What’s on the horizon for healthcare?
Incredible tools, gadgets, and data to improve lives—and save money. Healthcare innovation means convenience, cures, efficiency, treatments, maintenance, and costs. When health spending accounts for 17.8% of GDP, revolutionary inventions must heal at half the price. That’s where technology helps out with its super speed, capabilities, and possibility.
Some emerging technologies that debuted at Consumer Electronic and Technology Trade Show in Las Vegas earlier this year are about improving on existing ideas, like thermometers. If you thought the upgrade from glass and mercury to digital was great, how about a parent’s answer to the sick toddler question: How do you get a child to sit still or how do either of us sleep knowing his fever might spike?
With TempTraq, a 24-hour temperature monitor that is worn like a patch and sends body temperature readings to mobile devices, that’s how. Or how about a patch that reads pregnancy belly contractions? Bloomlife lets you know (by your smartphone) when it’s time to grab that packed overnight bag and go—no false alarms.
Another cure for an age-old problem is Aira’s smart glasses for the visually impaired. With a phone camera or smart glasses, Aira “sees” for the wearer and tells them what they’re encountering, like street cars or grocery items.
Office and Hospital Administration
There’s not much more frustrating than waiting on that referral to get processed for you to see one doctor or specialist or another. Sometimes you arrive at your appointment days later and the doctor still has not received the faxed referral. referralMD streamlines the process by communicating with the nearest facility or provider using SmartMATCH technology, eliminating the paper. It also integrates with EMR systems.
The Internet of Things or the interconnection of physical devices with electronics, sensors, and software to network data allow hospital staff to track patients and medical devices, such as defibrillators, infusion pumps, and other items needed in a hurry but closeted somewhere. It also allows real-time viewing from one location to another, say the OR from another floor in the hospital. The KAA project developed an open-source IOT platform that integrates connection between devices with related software.
Life Saving Technology
Head transplants, breathing hearts, cancer, and lab rats, oh my! Have the flying cars arrived yet? No, really, an Italian neurosurgeon named Sergio Canavero plans to successfully transplant a human head this year, using a blade and polyethylene glycol to connect spinal cord nerves. And Juno Therapeutics plans to put over 90% of lymphoblastic leukemia (very difficult to treat0 patients into remission with chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy. By jumpstarting the patient’s immune system with the patient’s own genetically engineered T-Cells, clinicians have given hope to patients with little hope.
Heart transplants are the hope of many failing heart patients, and while successful transplants have increased, the number of donors has not. That’s why warm perfusion processes with technology that keeps donated hearts breathing (rather than keeping the organ on ice and possibly damaged) and usable longer is so important.
Good news for the animal lover too. Wyss Institute researchers engineered “organs-on-chips” (hollowed out polymer sticks filled with human cells, fluids, and vasculature pumping and moving like real organs) that simulate the structure and functioning of organs, like kidneys and lungs, so that scientists can test these rather than lab animals.
Patients are consumers. They want the best healthcare at affordable prices. They want good service. Companies like referralMD, Healthgrades, and Vitals help patients find just that. Patients use these sites to find facility and doctor ratings, outpatient service pricing and other tools to configure the cost and quality of health services they seek.
And speaking of patient value, telemedicine is the best thing since sliced bread.
It’s what every patient asks for after the first twenty minutes in a doctor’s waiting room. Patient-monitoring systems like eCare21 collect data from smartphones, Fitbits, and other health devices to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, glucose, weight, and physical activity of senior citizens. The data gets transmitted to doctors and caregivers to monitor the health of their patients or loved ones. For chronic illness or complicated cases, the technology helps keep patients on the look-out radar but outside doctor’s office
Advanced computer software and systems that help clinicians treat patients at lower costs are the biggest wave of the recent past and near future. Healthcare data grows by the hour, having reached 150 exabytes (exabyte=1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) currently and soon to reach the zettabyte (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) and yottabyte (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) realm.
IBM’s Watson can read and retain 500 gigabytes or a million books per second. Watson-like machines do what ordinary clinicians can’t, such as keep up on the global medical discoveries and papers published daily, match patients to treatments cross-checked in data systems, improve diagnosis and treatment of disease, help insurers reach more people with preventative care, and a host of other applications.
Once the innovators figure out how to interface the massive data gathering and health monitoring over vast healthcare systems and networks, then you’re talking breakthrough technology that will make more data usable. The innovators are part way there. Maybe next year. For now, the future of healthcare is in data, upgrading, and life-altering tools and gadgets.