The rate at which technology is changing our everyday lives is truly remarkable, and one especially transformative area is health care. Emerging technologies are primed to disrupt many aspects of patient care in increasingly advanced ways, and they’re making their way into health care on a minor scale in mobile and wearable technologies. These devices started as popular nonmedical fitness monitors but are beginning to expand into medical-grade wearables, home health monitoring tools, and mobile care apps. Where else will technology take health care — and what do these advances mean for IT professionals?
1. Wearables, mobile apps, and big data
Researchers predict the wearable medical devices market will reach $14.41 billion by 2022, up from $6.22 billion in 2017. Until now, these devices had been limited to individual fitness trackers that connected to smartphone apps, but they are poised to offer real-time access to medical records as well as diagnostic and treatment functionalities. This could help empower patients to take control of their health, improving patient outcomes and saving health care providers and patients time.
To make this transition, medical device manufacturers, health care records system providers, IT developers, and health information regulators will need to learn how to integrate patient-generated data into their workflows and products. Privacy and security concerns, data relevancy to clinical situations, and big data handling are the biggest challenges facing the widespread adoption of clinically relevant personal medical-grade devices. Health IT managers and developers may need to look at Internet of Things (IoT) application programming interfaces (APIs) and standardization techniques to help handle this unstandardized user-generated data.
2. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)
AI and cognitive computing technologies are able to integrate patient-generated and IoT big data. These technologies use algorithms to mine large datasets, recognize patterns, and make connections between disparate items in ways that mimic the human mind — but much faster and more comprehensively than any medical professional can. Savvy developers can tie these cognitive computing platforms to electronic health records to spot trends not only within a single patient’s records but also across patients to assist doctors in recognizing anomalies as well as diagnosing and treating patients with similar conditions.
AI is also likely to play an important role in researching and developing treatments for many health conditions. Using large centralized data repositories, these AI systems can store vast amounts of data generated through health care systems, the IoT, wearable medical devices, and more to gain deeper insights into some of the most impactful health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and autism. Health care providers, developers, and IT decision-makers alike will need to work together to develop big data gathering methods and analytical tools to best take advantage of the tremendous benefits machine learning and AI can offer health care industry insiders and their patients.
The third technology trend transforming health care today is blockchain. Blockchain is the technology behind Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that’s shaking up the financial world. Blockchain is a massive distributed network of replicated databases containing records stored on an encrypted ledger. No central administrator exists, users can change only the blocks of records they have access to, and software time-stamps any entries or updates and syncs them across the other networked databases. Because of the massive amounts of data surrounding the health care industry as well as the need for security and adherence to privacy regulations, blockchain offers tremendous potential for many areas of the industry, including secure patient medical record storage, clinical trial data privacy, drug development, supply chain integrity, as well as medical billing and insurance claims. Although still in its infancy, blockchain will likely have a significant impact on the health care industry going forward.
As technology continues to disrupt the health care field, both patients and providers will likely benefit from improved diagnostic techniques, treatments, record keeping, research, security, and so much more. Only by staying abreast of these technological advancements will software developers and IT decision-makers find opportunities to optimize their health care software projects to integrate with and take advantage of blockchain, AI, and wearables, allowing them to offer the medical advantages this new technology enables to their patients and stay ahead of the competition.