How Technology is Changing Healthcare Delivery
The current pace of technological developments is impacting almost every sector, and healthcare is no different. While technology will never negate the need for human interaction in healthcare, there are several ways that the ongoing digital transformation is fundamentally changing the way that healthcare is managed and delivered. Here are a few of the main trends.
According to a PwC survey, 53% of healthcare execs believe that the industry is ahead of others in terms of AI adoption, which is perhaps unsurprising given the wide range of use cases.
Chatbots are now heavily used for first-line customer support across all verticals, allowing businesses to reduce costs and increase their bottom-line. This is no different for healthcare; in fact, it’s even more critical. At the earliest touchpoints along the digital patient journey, AI-enabled chatbots can offer basic diagnostic support and help speedily connect patients to the right physicians. Hyro is a conversational AI company taking this a step further with its voice-enabled assistants.
It integrates with medical sites to help the patient filter to a physician that meets their needs, allow them to make an appointment in a similar way to if they called the doctor’s office. Using AI in this way makes online healthcare services more accessible, particularly to those users most in need of medical care – for example, seniors, or people with disabilities.
Their conversational interfaces integrate with medical sites, along with other digital channels, to help patients filter to find a physician that meets their needs, allowing them to easily book appointments that saves time and effort in comparison to calling a doctor’s office. While this is just one example, using AI to power patient-company conversations makes healthcare services more accessible across all use cases, particularly to those most in need of medical care, such as senior citizens or people with disabilities.
AI can also be used for more specialist diagnostics, for example, reading X-ray images or MRI scans. KPMG reports that Google’s DeepMind is already more effective than human doctors at diagnosing breast cancer, indicating that it might not be long before physicians rely on machines to do part of their diagnostic work for them.
Big Data & Predictive Analytics
Training AI machines relies on data and lots of it. So another key trend is for the healthcare sector to harness and put to work the vast amount of data it already holds. Part of this means putting antiquated paper-based systems into digital format. The shift to electronic healthcare records (EHR) also brings other benefits, such as better information sharing between medical professionals.
Kaiser Permanente achieved $1bn savings from implementing a fully integrated EHR system for exchanging data across its entire network. However, the savings are more than just financial. The implementation also led to improved outcomes in cardiovascular disease as a result of having the right patient data available at the right time, helping to inform treatment decisions.
The availability of data can also feed predictive analytics, which has considerable implications in the field of public health, helping to predict disease outbreaks and risks of injury. For example, a 2019 study was able to use data about farm vehicle crashes to model the risk of injury or death for specific individuals and scenarios. Komodo Health is one example of a company pioneering in the field of healthcare predictions, having recently secured $50m in investment funding to develop its platform.
Another vast potential source of data to feed AI and predictive analytics comes from the rising trend of wearable tech. Devices like Apple Watch can monitor health parameters such as heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. They can also provide doctors with vital insights into a patient’s lifestyle, such as activity levels or sleep patterns. Somatix is a company producing wearable tech devices that monitor vital signals of senior users, providing insights and forewarnings of incidents to their caregivers.
A 2019 literature review outlines a vast range of studied use cases for wearable tech, from monitoring for stress to helping doctors understand tremor patterns in patients with Parkinson’s disease, to helping with weight loss. However, some critical considerations need to be addressed by the healthcare sector, such as the ethical concerns around collecting and anonymizing data.
Virtual reality can simulate any scenario in a safe and protected environment. This is proving extremely beneficial in the area of training medical professionals, particularly surgeons. For example, Johnson & Johnson are rolling out VR for training surgeons in partnership with Osso VR, a medical VR company that trains over 1,000 surgeons per month via its platform.
In the UK, a pilot program using VR to calm down patients about to go into surgery under local anesthetic has proved successful. Patients were given the choice of using a VR headset that showed them imagery of scenes such as beaches and waterfalls. All patients said that wearing the headset improved their overall hospital experience, while 80% said they felt less pain, and 73% said they felt less anxious.
Supply chain management has proved to be one of the most-adopted use cases of blockchain technology, and it offers significant potential to help reduce counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical supply chain. The World Health Organization estimates that the market for counterfeit drugs is worth $75 billion a year. The human cost of people taking fake or substandard medication is immeasurable.
Now, pharmaceutical firms are turning to blockchain in an attempt to foil the fraudsters. The Mediledger project is sponsored by some of the biggest names in the pharma industry, including Pfizer and Genentech. It will allow anyone in the drug supply chain to authenticate a product, and trace its journey from manufacturer to end-user.
The scenarios listed here are just the tip of the iceberg, and there are many more corners of the healthcare sector likely to be impacted by technological innovation. They illustrate that, far from a future where robots replace doctors, we can look forward to a higher standard of healthcare where medical professionals can spend more time on the activities that bring the most positive healthcare outcomes to their patients.