Guest Column | February 10, 2020

Outlook Of Healthcare Technology

By Vladimir Kuzmenko, NIX United

Crystal-ball-future

As healthcare becomes increasingly complex, the role of technology is evolving to offer new and innovative solutions that allow medical and other practices to better serve their patients. However, as technology evolves and changes, the healthcare industry must also grow and adapt to thrive in a complex and competitive market for patients.

What trends are forward-thinking medical practices embracing in 2020 and beyond? What new systems and technologies are best-placed to keep up in these rapidly-changing areas?

Even more importantly, how will these technologies impact healthcare practices and how can forward-thinking organizations take advantage of these opportunities.

Electronic Health Records

For all the integration issues U.S. healthcare organizations experienced in integrating electronic health records into their practices in the last decade, there has been no more profound change in the practice of healthcare in the U.S. The market for EHRs is expected to continue to grow, perhaps reaching almost $40 billion globally by 2025, according to one report.

These electronic records create opportunities to track and improve patient care and to find new, more efficient treatment methods by incorporating artificial intelligence technologies.

From a management perspective, digitizing and managing this data in a manner that protects privacy and makes it easily accessible to practitioners is a challenge that many systems struggle to meet. Considerable opportunity exists for organizations that understand how to serve the needs of multiple stakeholders.

Blockchain

You may hear the term blockchain and think, “what does cryptocurrency have to do with helping patients?” However, blockchain has evolved and has many more applications than just new forms of currency. For instance, many urgent healthcare issues may be solved by utilizing blockchain, including:

  • Secure health information transfer
  • Health data management
  • Reducing the number of counterfeit medicines on the market

In addition, blockchain technology is being used to discover ways to allow isolated organizations to access information on a secure channel.

Healthcare records must be kept secure, but there are times when access to these records is needed by parties that aren’t a child’s parents or healthcare practitioners. The challenge was to find a secure way to allow an elementary school to view the child’s medical records without storing any of this information on the school’s node.

A Hyperledger fabric was used to create a two-party channel for both the hospital and parents. A physician and the child’s parents sign an agreement about access to the information. The physician can update the information in her organization’s medical records program.

In this instance, the parents applied to a certain elementary school for their child. The school had some routine questions about the child’s health, so a channel was created for the school to have access to a health report. The physician creates the report, which includes information from the medical records. This report then went to the blockchain. The school was granted access to receive the report only after the child’s parents approved its access.

To protect and determine the identity of those accessing the report, a specific certificate is issued, allowing the user ID to be recorded. No third party or any unauthorized individuals can see any of the changes in the child’s medical records made by the physician.

Cognitive Computing

Cognitive computing is a technique for dealing with large volumes of rapidly changing data. It involves self-learning systems using data mining, pattern recognition, natural language, and more to acquire patient and other data in real-time.

This is more than just an algorithm, as cognitive computing can be used to predict disease onset, data patterns, such as a drug’s effects on populations or individuals, to classify populations, and more. Cognitive computing also can be used to combine data from disparate sources to create new methods of understanding a patient’s condition or creating a patient 360° view.

Artificial Intelligence

Using the growth of data types and sources, now we have different kinds of information that can be used or even monetized. Primary goals of AI usage in healthcare, besides usual efficiency increased and reduced costs, are:

  • Early disease diagnosis
  • Workforce management
  • Medical and drug research

Internet Of Medical Things

Medical devices and applications connected to healthcare IT systems via the web comprise the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). Wi-Fi-enabled devices facilitate machine-to-machine communication and link to cloud platforms for data storage. This might involve devices such as fitness trackers, smartwatches, and smart sensors.

These devices may help healthcare practitioners improve treatment and even diagnose some diseases in their early stages. However, security is an important issue with these applications, particularly as these may involve patient data.

Telehealth

Telehealth is one of such technologies, that allow to care and treat people without direct presence. Some of the most useful applications of telehealth are in helping practitioners monitor patients remotely, particularly those with chronic health conditions, prescription compliance, oral healthcare monitoring, and store and forward care, which is the sharing of patient information securely with other practitioners.

Database Management

In a linked healthcare system, keeping a database accurate and up to date is a challenge organizations must embrace to allow them to serve their clients.

Particularly in pharmaceutical research, the need for information is crucial as there are medical, legal, and financial implications at every stage. The Thomson Reuters company was struggling to integrate their scientific, healthcare, and financial information databases into a unified system that would benefit their pharmaceutical clients. The challenge was to not only find a way to integrate the databases but to find a way to allow Thomson Reuters' internal staff to add information in a way that was intuitive and fast.

In this instance, architectural analysis of the existing system revealed several weak points, which were revised and a new method to upload data was developed. This meant it was easier for staff to add data and made for a more attractive service for clients.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is in the early practical stages of impacting healthcare. This technology allows surgeons and dentists, for example, to practice procedures and techniques without the need for live patients. Nurses may also benefit from VR training for CPR education.

But the benefits are not limited to practitioners. Patients can use VR to understand a surgery that is to be performed and the rehab needed. It may also have a role in pregnancy education for parents.

Among the other applications of VR are for both mental health and physical therapy, phantom limb treatments, brain damage rehabilitation, PTSD treatments, and chronic condition therapies.

These are only some of the advances inspiring healthcare practitioners, organizations, and businesses to better serve patients. Innovation remains the driving force behind healthcare advances and inspired companies will find new ways to benefit their clients in 2020 and beyond.

About The Author

Vladimir Kuzmenko is vice president of business development for NIX United.