You could argue that healthcare is one of the final frontiers to experience the age of digitalization. This highly regulated industry is notorious for being slow in adopting new trends and often bogged down in tight regulations. However, with the rapid rise of technology, hospitals and health systems are beginning to integrate modern solutions to traditional medical practices. Recently, technical innovations have influenced every pillar of healthcare from robot-assisted surgery to fraud detection and administrative workflows, but the most noticeable from a consumer standpoint is patient centered care.
Care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values.
The Institute of Medicine has identified patient-centered care as crucial to quality health care and defines it as “care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values.” Modern patients are more informed than ever about their own health and equipped with new technology to accurately track every data point about their own well being. A recent report finds that global demand for patient-centered home healthcare was valued at $228 billion in 2015, with expected growth to generate $391 billion by 2021. As a result, patients are expecting a new level of high-quality medicine, making a culture of patient-centered care imperative to both providers and patients.
Benefits of Patient-Centered Care
So, why should patient-centered care be at the forefront of modern healthcare?
A medical environment that encourages consistent collaboration and clear communication between patients, families, and providers will benefit all parties involved. When patients are given the opportunity to have easy access to their own health data and the power to research, they can make informed decisions about their own treatment options. This results in both improved outcomes and patient experience. Healthcare providers also have an opportunity to optimize and streamline internal processes, therefore reducing costs and better allocating resources.
As such an essential pillar to modern healthcare, providers are looking to new technologies and disruptive, consumer-facing services to improve patient-centered care in their practices.
Examples of Patient Care Technology in Healthcare
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is at the forefront of innovation in healthcare and is growing immensely to save human lives. By 2026, AI technologies in healthcare are predicted to create $150 billion in annual savings. With these numbers, naturally, insurers and venture funds are investing millions of dollars; venture funds such as UnitedHealth Group Optum Ventures created a $250 million dollar fund to invest in artificial intelligence ventures. As a result, health AI startups are exponentially increasing as the market is set to register a compound annual growth rate of 40% through 2021.
The healthcare market is quickly realizing how the benefits of AI can immensely outweigh the risks. The ways it impacts healthcare are endless. Currently, the top three successful applications taking the market at the moment are robot-assisted surgery, virtual nursing assistants, and administrative workflow assistant.
Artificial Intelligence uses image-based algorithms to create a new generation of radiology tools for problems like tumors. Image-based artificial intelligence has partnered up with the new generation “selfie.” Patients take photos of their faces, so opthamologists, dermatologists, and developmental disease doctors can diagnose their patients.
The use of AI has also led to predictive patient data analysis. AI can use health record data to identify infection patterns and highlight at risk patients. AI can predict how cancer might change in the human body and create different therapies and treatments for cancer unique to a patient’s genetic makeup. Through the use of these artificial intelligence algorithms, we are able to gather valuable information on population health and change the future.
Telehealth and Telemedicine
Telemedicine has made it possible for patients to use telemedical devices to receive home care and support using various applications and video telephony. With this technology, patients can consult with specialists anywhere in the world. The global telemedicine market size was valued at $24.9 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $113.1 billion by 2025. It is quickly becoming an essential part of the healthcare industry.
Telemedicine allows health care professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients at a distance using telecommunications technology. The approach has been through a striking evolution in the last decade. The expectation for more convenient care, combined with the unavailability of many overburdened medical professionals (especially primary care providers) have made telemedicine an increasingly important part of the American healthcare infrastructure.
First established in 2012, digital therapeutics uses digital tools to create treatments and programs that complement or replace clinical drugs. It can be defined as a medical intervention that primarily uses software technology to have a direct, positive impact on the disease. Leveraging the features of the smartphone, other smart devices, and the benefits of technology, digital therapeutics can address issues that are poorly addressed by the healthcare system today, and deliver cheaper and more valuable outcomes.
Digital therapeutics uses digital tools to create treatments and programs that complement or replace clinical drugs.
Smartphones and wearable devices have the power to collect continuous, non-invasive data about the user’s health. Activity count, patterns of texts and calls, heartbeat, and screen time on phone are various data points that can give providers and researchers key insights about a user’s profile outside of the infrequent clinical checkups and visits at the doctor’s. This enables remote patient monitoring and stronger patient engagement.
Digital therapeutics are able to supplement and provide alternatives to traditional drug treatments with the use of digital tools such as telemedicine, wearables, smart gadgets, cognitive behavioral therapy, AI, and even AR/VR. Some digital therapies even have the potential to completely replace conventional medicine. There is huge potential in the healthcare industry to widely adopt digital therapeutics as an integral part of modern medicine.
In treating chronic illness diseases for example, the end user (physician, therapist, coach) can monitor the patient’s activity and steps taken. In treating mental illness such as depression, metrics such as patterns of incoming or outgoing texts and calls and sleep patterns can help the therapist measure the patient’s progress in engaging with daily life activities and having a strong social support group.
