It is no secret that technology and the health industry have gone hand in hand for many years. Many experts have worked towards using technology to create better care for patients. With the help of these advanced in the pharmaceutical field, millions of lives have been saved and the quality of life of many others have been drastically improved.
With constant advancements, technology in the health industry of health tech has quickly gained a lot of popularity. According to the Transparency Market Research (TMR), the growth in this industry is expected to rise at a CAGR of 13.4% between 2017 and 2025. This means that by the end of 2025, the industry will be worth a whopping $536.6 billion.
But, what is health tech and what’s the hype about, anyway?
What is Health Tech
Referred to as health tech, health technology and sometimes even digital health, this industry includes any type of technology used to improve the user experience, in terms of treatment, payment or even regular check-ups. The World Health Organization defines this industry as, “A health technology is the application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures, and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve the quality of lives”.
However, creating an accurate definition of the health tech industry at this point is difficult as the sector has endless possibilities. With the emergence of new technology, that includes databases, applications, mobiles, wearables, etc., narrowing down what this industry should entail is close to impossible.
Hence, sub-sectors in this industry are commonly used. Some of these include hospitals, insurance, consumer services, pharmaceuticals, and the government.
Why Is Health Tech Important?
Consumers and businesses alike are realizing the potential of technology in the health industry. The latest study conducted by Online Medical Care studied how acceptable are consumers to virtual health care. They found that 80% of the respondents have either already had a virtual visit, or are willing to try the virtual experience. The same study also showed that if all patients chose virtual health care of face-to-face visits, the US health care system could save up to $7 billion annually. Moreover, this would also mean that the time of 37,000 doctors will be available to attend to patients that require more personal attention.
So yes, health tech is crucial for all of mankind, especially with the increasing population and depleting resources.
With advancements like Nanomedicine, Virtual Reality, 3D Printing, and even Robo-Assisted Surgery, the health industry is all about new innovations that can help improve the sector.
The Top 5 Advancements of the Health Industry:
Artificial intelligence is making its mark in almost all industries, and health tech is no different. Making a dramatic entrance in the industry, a report published by Accenture estimates AI to make an annual growth of 40% by 2021 in the health industry. As of today, AI has helped patients schedule appointments based on their symptoms, thereby nullifying the need to make an unnecessary visit. It has also helped inform homecare assistants about their patient’s evolution, thus helping to identify any irregularities as soon as possible.
For future predictions, the top three most likely projects to make a breakthrough in the health industry are:
Virtual Nursing Assistants:
A virtual nursing assistant is basically used to offer a personalized experience to patients. The main use of these AI-powered assistants is to help patients identify their illness based on the symptoms. They are also used to monitor the health status of the patients, as well as schedule doctor appointments for their patients.
Just like the entirety of the health tech industry, virtual nursing assistants too are extremely new to the industry. As the popularity of this application increases, its functionalities and uses will increase too, depending on consumer demand.
Robotic surgeries have already been introduced in the health industry. However, its use is currently restricted to only minimally invasive procedures. Currently, while a surgeon is performing complex procedures during surgery, robots help in precision, control, and flexibility. Scientists hope that these robots, along with augmented reality, will help surgeons view important information of the patient in real-time while conducting the operation. There have been concerns raised that eventually replace human surgeons, however, in the near future, it is likely that robots will only be used to enhance surgeons’ work.
Administrative Workflow Assistance
Artificial intelligence is not just helping enhance the treatment process in the health industry, but also is making costly back-office processes more efficient. According to the NCBI, 51% of a nurse’s workload and 16% of a physician’s activities have nothing to do with patient care. With the help of AI, the administrative workflow is becoming more efficient, as time-consuming and costly activities that are not related to patient care are being eliminated. It is estimated that by using AI technologies to make back-office activities like writing chart notes, filling prescriptions and ordering tests more efficient, the industry could save up to $18 billion annually.
Blockchain technology is generally associated with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. However, this technology has made its way to the health sector too.
What is Blockchain?
Simply put, an independent database that coexists in multiple locations and is shared by a community is referred to as a blockchain. Typically, blockchains are transparent and permanent, which is why its referred to as a mutual distributed ledger (MDL), instead of a single client-server database.
Why is Blockchain Needed in Healthcare?
Did you know, there are currently 26 different electronic medical records systems used only in the city of Boston? Each of these systems has its own language for representing and sharing data. This results in critical information being scattered across multiple health facilities, ultimately leading to the loss of the information. What’s worse, this information is not available to patients or doctors when required the most.
The CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston says, “this problem plays out every day around the U.S., often costing a lot of money, sometimes even lives. But, it looks like this is a problem that is tailor-made for blockchain to solve”.
How Blockchain Can Solve the Problem?
