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Scheduling appointments online for doctor’s visits, lab tests, and another medical appointments has already become a routine procedure. And in Western medicine, the most mature IT technology in healthcare is electronic medical record systems (electronic medical records, EHR). While medical accounting and diagnostics are being digitized everywhere actively, new technologies are bringing another wave of innovation to this area of healthcare IT. 2019 promises to be a turning point in the adoption of emerging technologies for use in mainstream medical practice.
According to analysts, the global digital medicine market will reach $206 billion by 2020, with primary growth occurring in mobile and wireless technologies. But there are other promising areas that will become significant areas of growth in the coming months.
1. Artificial Intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence systems in medicine is waiting in the wings. AI robots are already actively being used as nurses to care for patients. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The combination of computational technologies for processing big data together with AI and image recognition systems is already driving breakthroughs across the healthcare IT market in such practical areas as:
- Diagnostics: Applications are significantly increasing the speed and accuracy of patient diagnosis. Patient data in AI systems is analyzed more thoroughly with software for medical practices already being used to make diagnoses in dermatology and ophthalmology, and to identify diabetes and other diseases that manifest themselves in the form of obvious physiological changes.
- Development of medical prescriptions: The process of developing new medications is complicated and expensive. Pharmaceutical companies have to solve dozens of issues, including those that are ethical and legal in nature. Today, AI is being used to study the chemical and biological interactions of drugs based on early clinical data. The most promising types of examples are IBM Watson Health and GNS Healthcare. In addition, AI systems are actively used by scientists to create drugs designed to cure cancer.
- Optimization of work processes: AI also helps automate routine paper work and scheduling, two areas where medical staff make errors frequently – because of the monotonous nature of the work.
Even more examples of the use of AI in healthcare IT are presented in this video.
2. Big data and analytics
Advancements in healthcare IT have led to an avalanche-like growth of medical data regarding specific cases and patients. This creates new opportunities for the analysis and comprehensive study of a vast array of medical statistics. New integrated solutions can already collect, process, store and analyze large medical data. The results of this analysis will be used to diagnose, choose treatment plans, and build medical forecasts, while also helping insurance companies to assess their risks.
Tens of thousands of electronic health records (EHRs) are being accumulated in EHR systems. The process of standardizing these records for the purpose of sharing this de-personalized data (which protects patient privacy) among medical organizations and research institutes is underway all over the world. According to the latest data, 94% of hospitals in the US have adopted EHR systems or are in the process of implementation and development. By 2020 a centralized EHR system driven by a directive drafted by the European Commission is expected to be available in Europe.
3. Medical IoT
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) represents a sector-specific application of the global IoT model. When systems are connected by an Internet connection, medical devices can communicate with each other for data exchanges. IoMT solutions can be developed very quickly. Currently, the main area of their application is the monitoring of patient conditions and those who require special medical care. Data on the various parameters of physical conditions are collected using wearable devices and medical sensors and then transmitted to specialized systems that can inform doctors of any critical changes in vital signs. According to forecasts, as early as 2020, about 30 billion IoMT-connected devices are expected to be in use around the world.
Remote monitoring allows doctors to monitor the condition of patients in their homes, and generally in every corner of the globe. For example, you can track medications, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure, and also send reminders and notifications. Even gadgets designed for the mass market are equipped with many medical monitoring options. For example, the new Apple Watch Series 4 has the capability to track a heartbeat, count calories, recognize when someone falls, and so on. Other devices, such as fitness trackers, collect and store medical statistics in specific mobile applications.
Wearable technologies also serve to optimize nosocomial processes. RFID tags allow individuals to track staff activity during the day and adjust some processes in favor of their greater efficiency.
The next evolution in the IoMT will be the use of “smart” pills. The first “smart” pill received the FDA’s approval in 2017. The principle of how a digital ingestion tracking system works is as follows:
Telemedicine technologies cannot necessarily be referred to as innovative breakthroughs, but their implementation is still at its peak. It’s expected that this trend will be long-lasting since there are still many areas in the world where direct medical care is difficult to access. The global market for telemedicine solutions is predicted to reach $113.1 billion by 2025. This market is still dominated by video chats that allow you to remotely contact medical personnel. According to the IHS, in 2018, the number of telemedicine patients in the world was expected to reach 7 million people.
But this is far from being the only possibility of using telemedicine. Ongoing care of chronic diseases can also be delivered via telemedicine, which reduces the required frequency of in-person doctor’s visits. Southwest Medical recently demonstrated a decisive example of telemedicine transition. Its medical service NowClinic provides access to medical consultations 24/7, and the average response time does not exceed 10 minutes. The service is based on a mobile application available for iOS and Android and has already been used by 30,000 people.
5. Virtual Reality (VR) / Augmented Realty (AR) in telemedicine
Virtual and Augmented Reality can be used for more than entertainment purposes. AR and VR are beginning to be used increasingly in the diagnosis and training of medical specialists. The most common areas of their use are:
- Emergency response: Virtual reality systems are being used to quickly look for health information in serious cases and transfer patient data before their arrival at a hospital.
- Prevention and diagnosis: VR / AR systems allow medical professionals to simulate various conditions and manipulate the camera to compare specific cases from practice with information from medical databases, as well as to reproduce potential effects from the prescribed treatment – virtually.
- Surgery: VR can be used for 3D reconstruction of moving bodies. This technology is especially useful when surgeons are forced to work in cramped conditions.
- Education: Virtual and Augmented Reality technologies improve the quality of medical education. Surgeons can practice specific techniques in virtual environments using HoloLens by Microsoft (video)
- Rehabilitation and emotional recovery: clinical studies have shown that using virtual reality helps reduce the use of opioid drugs in severe cases. In some clinics, such as Maplewood Senior Living operating in Westport, Connecticut, VR helmets are used to treat dementia and cognitive disorders.
Finally, we cannot fail to mention blockchain in the list of digital healthcare trends. The use of distributed computing in medicine will help improve the security of a range of solutions, from IoMT to cloud hosting of these systems. Blockchain technology will be used to develop interfaces that protect the exchange of medical data between doctors and organizations, which will preserve the anonymity of the data and maintain compliance with HIPAA and GDPR requirements. In 2017, the American FDA initiated a research project with IBM Watson to learn how this can be implemented in practice.