The digital healthcare market has seen rapid growth in recent years and is only expected to expand. But what exactly is digital healthcare? The definition is broad considering the vast amount of categories it includes, such as mobile health (mHealth), telehealth, health informatics, and eHealth. These categories then bring numerous applications to digital healthcare, which will be narrowed down and focused on here.
Each of the following four trends mentioned below provides significant benefits to patients. Increased access to healthcare, greater affordability, and better patient outcomes are just a few of those benefits.
A massive amount of data is amassed in the field of healthcare. From electronic health records and patient portals to payer records and search engine data, there is a lot of information to be sifted through. Big data applications streamline the process of collecting and synthesizing such copious amounts of information.
The result of big data applications is predictive analytics, which refers to the ability to make informed predictions about the future from data that is collected and organized. In the field of healthcare, predictive analytics allows care to be improved and individualized. The practice can take into account a patient’s medical history, demographic information, and more to then be used to influence administered care. In this way, doctors, nurses, and CNAs alike can benefit from the practice just as much as patients can.
One significant use case for big data applications in patient care is keeping patients healthy. Through wearable devices, for instance, data is collected and may be sent to healthcare providers. These providers can then use information regarding one’s physical activity levels to create a personalized treatment plan. Someone with prediabetes, for example, may want to be monitored in an effort to manage their condition through exercise and healthy eating. Wearable technology allows that to be done with ease and simplicity.
Artificial intelligence enables computers to act in a more “human” way. This is made possible through algorithms that are programmed to catch patterns or discrepancies in data. AI offers a plethora of advantages to patients. What’s more, AI encompasses a range of technologies. Robotics and machine learning are just two types of AI shown to be transforming healthcare. The numerous forms of AI mean a greater ability to innovate healthcare services and improve the overall patient experience.
With its ability to mimic humans, AI can complete tasks usually performed by humans both faster and safer. In healthcare, AI can help with medication management, provide diagnostics, guide population-level disease prevention, and even assist in surgery.
Diagnostics is one area in particular where AI shows a lot of promise. Already we are seeing AI with diagnostic skills on par with human experts. AI technologies are able to interpret medical images through deep learning, a subset of machine learning that uses algorithms to organize information. If AI is to outperform humans when it comes to diagnosing illnesses, we could see quicker testing results, more individualized treatment plans, and better pinpointing of health concerns.
On-demand healthcare connects patients with healthcare services right when they’re needed. Such services can be brought to patients through technology or in-person through home healthcare, depending on an individual patient’s needs. With technology, patients can be connected with a certified healthcare professional in real-time over the phone or via video chat. With home healthcare services, certified healthcare professionals conduct their appointments in the comfort of the patient’s own home.
Services like this are essential to curbing long wait times. According to a 2017 Merrit Hawkins survey, the average time a patient spends waiting to see a physician is 24 days. In some cases, patients can’t go that long without seeing a doctor — and urgent care facilities or emergency room visits can become costly.
On-demand services are disrupting many different industries. While Uber and Lyft transform modern-day taxi services, apps like Instacart and Shipt alter the traditional shopping experience. The transformations in these industries are occurring in a similar fashion to the healthcare realm: through mobile apps. Mobile app technology gives doctors and patients alike quick access to medical records, tests, and other important documents at the touch of a finger. Such an app can be used by doctors to offer instant treatment plans to patients, send out medication reminders, or manage patients’ recovery from a surgery or injury.
Virtual reality, or VR for short, uses computer technology to create a simulated experience. Experiences can be similar to the real world or completely different. While VR may be most associated with video games, it has its use in healthcare as well. Its ability to simulate an environment can greatly help patients who are spending time in the hospital. VR, however, does not only benefit patients. Surgeons can use VR to better perform operations, as well as train medical school residents.
At Stanford University VR is being used to provide surgeons and residents a three-dimensional model of the brain. Patients can see the model too, which some may find to be reassuring during a procedure.
Another example of VR in healthcare has to do with haptic feedback. Also known as kinaesthetic communication or 3D touch, haptic feedback is the use of touch to communicate via technology. Doctors, or more importantly medical school residents, use haptic feedback to enable a realistic training experience. They wear a special headset to mimic performing operations, which of course helps them further down the road when in an actual operating room.
VR, on-demand healthcare, AI, and big data are only a slice of the vast amount of innovations being made in healthcare, and the field will likely continue to grow and see new technological developments designed to improve patient care. New applicants to healthcare positions can increasingly expect to be asked questions about using technology and working with digital tools when applying for jobs, and should accordingly view technological literacy as an essential skill for a successful caregiving career.
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