Surgical robots, digestible sensors, digital pillboxes and virtual caregivers … Once the domain of Bones’ medical box of tricks, today on the inventory of many healthcare enterprises, digital health innovations have found their way into mainstream healthcare and made their way to a place where we’ll likely all benefit from their promises someday. We’re already enjoying smart devices and wearables. Devices which track everything from how many hours we sleep at night to how fast our hearts beat to how hot or cold we are. At the same time, they’re collecting vast amounts of health data which is helping to rewrite the future of our own healthcare for the better, changing how we engage with healthcare providers, opening up access to health services, and enhancing our experience of healthcare. So as we race headlong into 2020, where can we expect to see digital bringing difference to our healthcare providers? Here are our predictions on the rising digital health trends that are on the cusp of bringing affordable, accessible, life-changing treatments to our global population. We recently explored the top mobile trends to factor into your plans for this year and also discovered how mHealth apps are impacting the medical sector. Today we’re exploring Healthcare 2020 – the top 5 technology trends.
For such a tiny nametag, 5G is promising to pack a huge punch across all our lives in myriad ways in the very near future, not least in healthcare which is standing by, ready to take advantage of this much-debated technology.
Robust, fast and reliable networks are critical for the delivery of effective, efficient healthcare to those who need it. But the exponential increase in connected medical and mobile devices that we’re enjoying means that the traditional healthcare IT infrastructure is buckling under the resultant strain of inefficient bandwidths and struggling speeds. Huge digital images that need to be shared quickly; VR, AR and AI technologies that need optimum network speeds to function efficiently; powerful, reliable connections that enable uninterrupted real-time communications across a complex map of participants – health provision can’t afford to tarry when it comes to our health. That’s why the promises of 5G – enhanced speed, greater bandwidth and much-improved connectivity – are such a massive game-changer, laying the foundations for healthcare providers to rewrite how the sector approaches our wellbeing and meets the very complex and rapidly changing needs of a new data-driven ecosystem:
- Faster transfer of large files
- Real-time remote diagnosis
- Streamlined, more personalised healthcare
- More efficient use of emerging technologies
5G is ready to support healthcare in meeting these needs, driving faster, smarter healthcare provision across vastly improved networks – one of the reasons it’s predicted to bring global savings of around $94bn to the healthcare sector by 2030, and one of the reasons it’s on our hit-list of tech favourites for the coming year.
Almost 40 years ago in 1981, year of bad perms and Escape From New York, Hideo Kodama was making better use of his time and published his vision of a rapid-prototyping system that would use photopolymers to create 3-dimensional objects. Nearly 20 years later in 1999, we saw the first 3D-printed organ (a bladder) implanted in humans, and today, a long way from both, 3D printing is ready to deliver momentous, significant impact on our lives …
One area which is reaping huge rewards with 3D printing is customised prosthetics. Traditional prosthetics are often heavy, cumbersome and eye-wateringly expensive. 3D printing allows for precise, customised, faster prosthetics production at far lower costs than standard production techniques. And that means they’re more affordable and accessible for individuals.
A 3D printed prosthetic
But there’s more … Edging towards the realm of science fiction, bioprinting – or 3D printed skin tissue – is another one of these technological innovations in healthcare that are as incredible as they are revolutionising. Inefficient, labour-intensive and expensive, 2D culture techniques can’t keep up with the demands of modern healthcare. The bioprinter means we can now ‘print’ tissue quickly, more cost-effectively, and more prolifically – benefits that have ramifications way beyond good health.
- Drives faster, better research activities across the tissue engineering space
- Enables healthcare professionals to cost-effectively and quickly develop tissue models for drug and toxicology screening
- Research-critical areas such as cancer research can benefit from the faster, more precise creation of tissue models with which to work.
- Tissue and organs can be produced for grafting and transplanting – vastly reducing transplant wait times and helping drive more successful outcomes through customised treatments
The advances in 3D-printing make it not only one of the most exciting areas of healthcare today, but one that we think has massive, far-reaching potential. It has some way to go, but expect to see this field go mainstream in the not so distant future, as this technology meets with others to both transform the delivery of treatment, but the outcomes too.
With over 80% of us ready and willing to embrace wearable technology, healthcare seems the obvious beneficiary when many of us are already using wearables to monitor anything from how fast (or slow!) our heart is beating, to how much sleep we get each night, to how many steps we take each day. Around one in six of us report using some form of wearable technology, driving a market that’s predicted to be worth €24.4bn come 2023. In fact, so eager are we to take control of our healthcare that wearables innovations promise sweeping changes across the healthcare system in the coming years, saving billions and saving lives at the same time. And it ain’t all heartbeats and sleep quality – one of the most fascinating innovations, and one on our watchlist has to be the electronic tattoo.
