This century’s greatest challenge, COVID-19 and its 216 million global cases so far, has added urgency to the development and implementation of lifesaving new health technologies. Accelerated interest in digital healthcare solutions is expanding use cases with proven effectiveness, usability, and reliability in both clinical and service-delivery contexts. But which emerging technologies are most relevant now, and which most likely to shape the future of healthcare systems?
The pandemic put focus on the importance of healthcare professionals being able to predict and prepare for crises. Predictive analytics technology has been around for some time, but now interest is driven by spikes in hospital admissions and a shortage of drugs and medical equipment. Predictive tools, such as the Covid Hotspotting Score that brings together indicators to predict the possibility of a COVID-19 surge, are becoming vital to calculate the risk of infectious diseases. For individuals, predictive tools can use indicators such as age, race, gender, medical history, and medications to assess the risk not only for infection but for various health conditions. Beyond predicting crises and individual needs, these tools are essential to managing resources, from medical personnel to equipment and drugs dispatch.
The need for social distancing has transformed the way healthcare companies and staff interact with patients. Healthcare institutions are putting value on the digital experience to minimize physical interaction and providing a “digital front door” to access the healthcare system.
Many healthcare institutions have developed their own mobile app to reduce the need for trips to the clinic to set appointments and for health consultations. Aside from mobile apps, more healthcare providers have fine-tuned their websites to provide more functionality for patients, such as scheduling and telehealth options, and increased access records and health education.
No discussion about digital transformation in the healthcare industry is complete without covering artificial intelligence (AI), an area that is seeing rapid adaptation and growth. The current value of the AI healthcare market is estimated at $6.6 billion (up from only $600 Million in 2014). As Forbes pointed out this year, “with the global AI in healthcare market size expected to grow from just under $5 billion in 2020 to $45.2 billion by 2026, the investments and recent use cases for this technology are proof that AI is here to stay.”
Radiology departments have been early adopters of AI, with AI-driven medical imaging used to flag acute abnormalities as they enter the workflow, and its application in stroke care, and interventional neuroradiology now proven. An advantage of AI implementation both during and after the pandemic is that it can mitigate risks, especially in perceived, preventable medical scenarios. It can be used to provide automated reminders to patients to take medications, and to identify people at high risk so that timely medical interventions can be delivered. It could even be used to make personalized dosage recommendations based on an individual’s unique body chemistry and various environmental factors.
Delivering quality and personalized patient care is at the heart of the digital transformation in healthcare during and after the pandemic. The use of chatbots has accelerated in an effort to address patient needs in real-time, so they can access information when they need it.
Chatbots can also be used to educate patients with essential information and so combat misinformation, just as the CDC did when they launched a chatbot tool using Microsoft technology and AI during the height of the pandemic. Their chatbot made it easy for recovered Covid patients to maintain communication with the CDC about the possibility of donating plasma, a potential treatment for the disease.
Like AI, wearable technology is widely used in the healthcare industry. During the pandemic the use of wearable devices that provide real-time patient care insights spiked, along with a general increase in the demand for remote monitoring platforms. These are often used for monitoring patients who no longer need of hospitalization and, with wearables tracking vital functions and symptoms in real-time. Sensors provide accurate, data-driven insights, which can be directly uploaded to a patient’s dashboard. With the value of remote health monitoring established, the use of wearable devices such as Fitbit and other health sensors is expected to continue, pandemic or not.
The need for higher-quality patient care has been obvious during the pandemic when healthcare systems and institutions have struggled with capacity worldwide. Providers are looking for ways to analyze patient feedback and compare it with data-driven insights using operational and clinical data. According to health care industry experts, this business intelligence is the key to providing better patient care and tailoring services to meet patients’ needs.
On the operational side, data-driven insights help healthcare professionals and institutions to optimize supply chain, coordinate staff schedules, and develop new production methods for flexible manufacturing of medical equipment at scale.
Reducing in-person contact in healthcare seemed counterintuitive in view of the industry’s efforts to provide personalized care to patients. But if there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it’s that this is essential if healthcare workers and patients are to be protected.
Robotics is a plausible solution that meets patient needs without sacrificing their care. Robotic technology has already seen application in various healthcare institutions, but it will grow in future. Robots can be utilized to perform routine tasks, such as delivering food and medicine to patients, changing linens, and so on. That way, medical staff such as nurses can deliver care to patients where it really matters.
The goal is a world where healthcare is more effective, more widely accessible, and more affordable. Where emerging technologies in AI, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things align with healthcare providers to provide patient-centric care, this starts to look like a real possibility.