Combined with AI and machine learning, digital therapeutics programs can create predictive analytics tools in behavioral change programs for mental illness, chronic illness, and lifestyle habits. Algorithms can collect the user’s data and analyze it to identify and target at-risk populations for particular diseases. In creating habit feedback loop changes, the algorithm can then predict triggers and create effective interventions to help the user change their behavior.
As awareness and movements over gender inequalities progress, a new female health technology market has risen more simply known as the “Femtech” market. With more than 50% of the world’s population being female, efficient female healthcare is an urgent necessity. Femtech introduces new emerging technology such as tracking wearables, artificial intelligence, apps, and noninvasive hardware to bring awareness to female health.
Recently, Femtech has largely benefitted from general healthcare markets such as personalized wellness and consumer health technology as it has been the top 5 investment area in digital health. $200 billion dollars has been spent within Femtech already, which pales in comparison to the economic burden for women’s disease is more than $500 billion. Yet, this difference shows the space for incredible growth. In fact, Femtech has accumulated only $1 billion in funding between 2015 and 2018. The niche sector is on its way to be the next biggest disruptive market in healthcare in the next few years.
Augmented Reality (AR)
AR is one of the latest innovations taking route into various markets which include gaming, automotive, retail, and even medicine. In healthcare use cases, AR devices and apps help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety in older people and patients with mental illnesses and can also help people with their postoperative recovery process. The augmented reality now helps surgeons and their teams perform complex operations. Virtual and augmented reality devices can also help improve health and fitness outcomes among patients.
The application of augmented reality technology is opening up new opportunities in the healthcare industry. It’s expected that by the year 2020, the global market will reach a value of $1.5 billion. New AR innovations can help enhance doctors and surgeons ability to diagnose, treat, and perform surgery on their patients more accurately by giving them access to real-time data and patient information faster, and more precisely than ever before.
By the year 2020, the global market for AR in health will reach a value of $1.5 billion.
AR can also bring huge value to practicing medicine and education by allowing students and trainee physicians to better visualize health issues and scenarios that they one day will be treating. The benefit that AR can bring to the healthcare industry can be groundbreaking and we are just witnessing the beginning of what is to come from AR in the field of medicine.
As data access technologies are already very advanced, the next step is to provide real-time, life-saving patient information to surgeons which they can use during simple or complex procedures. Augmented reality will allow surgeons to precisely study their patients’ anatomy by entering their MRI data and CT scans into an AR headset and overlay specific patient anatomy on top of their body before actually going into surgery. Surgeons will be able to visualize bones, muscles, and internal organs without even having to cut open a body. This could also help them determine exactly where to make injections and incisions and it could be used to display life-saving information for paramedics and first responders during a medical emergency. AR can not only be used to perform accurate and low-risk surgeries, but it can also help surgeons save time in the case of an emergency surgery. Instead of searching among papers or through electronic medical records, surgeons can have access to all of that information on their AR screen within seconds.
Augmented reality also makes it possible for doctors to better determine their patients’ symptoms and accurately diagnose them. Often times patients struggle to accurately describe their symptoms to doctors, but with AR, patients can describe their symptoms better. For example, when patients come to the doctor’s for a basic shot, nurses can use AR to find veins easier. AccuVein is an AR startup that uses a handheld scanner which then projects over skin and helps nurses determine where veins are.
Digital Mental Health
We spend up to eleven hours a day looking at screens, whether it’s our smartphones, laptops, or other smart device. The data that we are able to collect from these devices is powerful for improved treatment and prediction. Technology can reverse the harm it caused, and enable mental healthcare to be delivered and accessed in a way we couldn’t before. By using digital devices such as mobile phones, wearables, and VR, healthtech companies are innovating ways to improve mental health with technology.
Mobiles phones have enabled tele-therapy and telemedicine to optimize care delivery. Patients can now access therapy in the comfort and privacy of their home, office, or school. This tackles the problem of stigma in school and in the workplace, and enables users to comfortably access the care they want. Often, these telemedicine startups also incorporate a peer community aspect or a feature to directly speak to licensed professionals via a chat or video system.
Wearables can track basic metrics such as heart rate and breathing for detecting stress and anxiety levels and milder levels of mental illness. They can be very powerful to collect data that may serve as biomarkers for the onset of a disease or a symptom of one. This is powerful for prevention and screening and detecting at-risk populations as care providers can reach them before they start to deteriorate and treatment becomes more difficult.
VR can be used effectively to treat and alleviate milder forms of mental health issues, such as conquering phobias. It can also help with meditation and stress by building immersive environments, and using detection to treat anxiety and other more severe behavioral issues as well. VR is effective for cognitive behavioral therapy because everything the patient tries and experiences in a virtual environment can be tracked. Thus, therapists can gradually and artificially expose the patients to anxiety-inducing situations in a reproducible and controllable way, in amounts which they can safely determine and tweak.
It is evident that the role of technology in healthcare is bound to grow exponentially in the time to come. There is a lot of excitement in this industry and as we look ahead to the future, it is certain that the digital age will have a positive impact on patient care technology.
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