Over the past 30 or so years, computers and technology have come to shape all aspects of modern society. In particular, the birth of the internet in the early 90s has led to a total transformation of both our work and social lives. Indeed, in the modern age, it’s almost impossible to imagine life without the web, email and streaming technologies.
Just as with all other areas of life, computers and tech have also had a transformative effect on our medical care systems too. Connected devices and powerful software now drive much of the care system, while automation is also becoming increasingly common in care practice. When coupled with emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), the increasing use of nanotechnology, robotics and 3D printing, it’s clear the healthcare system of tomorrow will look very different to that of yesterday.
Technologies to expect in the future of healthcare
Among some media channels there is a growing hysteria that computers are on the verge of taking over the world – the kind of stuff more suited to sci-fi movies of the past. In reality, tech is increasingly merging with the real world, augmenting experiences and automating many of the more mundane and repetitive tasks in our personal and work lives.
While it is true that tech has recently started to reveal many jobs as being surplus to requirements (so-called “pointless jobs”), it is also helping increase productivity, accuracy and profitability across industries. Experts suggest around 30% of the tasks common in 60% of jobs would be better and more accurately performed by software and machines – in turn, freeing up employee time to perform other, more worthwhile duties. As companies begin to identify and isolate duties that can be done more successfully with automation, so they will be more able to streamline operations and assign resources to more productive tasks.
This same approach is being taken across healthcare as a whole as the profession starts to look to technology to address many of the more repetitive tasks involved in care. For example, Chartspan (a Chronic Care Management company) supplies support and software to clients that automates many of the monitoring, compliance and repeat prescription tasks that are an inherent part of the chronic care system.
By relying increasingly on software and machines, healthcare companies are better positioned to get on with the primary job of caring for patients rather than being bogged down with endless paperwork and administrative tasks.
Here are just a few of the ways in which tech and computers are slowly coming to shape the medical care sector of the future:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are already having a huge impact on all areas of our lives. While you might not realize it, almost all of us will have benefitted from AI in some form in recent years – even with relatively basic features like Google Photo’s ability to sort image galleries by faces and subjects to Spotify’s various personalized recommendations and playlists.
AI has the power to completely transform medical care – mostly from a predictive point of view. As medical practitioners gather and record more data about their patients, so they have started to amass vast databases of both patient and illness records. By using supercomputers to analyze and study these records, healthcare professionals in the future will have access to a huge library of patient conditions, allowing them to compare like-for-like illnesses and, potentially, discover new and innovative cures and treatments.
For example, medical research company Atomwise recently used supercomputers to analyze a database of molecular structures in an attempt to find an existing medicine that might have the potential to be redesigned to treat or reduce Ebola infection. After extensive automated searches, they discovered two potential treatments. This kind of work could have taken decades (perhaps even centuries) if performed by a human.
Trackers, sensors and wearables
In many respects, the future of technology and healthcare already exists today – in particular, with the concept of personal wearables and trackers. Paired with a smartphone, these tiny devices are already having a significant impact on our lives with everything from sleep trackers to fitness wristbands and smartwatches.
Prevention is always better than the cure and these devices have the potential to warn users of impending risks (for example, an irregular heartbeat), sending an alert that medical assistance might be required.
The wearables sector is one of the fastest-growing in all of tech, with multiple companies keen to get in on this burgeoning market. As technology and software continue to improve, we will see more and more of these type devices in future – in our shoes, clothing and jewelry, etc.
The growing use of Virtual Reality in medical care
You can tell a technology has the potential to go big when you see so many of the big tech companies so keen to get on board. From Facebook’s Oculus to Microsoft’s HoloLens tech and others, major-name brands are all jumping on the Virtual Reality (VR) bandwagon.
VR promises intriguing prospects for the medical care industry – both from a physician and patient perspective. Medical students learning surgical procedures with VR headsets and software have been found to be 230% more effective and accurate than their traditionally-trained, non-VR counterparts.
From a patient point of view, VR is also being used to treat anxiety and pain – for example, mothers have been found to experience considerably less pain during childbirth when viewing soothing VR landscapes.
How Augmented Reality (AR) is set to become the future of medicine
Many people confuse Augmented Reality (AR) with VR. However, in truth, the two are very different from another for two main reasons:
- AR does not attempt to remove the user from reality
- By keeping the user very much in the real world, AR can include vastly more information about the headset wearer’s surroundings, mostly by way of data overlays, videos and animations.
While we’re still at the very early stages of this exciting tech, there’s little doubt about the impact it could come to have in the future of medical care. AR is already being used with students to help them learn more about anatomy to better prepare for real-life operations while considerable progress is being made in the realms of headsets for surgeons working collaboratively from different locations around the world.