How do you think a lot of doctors have survived this pandemic with so many Covid patients? The answer to this is remote monitoring of patients – especially for those who had a mild infection. This is the best example to understand how important health technology has become today.
The concept of healthcare technology isn’t new to you for sure. Then what are you going to discover here? Well, you’ll be diving a little deeper into concepts that you probably aren’t aware of yet. Take a look at the different concepts that health tech companies have introduced so far.
What is Health Technology?
To explain the term in easier words, let’s break it into 2. What does technology usually involve? Is it limited to the digital field? No, software and applications came in a lot later. The medicines that you take when you’re ill are also made with technology. Every research that takes place in the lab, the machinery used in hospitals for monitoring your health are all part of healthcare technology.
So, healthcare technology involves the use of medicines, vaccines, devices, machinery, procedures and software that are used to track or improve your health. Both biotech and digital technology fall under this category.
Here, our focus will be more towards digital technology and the role it plays in healthcare. What you probably know of is online purchase of medicine, fitness monitoring watches and consulting doctors using your phone. However, there’s a lot more that you can use.
Healthcare Technology VS Medicine Technology – How are the Two Different?
If you know the difference between medicine and health, it will be a lot simpler to understand this question.
To put it quite simply, medicines are just an aspect of your healthcare. The same way, medical technology revolves more around your medicines and medical equipment.
However, health tech is a lot broader concept. It involves monitoring of your overall health and fitness, irrespective of whether you’re ill or not. The example below will help you understand the difference better:
An ECG machine in a hospital that monitors your heart rate while you’re critical is an application of medical technology as well as healthcare technology. However, the smart watch that monitors your heart rate, pulse and number of steps you walked today doesn’t fall under medicine technology. It is a fitness tracking device which falls under health tech only.
Digital Technology in Healthcare
Like I said before, healthcare technology involves both biotech, IT and digital technology. Here, we’ll be discussing more regarding IT and digital technology that has helped in the growth of the healthcare field. It has been beneficial for both patients and healthcare professionals.
Mostly, the use of digital technology in healthcare implies making software applications that help to connect patients with doctors. This connection could be through direct, real-time communication or access to patient’s medical records that doctors need for treatment.
The examples below will clear things up well:
1. Telehealth Care
Telehealth uses both telecommunication and digital technology for transferring health related data. This includes patient’s health records, awareness for patients and communication between doctor and patient.
This is more than just talking to your doctors on call or text. In telehealth care, there is interaction among patients, among healthcare professionals and between patients and healthcare professionals too. At the same time, you have transfer of medical data taking place.
So, it is a broad concept which involves using mobile apps, tablets, smart devices and other means for health education, monitoring and even getting consultations from doctors.
2. Telehealth Nursing
A small part of telehealth care, telehealth nursing involves remote diagnosis, consultation, treatment and monitoring of your health. It’s a concept you’ll best understand in the current pandemic situation. It is through telehealth nursing that doctors have been able to treat Covid patients safely – without meeting them in person.
The concept involves using mobile communication, video calling and remote patient monitoring (explained in detail below). At the same time, it also involves remote consultation that doctors provide whenever necessary.
3. Remote Patient Monitoring
Imagine you’re a diabetic patient and your problem is quite severe. In such a situation, you have to keep monitoring certain aspects of your health like heart rate, blood sugar level and a lot more. Practically, how many times can you actually go to the labs for testing or doctors for regular follow-up? And, how many times would you call and pester your doctor?
This is where remote patient monitoring serves as a great solution. This technology comprises of an app and various devices connected to it such as smart watches, glucometers and oximeters. The devices have sensors that can check certain aspects of your health wirelessly. Since they’re connected to the app, the data it collects through readings goes into your patient database which your doctor can check.
Remote patient monitoring is basically a form of wireless communication with your doctor where you don’t even have to text him. The app updates your readings in real-time which will help your doctor alert you before anything serious happens. This makes life easier for you as well as your doctor.
