Technology is providing ever-smarter ways to do things, and professionals in healthcare are just as keen to find uses for it as those in industry. A catalyst for this is the demands put on the healthcare system by a growing population and rising life expectancies. To maintain standards of care and improve outcomes for patients, hospitals and medical centers need to adopt new technologies that enable them to work more efficiently and effectively. In this article, we’ll look at four technologies that are bringing some of the biggest advances in healthcare: artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), computer-assisted imaging and radio frequency identification (RFID).
Developments in cloud technology mean that organizations can now deploy artificial intelligence applications very rapidly and back this up with almost unlimited storage and processing capacity. This ease of access, combined with enormous processing power, makes AI the ideal tool to carry out large-scale operations, at speed, whilst freeing up hospital staff for other work. It can, for example, analyze millions of pathology samples far quicker than humans, helping to reduce diagnosis times and discover previously unnoticed patterns that can lead to medical breakthroughs.
In this sense, AI is paving the way towards the virtual doctor. An early example of this is ‘doc.ai’ an app being developed to interpret lab results. Doc.ai is being created to understand blood test results and to report these directly to patients via an online app. It does this using natural language processing so that its explanations are easier for patients to understand. However, if the patient responds that they don’t understand, the app knows to refer them to a real practitioner.
AI is also being employed as a medical virtual assistant tool. One such app, Nuance’s Dragon Medical Virtual Assistant is already in use, helping over 500,000 medical professionals improve their workflows. The app’s AI technology provides text-to-speech, voice recognition, voice biometrics, electronic health record integration, and strategic health IT relationships.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is enabling devices to be linked to the internet for such purposes as remote control, location tracking and data collection. This makes the IoT a highly valuable resource for healthcare. For example, the pharmaceutical company, Roche, is currently developing an IoT sensor which, when implanted under the skin of someone with diabetes, can remotely monitor their blood sugar levels. If these levels get too high or low, an app on the patient’s smartphone sends them a notification so that they can take immediate action.
Similar developments include a Bluetooth device which protects against blood clots by checking how quickly a patient’s blood coagulates and an IoT connected inhaler for COPD sufferers. Many more devices are being used too and others are in the pipeline. The IoT is helping to bring around real change in healthcare: onerous tasks, such as recording pulse rates or temperature, that take up much of a clinician’s time can now be automated, freeing them up for more important work.
Another area where technology is bringing advancement is the use of computer-assisted imaging in plastic surgery. Digital imaging gives cosmetic surgeons a far better view of a patient’s craniofacial structure, leading to improved outcomes for patients who need to undergo cosmetic and reconstructive operations. Surgeons are frequently using computer imaging to help with procedures to correct skull and facial deformities.
Many of these procedures are carried out on young children to prevent their condition causing further medical or psychological issues as they grow. However, the size of the child makes the procedure more difficult and if the operation is not carried out as planned, this can make the condition even worse. Computer-assisted imaging has helped overcome these challenges, enabling cosmetic surgeons to perform procedures with far more accuracy, thus making long-term outcomes far more positive for the patient.
Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)
RFID is an amazing technology when it comes to tracking and during 2018 you can expect to see it being used far more widely in healthcare. For example, by replacing barcodes on medicines with RFID tags and installing shelf antennas, hospitals can automate their drug inventory tracking and have a real-time, accurate understanding of what’s in stock. Not only can this save lives, it can reduce the time needed to check stock and give pharmacists a better overview of the medicines being used.
Besides tracking drugs, RFID can be used to track equipment and staff. If a doctor is needed, they can be found easily because an RFID tag worn on a wristband, like those available from Universal Smart Cards, can record where they are on the premises. Similarly, staff looking for the nearest portable scanner or wheelchair will be able to find where the nearest one is located if it has been tagged.
it is also possible for RFID wristbands to store data that enables staff to access patients’ records. While the patient records themselves are not stored on the wristband, the identification data it does store means that, in the case of emergencies, any doctor can have the necessary information available to treat the patient.
The wonders of 21st-century technology are revolutionizing healthcare. 2018 will see artificial intelligence used to test samples and analyze results, it will bring a growth in the use of IoT devices, increased accuracy of surgery through computer-assisted imaging and far better control and management of resources through RFID.