A relatively ‘new’ addition to the healthcare wearables family, electronic – or digital – tattoos are super-thin, flexible pieces of material onto which electronic circuits are printed, then affixed to our skin to provide the digital functionality capable of recording all manner of health-related information – and allowing healthcare providers to respond as needed. From temperature assessing to measuring glucose levels to calculating skin hydration to evaluating the electrical activity of the heart, the ability to monitor the healthcare of patients in real-time is providing the opportunity to deliver faster diagnoses, provide effective, targeted treatment of disease, and drive highly-valuable research to inform future treatments.
We’re still really at the beginning of the Wearables story in healthcare … If we start thinking about where this technology can take us when partnered with AI, Machine Learning and IoT, then the future of wearables starts to look as extraordinary as our imagination can make it. Expect to see even bigger, bolder collaborative advances in this space very soon. Now … where’s my tattooist …
There are only so many ways you can say ‘revolution’, and only so many times before it starts to sound like hyperbole, but frankly, I’ve run out alternatives … You may never have heard of the term “Precision medicine”, but it’s this very field that holds the golden key to – wait for it – a revolution in healthcare. Precision medication (PM) is a mode of healthcare that utilises data about a person’s lifestyle, genes, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat illness. At its centre is the recognition that we’re all unique, with distinct biological make-ups existing across a hugely diverse range of environments. The traditional reactive ‘one-size-fits-all’ delivery of healthcare to these millions of unique biological ecosystems (that’s you and I and everyone else on the planet) is often inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable – and there’s only one way to fix it: digital. The answer? Precision medicine – continual, real-time data-driven, personalised healthcare – not after the fact, but increasingly as a preventative measure. It’s on our 2020 radar because ne’er a week goes by without another PM innovation grabbing the headlines …so here’s why Precision Medicine is about to irreversibly alter our understanding of what effective, efficient, cost-effective healthcare looks like:
Prediction and prevention of disease
Disease is generally easier to prevent than it is to treat, so the ability to predict disease in at-risk individuals has the potential not only to save millions of lives, it could also radically alter the entire healthcare system. Timely detection could widen the net of potential treatments; in many cases, it could minimise the need for long-term care; it may massively reduce the burden of treatment, and has the potential to empower individuals to make lifestyle adjustments that may prevent the onset of disease further down the line.
More accurate diagnoses
Usually, diagnoses are based on the results of often complex tests and time-consuming investigations of symptoms, but as alluded to above, we’re each of us a unique biological entity – so whilst one disease may manifest in the same way for two patients, the cause of that disease in each may be very different. Precision Medicine allows us detailed insights into an individual’s unique biology, enabling us to piece together how and why disease has developed.
Targeted, personalised treatment
No drug affects every person in the same way – which means much of the way healthcare is ‘done’ is very hit and miss. Figuring out the best drug with the optimum dose to successfully treat disease – something that PM promises to do – means patients get the drug treatment they need earlier, with better results, and over the long run, reduced costs to their provider.
These are promising times – precision medicine is one of the fields in medicine that’s walking us all towards a patient-empowered, healthier future. We’re some way off from precision medicine for all, but we’re off the starting block and can expect these promises to be met someday as investment, demand and digital combine for the perfect storm …
Blade Runner, Terminator, 2001, Silent Running (why not?!) – when it comes to robotics, everyone’s ears tend to prick up, and understandably so. Our enduring fascination with a mechanised version of our human selves has seen endless Hollywood depictions, heard countless philosophical debates, and spurned numerous predictions of doom and destruction than perhaps any other subject matter this side of the Off-World. Perhaps it’s this fascination that has also led to the rapid advancements in robotics across healthcare, a market expected to reach a cool $20bn by 2023, and already working tirelessly to support the human hand wherever it’s needed in medicine.
The DaVinci Surgical System
The DaVinci surgical system is perhaps the most well-known of these, however, innovations are coming thick and fast and favourites at WHQ include the Cyberknife, Heartlander and the VR-supported VicariousSurgical.
While the progress of robotics has been slower than many would have liked (or expected), the impact, when we’re well on our way, will be extensive. Whilst never fully replacing humans, robotics across the healthcare space have much to offer, helping to reduce human error, improve recovery time, and reduce time spent in hospital. But essentially, by making healthcare more effective, robotics are creating a brighter, more efficient, more effective future for a sector on which everyone will rely on at some point in their life.
Healthcare trends are changing continually to meet the needs of healthcare providers – and while the above are making big waves across healthcare organisations around the world, we could have added a few more … there’s no stopping for breath where digital innovation is concerned! Genomics, AI & Machine Learning, Digital Twins, Mixed Reality … all of these technologies – and more – bring promise and opportunities for our healthcare providers to deliver better, faster, more effective healthcare to the 8 billion of us that will seek it out at some point. I don’t know about you, but I for one look forward to our new healthcare overlords – and the longer, healthier life they promise.
Interested in learning more about how new technologies can transform your digital health offering in 2020? Let’s get the conversation started.