Medicine is quite a conservative field, which does not easily accept innovations. However, rapid technological development influences everything, including healthcare. Let’s look at the most common tendencies of the healthcare industry development.
Artificial intelligence and robotics
Scientists have been working on artificial intelligence technologies that could equal humans by cognitive capacities since 1950th. Present-day artificial intelligence can perform much better than people in many ways. And discussions about forcing out humans from a labor market by robots are tense. Robotics is associated with automatization processes leading to reducing mistakes caused by a human factor. The two main branches where robotics can be used are medical treatment and surgeries. It is likely that in the near future robots will execute routine time-consuming labor in hospitals. According to Frost and Sullivan research, 80 % of surgical operations will be done by robots by 2025. AI technologies are slowly getting into medicine – they can automate a great deal of routine work that is currently performed by people, and offer great solutions for medical app developers.
Image source: JaySocial
ANN (artificial neural networks) is one of the most popular AI techniques in medicine. It is a computational system consisting of a network of interconnected processors called “neurons.” It is a powerful analytics tool, that can interpret images in radiology and histopathology, and analyze complex cancer data to predict outcomes (Ramesh, Kambhampati, Monson, and Drew; Artificial Intelligence in medicine, 2004). In the latest research, scientists claimed that AI in medicine will continue developing to reach a human doctors performance. It does not mean that robots will replace them, they will assist people instead. AI can perform better at certain tasks, such as defining diagnoses by dermatological images. (British Journal of General Practice, Debate and Analysis: Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, 2018). Using AI tools can greatly elaborate an efficiency of the medical care. Big corporations such as IBM, Microsoft, and Google have already invested in healthcare projects implementing AI. Hence we can anticipate the large-scale use of these technologies in the future.
Internet of Things
The Internet that we know is created by people for people. We create content and fill the web with it. When the Internet appeared, there were more people in the world than devices. Today there are three times more gadgets than people. By 2017, there will be 10 times more devices, according to Statista‘s prognosis.
Ok, what is the use of 75 billion pieces of electronics? Well, things can efficiently “communicate” with one another. One device can send signals to other devices after receiving signals from the environment. For example, the media player can receive weather forecast from a meteorological station. The same thing can be applied to a health industry. People buy many wearables to analyze their condition: the glucose level, blood pressure, the heartbeat etc. When values by some indicators are critical, the device sends a notification to the wearer. If a person does not react, the device sends an alarm message to a hospital. In this video, Benson Hougland explains how IoT helps to control our health indicators and contact emergency in extreme situations.
The technology of diagnosing and providing treatment remotely is spreading around the world as a response to a growing demand. Telemedicine enables doctors to treat people through the Internet whenever needed and wherever patients are. It is a good solution for the elderly and people with disabilities for whom it is hard to get to the hospital. Also, telemedicine is relevant for diagnosing typical problems such as a sore throat or a bad cold, indigestion, and back pain – something you can treat at home without having to go to the hospital. Telemedicine makes it easier for people living far from hospitals and immobile patients to reach doctors on time. It enables consulting at nights, weekends, and in bad weather conditions. Distant medical help is a convenient tool that is going to be a significant part of future healthcare.
Only lazy have not heard about blockchain. This digital ledger system is conquering banking and financial industry. Today blockchain penetrates the sphere of medicine as well. The blockchain can be useful in medicine for storing data, controlling the origin and circulation of medicines, and creating smart contracts for insurance.
The blockchain works as an independent and well-protected data storage. In such a way, it can solve a problem of medical bureaucracy. If you are tired of moving your medical records from one clinic to another and losing the needed pieces of data, blockchain can become a solution. Thanks to this technology, people will be able to collect their medical information in one place. Also, inconveniences caused by moving to other cities or countries will disappear. This ledger is not connected to any location and is totally safe. The history of patients illnesses and treatment is stored in an encrypted format so that it will not be available for third parties.
This trend has started to come true in the USA. Five top healthcare organizations have recently launched a project to improve the quality of data and reduce administrative expenses in the medical sphere. Also, platforms such as Patientory offer tools to keep patients’ health profiles secure, enabling only patients and doctors to view them after verifying procedures.
New blockchain technology can also make insurance contracting simple and safe the. IBM, for example, uses blockchain to transform the insurance operations. With the help of smart contracts, blockchain makes insurance faster and more transparent for stakeholders. Using smart contracts anonymous parties can sign an agreement written as code and stored in a public ledger. All the needed documents will also be saved in the blockchain. People might be unwilling to provide confidential information for signing ordinary contracts. Encrypted data protects customers from risks and ensures trust between the parties.
Image source: Keck Medicine of USC
Another way to use blockchain in medicine is drug-tracking. Do you always know whether your pills are authentic? Blockchain technology enables a customer to see the whole chain of medicine supply from a producer to a drugstore. This will protect patients from buying falsified or contraband products. Such companies as MediLedger have already started working on drug tracking in cooperation with pharmacy traders.
Over the last few years, VR has greatly broadened its use in medicine. Mainly used for medical students training in the past, today virtual reality has a variety of applications such as planning surgeries, treating chronic pain, painful conditions, posttraumatic disorders, and mental illnesses. American researchers have studied an analgesic effect of VR for acute pain during medical procedures. They found that immersing patients into the virtual reality significantly reduced pain for 75 % of patients. This technology distracts patients from pain isolating them from reality. Instead of seeing a medical ward, they experience being in a pleasant surrounding and feel less stress. In this way, virtual reality becomes an alternative for taking opioids and other strong painkillers that cause tolerance. Maybe later thanks to immersing into the VR it will be possible to feel like catching butterflies on the lawn or lying at the seaside even during regular dentists procedures.