Today, blockchain is seen as a way to efficiently share medical records, in a secure manner, by multiple technologists and health-care professionals. Blockchain will provide a platform that will protect sensitive data from hackers and give patients more control over their data. But, how will it work?
If such a blockchain is created, every prescription created by a doctor will be added to a blockchain, after seeking approval from the patient. This blockchain will essentially be a decentralized digital ledger, similar to the one that exists for Bitcoin. Accessible to anyone who is using the software, this database would record critical medical information. This will help make the information incorruptible and will be maintained by a network of computers. Hence, regardless of which electronic system a doctor is using, every prescription given to the patient will be added to the patient’s record.
However, unlike AI, this technology is not likely to be introduced anytime soon. Before an industry-wide revolution can be made, a new technical infrastructure, essentially a custom-made healthcare blockchain, needs to be created. According to Emily Vaughn, head of accounts at Gem, “this system is only just starting to be worked out”.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Stephen Westaby said he believed that heart transplants won’t exist in the next 10 years, except for people with congenital heart damage, where only a new heart will do. He believes that recent technological developments in medicine offer alternatives that could potentially save time, money and lives. One such alternative is artificial organs.
Currently, the creation of artificial organs can only be done using two techniques, as given below:
While being controversial, stem cells have demonstrated continuous potential in revolutionizing the health industry. Currently, the stem calls application is limited, more so due to ethical considerations, than scientific limitations. However, certain studies have proven that it is possible to grow artificial organs in a lab, which can then be implanted in a person.
Yes, 3D printing is not just limited to replicating materials. However, when this technology is used in the medical industry, it is referred to as 3D bioprinting. This technology is not new to the health industry, with remarkable achievements already credited to its name. To this day, scientists have successfully replicated multiple organs like the thyroid gland. This technology has also successfully completed a tibia replacement, which was conducted on a live patient. Another achievement to its name is creating a patch of heart cells that actually beat! We can surely expect many more achievements by this technique with multiple institutions dedicated to advancing 3D bioprinting techniques.
Closely related to the idea of preventive medicine, predictive analytics is used to identify patients that are prone to developing chronic conditions as early as possible. The technology uses patient data and genetic factors to identify dangerous conditions like cancer.
This technology is extremely crucial for the development of the health industry. Providing treatment to the patient as early as possible results in minimizing the possibility of the patient suffering from any long-term health problems. Hence, known for its contribution to population health management, predictive analysis can be useful to identify risks that may result in 30-day hospital readmissions. This can help hospitals take precautionary measures, thereby reducing readmission costs and further deterioration of conditions like chronic kidney disease.
Besides this, predictive analysis is also great for aiding diagnostics and elective processes.
Predictive analysis is all about analyzing data and conducting relevant tests. The result of these tests can be used effectively to identify what conduction a patient is potentially suffering from. Due to the high number of tests being conducted, the combination of symptoms, results, and observations can lead to a potential diagnosis. This can help doctors refrain from the approach of “not knowing or “it could be this” and resort to data-driven information.
Besides assisting with chronic diseases, predictive analysis can be extremely useful in elective processes like physician-assisted weight loss. In such cases, with the use of patient information like age, race, gender, BMI, etc., effective exercise and diet plans, along with assistive medications can be provided. Due to this additional information, the possibility of efficient weight loss is much higher. This data can be collected with techniques like wearable health monitoring tools, which popular EMRs or Personal Health records.
This technique is extremely useful for elective processes like weight loss, as individuals prefer to see results almost immediately. Hence, by providing plans backed by data, and are more likely to be effective can result in client satisfaction.
Scientists and experts have been trying to crack gene-editing technology for quite a while now. The Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) is the closest they have come till date. Ever since mankind has mapped the human genome, the CRISPR is the most exciting breakthrough yet. Unfortunately, not many people know about the existence of this technology yet. As a gene-editing tool, CRISPR essentially allows scientists to make precision edits to any DNA, be it bacterial or human.
Currently, this technology is first-generation, hence its full capabilities have not been explored yet. As of now, this technology is able to capture a virus’s DNA, after it attacks a host. It then slides the captured DNA into its own DNA. This lets the host’s virus-fighting system use the virus’s DNA as a sample. This sample is then used to identify and destroy the virus the next time it attacks.
While being a powerful tool, there are several controversies surrounding CRISPR. The main concern is the capability of humans ‘playing God’ and the ability to create designer babies. However, the potential for this technology is huge. If scientists are able to replace a few faulty genes, they can potentially cure major genetic disorders that include cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, lactose intolerance, and colour-blindness.
In conclusion, multiple digital health companies are ruling the healthcare market transformation. The big four, Google, Amazon, Apple & Microsoft are investing funds and efforts to reinvent healthcare as we know it. The great news is that these revolutionary technologies are just the tip of the iceberg. We are eagerly looking forward to what other discoveries partake in the digital health revolution!
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