The last two decades have witnessed significant advances in technology, transforming almost every aspect of life, from the way we buy groceries to the way we do business or manage our health. The technological impact is not just restricted to advances in medicine, but also in terms of our approach to health as individuals and as a society. For health care providers, the digitization of patient records and consolidation of real-time patient data has enabled them to work more efficiently to provide accurate diagnoses and increasingly personalized care. For the general public, technological advancements have helped transform a more passive approach to health and wellness into one that is proactive. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most striking changes considering the technological impact on patient behavior, treatment outcomes, and the technologies themselves.
It’s probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the impact of technology on health care, so let’s address the elephant in the room before we go any further. Wearable gadgets and mobile apps have given consumers the ability to track and monitor various parameters of health, including diet and fitness. While not all technology is uniformly reliable, this is the first step in getting people to make healthier choices, whether simply eating better, sleeping better, cutting back on stress, or exercising. At best, this allows individuals to improve their health before needing to consult a specialist, and at the very least, it raises awareness, making you more conscious of your health.
Wearable technology and mobile apps have also made it easier for health care providers to track vital information, allowing them to make better decisions much more efficiently. With small devices that measure specific health data, such as heart rate or blood sugar levels, doctors can monitor medical data without the need for patients to come in for visits. For many chronic conditions and lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, timely intervention can make all the difference in patient outcomes, making these advances particularly valuable.
While wearable technology and apps are no substitute for medical care and we need stricter regulations in the space, in the long term, they offer tremendous potential for lowering health care costs. A large part of the financial burden is connected to the cost of clinical services that rely on expensive equipment. The introduction of smaller and relatively inexpensive devices that can be used both at home and in labs, offers patients not just convenience, but cost saving benefits.
Connecting and communicating effectively with healthcare providers has often been problematic because of their busy schedules and very often because of the poor doctor to patient ratio, especially in rural areas. This is particularly true, when we look at the availability and distribution of specialized doctors like oncologists, neurosurgeons, and so on. Developments in communication technology have helped alleviate this problem to some extent, as patients can now video conference or use other methods of electronic communication or networking to consult with specialists remotely.
Facebook’s ‘misadventures’ may have turned the term big data into something that we perceive almost negatively, but in the health care context the implications are very different. As computers help to gather, organize, and store data on patients, health conditions, diagnostics, and treatment outcomes, it becomes easier to analyze and widen our understanding of those diseases, the effectiveness of treatments, and potential health risks with higher levels of accuracy. While the benefits of big data are most obvious to epidemiologists, the implications are much wider for medical science as a whole because big data is a major driver for innovation.
You probably don’t need to worry about robots taking over the world at large, but they will take over the world of medicine and that’s a good thing. A number of health tech companies are working on advanced computers and apps that will allow users to get medical advice at their fingertips, with AI having the ability to learn over time, improving both diagnostics and treatment recommendations as more data is gathered.
AR And VR
Virtual reality and augmented reality technology are likely to play an increasingly significant role in health care of the future. Virtual reality is already being used to improve the quality of life in patients suffering from conditions like chronic pain, autism, and lazy eye, among others. On the other hand, augmented reality helps improve medical and surgical training, allowing specialists to prepare for real world situations in a safe environment.
Back in 2003, the Human Genome Project took around 13 years to complete and cost the US government close to $3 billion. Today, genetic testing is a lot more accessible and in the near future could even cost as little as a general blood test. The existing technology is already helping doctors and patients make more informed decisions based on measurable risks.
Nanotechnology is another area that’s going to play an even greater role in health care over the coming years. The potential for using nanotechnology in cancer treatment, surgery, and drug treatments is already being explored, but we’ve just touched the surface. Researchers are already working on micro-sized robots that can navigate through bodily fluids to deliver targeted drugs or administer other medical treatments.
The impact of 3D printing has been felt in various markets, even causing panic for some. For the health care sector, it offers plenty of benefits, promising to lower costs and drive greater innovation. Health care providers can now use the technology to inexpensively create synthetic skin, prosthetics, and implants. The technology also allows us to create realistic replicas or models for simulation, to allow surgeons to try out complex procedures before actually attempting the surgery.
Ultimately, there are limitations to technology and there is no substitute for personal medical care or the doctor patient relationship. However, existing technology has played a significant role in raising health care awareness, improving preventive care, lowering medical costs, and encouraging innovations that improve treatment outcomes and quality of life.