (16)
Although privacy and security continue to be a concern whenever sensitive personal and medical data is stored electronically, it is generally accepted that the benefits of EHRs outweigh the risks. (15)
The bottom line
Technology is changing the face of medicine. And, whether it’s a patient portal, electronic health records, or virtual visits, adopting at least a few of these high-tech tools could enhance the care you provide your patients and modernize your practice.
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