4. Mobile Health
The term’s meaning is quite literal – using mobile phones and devices that connect to them for monitoring health as well as storing and retrieving healthcare data. These mobile apps are also used for spreading awareness on any new disease. You may say that it is a small part of telehealth care, that enables interaction between patients or self-interaction as well as patient awareness.
For example, when the Coronavirus outbreak took place, plenty of applications were designed for tracking down areas of high risk. CovidWatch, TraceTogether, Arogya Setu, The Corona DataSpende, Covid Symptom Tracker and Kwarantana Dommowa are some apps used in different countries.
Health Information Technology
In order to understand this too, I’ll be breaking the term into 2 – health and information technology. The latter is using of computers for storing, transmitting and retrieving data. In health information technology, this data mostly revolves around patient details that medical professionals need.
Basically, software and applications that help you maintain patient details come under this category. The same is also used for storing information regarding the staff of a clinic or hospital, inventory details and other assets of a healthcare organization.
The purpose is to ease the management of a clinic or hospital, while at the same time keeping the data secure and transparent. The 2 examples of health information technology might help you understand how it makes life easier for patients, doctors and hospital managers.
5. EHR (Electronic Health Records) Systems
Electronic health records consist of patient details that are important for doctors while treating them. These details include the patient’s name, age, sex, weight, height, medical history, allergies, lab test reports and billing details.
Doctors will no longer need a hard copy of your previous prescriptions if they can access everything through an app. In fact, EHR systems prove to be much better as they have real-time, accurate and untampered details about the patient.
Let’s take a look at it this way – when your health records are stored in a software, doctors no only see your medical history, but analyze how often you’ve fallen ill or what medicines don’t suit you. This is not only helpful in saving time at the clinic, but also a great help during emergencies.
Some of the popularly used EHR solutions include Advanced MD, DrChrono, Kareo Clinic and athenahealth.
6. Clinical Information Systems
You know things are serious when a patient is in the ICU. And that is the time when the team of doctors treating you need your medical details the most. In fact, at that time they need very specific details from your lengthy medical record.
So, a clinical information system is a software that provides doctors access to specific patient details they need at the moment. If it sounds similar to an EHR to you, here’s the difference – CIS provides specific details from an EHR. At the same time, the data in here is more detailed and can be collected from other sources like equipment & information repositors.
Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare
You know artificial intelligence is used in plenty of smart devices, apps & software, search engines, browsers, voice assistants and in robotics. All of these are also used for healthcare, which implies that AI can be used for the same too.
AI is mainly used in healthcare for conducting medical research, carrying out administrative tasks, making medical diagnosis more accurate, helping patients find medical facilities and even providing treatments. Let’s see how:
7. AI Technologies for Better Diagnosis
Based on the patients’ medical history and recent lab tests, AI can make more accurate diagnosis than medical professionals today. Platforms like PathAI and Freenome are cancer detecting technologies that use pathology images and liquid biopsies for detecting the disease.
8. Conducting Medical Research
Conducting medical research is an expensive task on today’s date. AI has been helping scientists in developing new medicines, searching for patients who are fit for clinical trials and gathering genomic data.
Companies like BioXcel Therapeutics and BERG Health use AI for developing new medicines. On the other hand, companies like Tempus and H2O.ai are mining health data for health professionals. Another technology called Proscia can detect the pattern of cancer cells using medical images.
9. Automation of Administrative Work
Handling a clinic or hospital requires a lot of management, one of the important tasks being patient care. With the help of AI-enabled apps and devices, you can automate many of these tasks in a hospital like reminding the staff to wash hands, completing the billing process and enforcing patient privacy rules.
10. Robots that Perform Surgery
You’ve known that robots cannot function without AI. However, what you probably didn’t know that performing a surgery is also something a robot can do. From using software robots to robotic hands, you have all kinds of robots that assist doctors in performing complicated surgeries. It mostly helps them take a better view of the patient’s body, reach into certain areas and perform the operation with utmost precision.
