History of emerging tech in health
From the first telephone pager – a critical communications device – used in New York City’s Jewish Hospital for the first time in 1950, to the EHR (Electronic Health Record) systems of the 60s, on through the decades straight to the to the appearance of the first mHealth apps and wearables just a few years ago, technology in healthcare could never be accused of standing still.
We’re a long, long way from that pager now. Today, it’s emerging technologies that are the powerhouse driving healthcare’s advancements and patient-centred care, supporting ease of access and affordability, and vastly improving the quality of life in ways previously only dreamed of.
Robotics surgery, virtual nursing assistants, disease diagnoses … and so much more, the digital health landscape is today something that Scotty would be proud of – and there’s a lot more to come. From Artificial Intelligence to Augmented Reality to Virtual Reality, if we want to see where emerging technologies are having the biggest impact, healthcare has to be in the running. So just how are industry enterprises taking advantage of these complex, but increasingly must-have, technologies today – and what does the near future hold? Read on!
Big Data and Predictive Analytics in Healthcare
Big data – it’s a thing. How much of a thing? When we say that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years, you get the idea. The volume of data created by U.S. companies alone each year is enough to fill ten thousand Libraries of Congress. That’s a lot of data … and a substantial chunk of it is healthcare data.
Predictive analytics is the process of using and learning from that data to make predictions about future outcomes – or any other unknown. For healthcare, predictive analytics has a lot to offer, driving better, faster decisions, and facilitating personalised healthcare.
Predictive analytics isn’t new, but powered by new technologies, today we’re far better able to measure – and make sense of – previously unseen or hard-to-obtain patient data, helping healthcare professionals to have a far greater understanding around physiology, psychology and just about every other ‘ology’ you can think of.
The abundance of healthcare data and widespread availability of new technologies has ensured we’re already well underway in terms of healthcare innovations powered by predictive analytics:
- Health Catalyst offers predictive analytics solutions which help reduce hospital readmission rates, predict the likelihood of a patient contracting a life-threatening condition, and predict the likelihood a patient will miss their appointment.
- Ayasdi uses machine learning algorithms that can find patterns in EMR data to cluster together similar patient procedures and generate clinical pathways that result in the best patient outcomes at the lowest costs. This helps hospitals reduce the time for clinical pathway generation compared to traditional care path generation methods which are done manually by humans.
- Digital Reasoning’s healthcare analytics software uses Natural Language Understanding and machine learning technology to read the pathology and radiology reports at the front-end of a cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment process. The result? Each step in the cancer diagnosis, treatment, navigation, documentation and follow-up process is optimised by the solution, resulting in enhanced patient care, outcome, and follow-up.
Recent reports tell us that the global healthcare augmented and virtual reality market was valued at approximately $850 million in 2018 – and is expected to generate around $5,115 million by 2025. That’s a pretty healthy (pardon the pun) forecast – and for good reason.
Across the healthcare landscape, AR technology is regularly being deployed to foster a safer, more efficient delivery of patient services, with promising results. From addressing the common industry problem of resource depletion and scarcity, to training and procedures simulations, augmented reality technologies have been quietly, and very successfully, empowering healthcare enterprises to innovate wherever their imagination takes them.
Many of these innovations focus on areas such as pain management, rehabilitation, behavioural therapies, and surgical interventions…and with the introduction of hologram capabilities across the UK’s operating theatres, we’re finally seeing mainstream adoption of a technology that’s disrupting just about every industry (Fintech, Energy, Industrial IoT, Oil & Gas) you can think of:
AR is an invaluable tool in supporting healthcare professionals to undertake day-to-day tasks with greater accuracy, efficiency and speed. From helping with diagnosis, to assisting with procedures, to delivering the ability to visualise anatomical structures that are usually hidden, we’re seeing AR in the medical environment go from strength to strength..
Example: AccuVein allows healthcare professionals to see a map of the peripheral veins on the surface of a patient’s skin – with the goal of improving venipuncture, the most common invasive medical procedure.
AR is now being used to treat patients in physiotherapy and physical rehabilitation, powering digital demonstrations that can be mapped on to the motions which patients need to perform as part of a program of therapy. By being able to see themselves in tandem with the AR demonstration, patients can ensure they’re utilising the correct movements that will aid a speedier recovery. What’s more, this kind of AR-driven therapy can also be delivered remotely, allowing for a wider reach and a reduction in resources.
Example: Spark is a cost-effective telerehabilitation platform that helps physical therapists engage with patients with musculoskeletal injuries both in clinical settings and at home.
Today, AR is having a profound impact on medical training, with applications ranging from the ability to bring anatomical learning to life with glorious 3D, to supporting trainee doctors to master a full range of medical techniques, such as checking for vital signs, to diagnosing disease. This highly engaging, immersive training experience offered by AR, aids the retention of the information being delivered, and supports a more rapid ability to digest and recall that often complex information. We all know the saying, ‘Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember.!
Example: EchoPixel develops diagnostic, surgical planning and image-guided healthcare treatment applications, driving human expertise and improving clinical efficiencies.
AI may still be in its infancy when it comes to its application in healthcare (we recently explored its application in banking) – but the predictions are as exciting as they are incredible. From robotics-driven surgery to disease prediction and prevention, through the smart insights gained from that big data we mentioned earlier, AI analytics are of use in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of a range of diseases, supporting the provision of a more targeted care program for patients:
AI-assisted robotic surgery
With an estimated value of $40 billion to the healthcare industry, AI-assisted robots have the ability to analyse patient MHR data and then using the resulting insights, guide the surgeon’s instrument during surgery – which, it’s reported, can lead to up to an astounding 21% reduction in the time the patient spends convalescing on the hospital premises. The benefits are obvious – not only enhanced and speedier patient recovery, but a reduction in the costs allocated to patient recuperation. One study involving 379 orthopedic patients, found that the AI-assisted robotic procedure they each underwent, there were five times fewer complications, compared to when surgeons operated alone.
Example: The da Vinci Surgical System is a robotic surgical system created by US-based Intuitive Surgical, facilitating by a surgeon from a console.and designed to facilitate complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach, and operated by the surgeon via a console.
Virtual nursing assistants
Virtual nursing assistants are already helping to reduce unnecessary hospital and doctor surgery visits, lessening the burden on medical staff, and reducing the costs of on-site treatments. According to Syneos Health Communications, 64 percent of patients they questioned, reported that they would be comfortable with an AI virtual nurse assistant. You can see why. 24/7 access to support, round-the-clock monitoring and the ability to get answers to medical concerns, the benefits are myriad – and that’s just from the patient point of view. Most of today’s applications of virtual nursing assistants mean more regular communications between patients and their care providers, supporting the prevention of hospital readmission, or unnecessary visits to the doctor surgery.
Example: Care Angel has developed a virtual nursing assistant, Angel, a bot enabling wellness checks via the use of both Voice and AI technology to drive optimal medical outcomes at lower costs.
Image analysis is known to be very time consuming for medical professionals, however, researchers at MIT have already developed an algorithm which analyses 3D scans up to 1,000 faster than we presently can, meaning real-time insights in the operating theatre when it matters. It also means the ability to diagnose remotely, where accessible healthcare may be some distance away … and if you’re thinking what we’re thinking, it means the ability to use our smartphone cameras to capture images of medical issues, and send to the relevant recipient for rapid diagnosis and treatment advice.
Example: The Radiotherapy Department at University College London NHS Hospital have been developing an AI system which analyses medical scans of head and neck cancer, the results of which are of a similar standard provided by experts in the field – and in a fraction of the time. .
The healthcare industry is one of the most prolific adopters of virtual reality technology, currently encompassing surgery simulation, robotics surgery, treatment of phobias and training, to name but a few. As the benefits of VR in healthcare become more widely known, many healthcare enterprises are making strides in innovations using VR – and there’s no sign of a slow-down … on the contrary!
Effective, efficient, safe education and training in healthcare is critically important for the future of medicine. Getting it right is as crucial – because getting it wrong impacts way beyond the training room. Virtual Reality training offers several significant benefits to healthcare and medical education. Research has demonstrated that VR training has a significant impact on knowledge retention, recall and behaviour, particularly when the consequences of incorrect decisions can be seen and ‘experienced’ immediately. What’s more, the use of VR in training allows healthcare professionals to prepare for a huge range of critical situations – without the real-world dangers and risks such situations can pose.
Example: Osso VR develops software which generates a virtual operating theatre for VR platforms like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, helping to “improve patient outcomes, increase the adoption of higher-value medical technologies and democratize access to surgical education around the globe.”
Pain Management & Physical Therapy
VR’s capabilities have already been proven to work for effective pain management and treatment. A study not so long ago by two US universities, the University of Washington Seattle, and the Harborview Burn Centre, demonstrated that virtual reality used with patients doing a program of physical therapy after skin graft surgery, acted successfully as a distraction, reducing pain levels for the patients involved. VR in the realm of physical therapy has also demonstrated the ability to speed up the recovery time.
Example: The Juno VR application focuses on providing total immersion in a number of virtual worlds to support with the distraction of acute pain, with great success. Enabling patients to undertake the program in a virtual environment makes the recovery program more enjoyable, ensures the patients stay focused, and keeps them motivated during what can often be a lengthy recovery period.
Virtual reality is increasingly being used across the healthcare industry to drive disease awareness, which in turn opens up new research – and cure – opportunities. From allowing medical professionals to experience the effects of parkinson’s disease, to providing first-hand experience of degenerative eye conditions, research and development companies are today allowing healthcare professionals a glimpse into the world of patients lives in ways never before imagined. The benefits are myriad. Aside from encouraging new ways to address and treat disease, the deeper understanding that can result from an immersive VR experience of health conditions, supports greater understanding of patient needs – often the missing link between patient and practitioner.
Example: Zeiss designed a VR experience aimed to spread awareness of eye disorders by simulating the effects of cataracts and scotoma in healthy users. The demo allows users to play a game of ping pong from the perspective of someone with impaired vision, driving greater understanding of these conditions, and driving new insights into more effective management.
So far, so inspiring! But how long until the ‘emerging’ technologies discussed here are no longer emerging, but mainstream? Each one we’ve mentioned – Virtual Reality, Predictive analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality – each of them increasingly used to drive innovation across the healthcare landscape, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of diagnosing, treating, and curing disease, and supporting greater understanding between healthcare professionals and those in their care.
The savvy healthcare enterprise is already looking into where these technologies can drive better, more efficient, effective healthcare practice – and the future’s looking bright. With the opportunity to create the most one of the most advanced healthcare ecosystems in the world, and power our position as a leader in healthcare, we’re in the perfect position to drive the innovations that will allow us to do so.
What to do next
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