Innovations in digital healthcare technologies are significantly changing the way healthcare providers deliver services to patients. Healthcare businesses are now able to address several key industry challenges, including improving healthcare accessibility and revolutionizing drug development. Here’s how three of the latest technologies are shaping the future of healthcare.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is redefining the field of healthcare and all its functions by simplifying the analysis of complex medical data. With AI algorithms and software, healthcare professionals can fast-track medical records processing, treatment planning, and drug development, among other laborious tasks.
When the Ebola virus disease ravaged three nations in West Africa, Atomwise partnered with the University of Toronto and IBM to find a treatment for the virus. The drug discovery company applied AI to a complete database of existing drugs and their side effects to look for one that could be repurposed. The AI tech was able to predict two that could significantly reduce the Ebola virus’s infectivity.
More recently, Google’s DeepMind developed an AI tool capable of spotting breast cancer with as much accuracy as a human radiologist. Google Health and researchers from Imperial College London “trained” a computer to detect abnormalities on nearly 29,000 mammograms of women. The AI then outperformed six human radiologists in a screening trial, suggesting the tool’s potential to improve breast cancer diagnosis at an early stage.
The use of AI is also permeating the pharmaceutical industry, with companies using AI technologies to discover new drug candidates and novel therapeutic solutions. These are only a few of the many instances of companies using AI to automate and expedite highly elaborate processes and ultimately improve the delivery of healthcare solutions.
Augmented reality and virtual reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are immersive technologies that allow users to take in information and content visually. While AR pertains to the use of cameras, sensors, and displays to superimpose digital and real-world elements, VR lets users experience and explore entirely simulated environments.
New AR technologies help doctors and surgeons diagnose, treat, and perform surgery on their patients more precisely by providing them with access to real-time data and patient information. For instance, medical practitioners at Imperial College and St. Mary’s Hospital in London are using Microsoft’s HoloLens AR glasses during reconstructive surgery on patients with severe injuries.
Traditionally, surgeons located major blood vessels near wounds using a handheld scanner. With HoloLens, they can overlay 3D digital models of a patient's CT scans onto their body parts during surgery to spot key blood vessels, bones, and muscles.
Meanwhile, a recent Harvard Business Review study found that surgeons who have undergone VR-based training performed 230% better compared to their traditionally trained counterparts. In the study, the VR-trained participants finished a surgical procedure 20% faster and completed 38% more steps correctly.
Medical institutions are also using AR/VR technologies to provide students and trainees with hands-on learning experiences, enabling them to better visualize diverse health issues and scenarios. Using immersive technologies can help them accurately learn and practice procedures without the risk of harming real patients if they make mistakes. What's more, these can allow educators to constantly monitor and give feedback to their students during their education.
Nanotechnology is the field of research and innovation concerned with the creation of materials and devices on an extremely small scale. Advancements in this field can pave the way for more effective treatments, rapid diagnosis of diseases, and easier delivery of vaccines through aerosols and patches.
As early as 2014, researchers from the Max Planck Institute designed micro-robots that can swim through bodily fluids and potentially be used to deliver drugs or other medical relief precisely to a target location.
In 2018, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women's Hospital designed an electronic pill that can be controlled via Bluetooth. The ingestible capsules can be customized to dispatch medicine and transmit diagnostic information back to a smartphone.
More recently, medical technology company Grapheal developed a wearable patch that can help chronic wounds heal more quickly using electrostimulation. This patch would also allow healthcare providers to remotely monitor the condition of a wound using biosensors, or devices that send out signals when they detect the presence or concentration of a specific biological substance.
Future technological innovations are bound to transform the healthcare industry, and it's our job to make sure it does so for the better.
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