Virtual Reality in Healthcare
Have you ever put on a VR headset? If yes, then you probably have some idea of its potential in serving healthcare. When you’re wearing the VR, you literally feel like a part of the world that the video shows you. So, that world could be the human body or one where microorganisms and cells appear big enough to be visible.
Here’s what VR is capable of doing:
11. Training Medical Students and Interns
Like I said, virtual reality can take you into any world – even inside the human body. Not only can you understand the human body in the best way, you can understand how to operate on different areas using it. You can see in greater detail how a surgeon is operating on a patient or get a virtual experience of operating on a patient too.
12. Treating Patients
This applies to patients going through anxiety, pain or even surgery. Psychologists do consider VR to be a gift as they can use it to treat their patients by giving them peaceful experiences. Even patients who are nervous in a hospital these days are given VR headsets to calm down. Coming to surgery, surgeons using robotic hands to perform their operation use VR sets to monitor and control them.
13. Spreading Awareness
Another way of learning through VR is by literally stepping into the shoes of a patient and experiencing what he or she feels. GSK had created one such VR experience, where a migraine patient can select the symptoms he or she is facing. Upon doing so, anyone watching the video can visually experience what migraine patients go through – like a blind spot or disorientation. AbbVie had created a similar experience for Parkinsons disease.
14. Conducting a Virtual Conference that Seems Real
We switched to Zoom meetings last year when the world went on a lockdown. We still have them going on, but none of them give the same feeling as being in person. However, for some medical conferences, using a VR headset and a camera (shooting the speaker), you can get the feeling of being in a real conference while you’re at home.
IoT Healthcare Devices
We’ve seen apps, software, virtual technologies and robots so far. Now, we move on to some real devices that we use for healthcare. This includes devices used in testing labs, hospitals and even at home. In most cases, it is used for monitoring health. When connected to a remote patient monitoring app, they even facilitate treatment.
Here are some home health monitoring devices and other solutions that IoT provides:
These are wireless devices that you wear on the chest. They can monitor your temperature, heart rate and breath. They collect the data and transmit it in the app, which helps doctors get real-time remote access to your health conditions. It has been a very useful device for treating Covid patients with least physical contact possible.
16. Smart Watches
Now this is probably something you already know. Made by Apple, MI, Google, Samsung and OnePlus, these devices monitor your health among many other functions. In most cases, this includes your heart rate, blood pressure and number of footsteps you walked. Some of them even monitor blood oxygen levels and sleep cycle. Ever since the on set of Covid-19, some of them are even giving reminders for washing hands.
17. Connected Inhalers
Designed for asthma and other respiratory patients, these devices help detect an attack you’re about to get. It is very much of an asthma pump, but attached to a device that can monitor your breath as well as track your medication. In fact, the app also gives you reminders for taking medicines apart from showcasing your data.
18. Automated Insulin Delivery Systems
These devices are mostly for diabetic patients, continuously monitoring the blood sugar levels of a patient without pricking his finger. This makes it extremely helpful for the patient to keep his blood sugar levels under control as he knows when he has to stop.
19. Ingestible Sensors
This one is for people with stomach issues – measuring stomach pH levels, detect any internal bleeding and other problems in the digestive system. Unlike most devices, this is something you swallow in your body while the app gives you the data. Don’t worry, it’s completely safe and don’t cause any problem, disturbance or damage in your body.
20. IoT Devices Monitoring Mood and Depression
I would call this a boon for psychologists as they can receive more accurate data about their patients through these devices. These are highly programmed devices which will analyze your mood based on your heart rate, blood pressure and movement of eyes.
The Future of Health Technology
By now, you have understood the current relationship between technology and healthcare. Considering the scope of advancement that technology has, if you open a health tech startup at any given point of time, you can invent something you haven’t read about so far. In other words, health tech has an infinite scope for development.
We have already moved on from in-person consultation to providing remote treatment and monitoring. During the times of the pandemic, health technology has helped doctors find their way out. However, even after the pandemic is over, these remote monitoring and treatment techniques will continue to grow in future. Haven’t you already reduced your frequency of visiting doctors while you still take treatment?