The Covid-19 pandemic pushed humanity to test its limits. It set into motion a cascade of changes in the healthcare sector -- and no industry was more altered than digital health. The budding business rapidly accelerated as Covid-19 required technology to deliver care outside of the hospital.
That acceleration has now continued into 2021. Digital health is no more a luxury but a necessity -- a blessing in disguise. Ranging from non-invasive devices to blockchains -- the digital health industry has expanded and will continue to do so.
We bring you a quick insight into the top four digital healthcare trends of 2021.
Wearable health trackers & mobile applications
Wearable fitness and health trackers are woven into society to a level where Fitbits and smartwatches seem mainstream.
The future of these devices shows no signs of slowing down.
Through a combination of hardware, predictive analytics, and mobile apps –- wearable technology is redefining patient diagnostics, disease management and preventive care.
With Apple’s launch of the CareKit and ResearchKit in 2016 to go along with their Apple Watch Series 3, it was made clear: wearable healthcare would shape how we think of this industry. Fast forward to now – there are wearable device and app for nearly everything.
A report published by Mordor Intelligence revealed an interesting observation. The global wearable healthcare devices market (valued at USD 18.4 million in 2020) forecasts reaching USD 74.03 billion by 2025.
In 2021, wearable devices allow users to share their health records in real-time and receive quicker, more accurate diagnoses. This phenomenon allows a constant flow of data to healthcare professionals, helping them reach and diagnose more people than they would from their cabin.
“The potential of this data is extraordinary. We can use this to predict patient outcomes by investigating population health, develop patient care plans, assist radiologists in identifying potential tumors. It could also aid in quickly build the next group of clinical subjects for rapid deployment of clinical trials,” remarked Ryan Warran, Global Lead for Healthcare & Life Sciences at Lenovo Workstations.
Moreover, omnipresent wearable technology implies patients are empowered to take control and engage with their own health. With user-friendly interfaces, it encourages them to be more aware of their daily habits.
While most of these technologies have primarily been B2C (Business-to-Consumer) –- smart wearables are will soon also penetrate hospital care procedures.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technologies
Recent advances in AI and machine learning are grounds to wonder if Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics will become applicable to everyday life sooner than later.
The healthcare industry represents one of the most significant opportunity to integrate machine learning. The sheer volume of medical knowledge is beyond even the most intelligent clinician. Supercomputers help in keeping up with the rapid breakthroughs in genomics, predictive analytics and population health.
AI is now used to examine large chunks of patient data and developing the accuracy of disease detection. Along with this, AI will also help save a lot of money for the industry.
Whether it is to find new links between genetic codes or drive surgery, AI is reinventing – and strengthening – modern healthcare through technology that can predict, comprehend, learn and act.
The Lymph Node Assistant (LYNA), developed by Google, is a deep learning algorithm that can successfully detect breast cancer about 99 per cent of the time.
To streamline radiology diagnoses, Enlitic analysed unstructured medical data (radiology images, blood tests, EKGs, genomics and medical history) to give doctors better insight into the patient’s real-time needs.
MIT named Enlitic the fifth most intelligent AI company globally, ranking even above Facebook and Microsoft.
Buoy Health is an AI-based symptom and cure checker that can diagnose and treat illnesses. How does it work? A chatbox listens to a patient’s symptoms and concerns, then guides them to the correct care based on its diagnosis.
AI has a massive role to play in the future of research and the delivery of healthcare. However, along with its rapidly growing popularity, there is a cloud of scepticism surrounding its use in the healthcare sector. There is a growing concern about the AI decision-making process and the question of liability in case of wrongful diagnosis.
It is a thorny issue, but it is one that will likely get solved soon as predictive healthcare tools become more conventional in the industry.
Telehealth, telemedicine and virtual care
Telemedicine is a considerably new digital health discipline that continues to gain traction, making the providers’ life simpler, improving healthcare access and delivering better patient outcomes.
Before the pandemic, telehealth was a slow-growing trend hampered by regulations, security issues, and privacy concerns. However, once Covid-19 made in-person visits problematic, telehealth exploded in popularity.
Telehealth involves using technologies like the internet, wireless and terrestrial communications, video conferencing, chatbots, streaming media and other digital channels. The goal: supporting a connection between providers and patients without the need for face-to-face meetings.
The allure behind telemedicine is its ability to provide convenience for doctors and patients alike. From chatbots to 24x7 AI availability – this contiguous service allows for remote diagnosis, offering treatments and prescribing medication. Doctors are increasingly using email, phone calls and video conferencing to communicate with their patients. Physicians are also communicating with each other, meaning easier collaboration and more informed decisions.
It allows patients, especially high-risk populations such as seniors, to connect with their doctors safely and efficiently. Moreover, for a country like India, telehealth significantly helps overcome the challenges faced in rural areas.
Virtual care will continue to increase access and interest in previously niche fields such as woman’s health and telemental health. Experts anticipate this industry is poised for further snowballing even after the pandemic comes under control.
More than a buzzword for cryptocurrency, “blockchain” revolutionises the healthcare space by allowing the sharing and analysis of critical patient data in real-time – to improve care quality and transparency.
But first – a simple definition. Blockchain is a permanent digital record in the form of an open, immutable ledger. Two innate aspects of it differentiate it from other digital records:
First, it is immutable – which is a fancy way of saying that it is protected and cannot be changed easily (unlike a Google or Excel sheet that can be quickly altered).
Second, the ledger does not “reside” in one central location. It is distributed via its network of computers all over the world – making it easily accessible.
When two parties transact with each other – a ