Technology In Healthcare

In the last 20 years, technology has completely altered the way that people communicate with each other, do business together, and receive news and other media. Not to mention it has fundamentally affected us on a much more personal level; our health. Technology has the power to make healthcare more available by making it cheaper to access and easier to implement on a greater scale. In todays’ tech driven age, it is important to explore the ways that technology can help us better our healthcare system on a global level. Millions of Americans and in fact, hundreds of millions of people around the world lack consistent access to healthcare, for a variety of reasons. The Center for Disease Control reports that 28.4 million Americans under the age of 65 don’t have health insurance. And, though health insurance is certainly a widely discussed issue; factors like where you live, what language you speak, and how much money you make (even with insurance) can limit your access to care.

This is where technology comes in. In a 2013 article for the MIT Tech Review, argued that technology can and has lowered America’s sky-high healthcare costs. It has improved communication among healthcare professionals. Not to mention there are soft wares to deliver diagnostics, which can help physicians and nurses deliver the highest-quality care. On that note, let’s discuss some ways that patients, doctors, and other healthcare professionals are using advancements like smartphone apps and video conferencing to improve care. Keep in mind, however, that many of these technologies are still very much in development, with a long way to go before they’re fully functional. But they have already started to be utilized. The implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) in the last few years, for example, has demonstrated just how much new tech, even with the best intentions, can bog down healthcare systems. EMRs have the capacity to make healthcare more efficient and less expensive — but, at the moment, many hospitals and medical practices are struggling to adapt to complex software that is time consuming, expensive, and difficult to use. Ultimately, EMRs will streamline and improve patient care —but each clinician needs to be proficient at it as well as the fact that a work flow among the clinical staff needs to be established.

There are Apps and add-ons that can turn your smartphone into a mobile clinic. If you have a smartphone, you essentially have a sophisticated handheld computer in your pocket. In the age of Google, we can look up a symptoms we experience in the palm of our hands. Tech companies are taking advantage of that to develop apps and mobile gadgets that can turn your phone into a medical device — with the potential to, eventually, take the place of much larger, financially prohibitive equipment. We see these technologies in movies but crazy to think it’s not so far-fetched. In a 2016 article, WIRED featured a number of these apps, including Tissue Analytics, which aids wound monitoring by allowing you to photograph a wound over time and send it to your doctor for assessment. There’s also AliveCor, which turns your phone into a mobile EKG machine that can measure the heart’s electrical activity, and NetraLabs, an add-on that lets you do eye testing from home. These types of apps and add-ons could eventually make healthcare considerably more affordable, both because they may allow clinics to replace expensive equipment with smaller, relatively inexpensive devices, and because they may let patients do some testing at home.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine, a system of remote medical consultation that usually involves talking to a health professional via phone or video, is a growing field; WIRED reports that more than a million patients used telemedicine services last year. Telemedicine would seem to offer a number of benefits: It’s often cheaper than in-person visits. It doesn’t require sick people to go out in public, potentially endangering others. And it has the potential to make healthcare more accessible to homebound people or people in rural communities, who don’t have easy access to health services. As the Health Affairs Blog reports, about 10 percent of doctors practice in rural locations — which is a major problem, considering that more than 19 percent of Americans live in these areas. Though telemedicine could potentially revolutionize healthcare, this system is currently far from perfect. However, a recent study found that less than 12 percent of telemedicine consultations currently replace office visits. Most people use telemedicine as an add-on to office consultations, rather than a substitute. Furthermore, telemedicine simply isn’t available to many of the people who would benefit most from its services.

Machine Doctors?

OK, not machines or robots exactly, but medical advice powered by artificial intelligence might be just around the corner. We have also seen these in movies. Multiple companies are working on and testing out systems that would let people receive medical advice from advanced computers. British firm Babylon, for example, is developing an app that would allow users to seek medical advice via their smartphones. The AI would “learn” over time, taking in data with every new customer that it would use to refine its diagnoses. In the United States, developers are working on Virta, a smartphone app aimed at managing — and in some cases even reversing — Type 2 diabetes, a condition Newsweek describes as “the most expensive disease in the world.” Virta users interact with doctors, but the bulk of the day-to-day operations fall on the (virtual) shoulders of the AI. Users input information about their health and activities (some of which can be transmitted automatically through other technologies, like fitness trackers), and the AI helps them stick to a health plan and notifies the doctors if problems arise. Communication is key an in the long run, these uses of technology have the potential to make healthcare — from basic checkups to consultations with specialists easy to communicate between man and machine. These can also include electronic consultation for doctors. Many people in rural areas have to travel far distances to see specialists (who often practice in urban areas), which can be a time consuming and expensive burden for patients. According to the Health Affairs Blog, tools like video conferencing are allowing primary care physicians in rural areas to consult virtually with specialists. In some cases, these consultations can help to eliminate the need for a patient to travel to a specialist at all, while in others, they help the primary care doctor to avoid sending patients for specialist visits that may be unnecessary. Some rural patients are also able to consult specialists directly, through video conferencing at their local clinics.

Among different industries, healthcare represents one of the largest technology user groups. In the beginning, experts believed that electronic documentation and information systems were an interruption to their daily workflow and a disruption from bedside care. Over the years however, clinicians have become more accustomed to the technology, which is a positive since their acceptance of it is imperative to successful system implementation. Today, it is evident that life has been made a lot easier with the use of certain technology, especially in healthcare. We can definitely see the growth of these techs while maintaining superior levels of patient care.

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Zohaib Hassan
CEO, SnapWeb Services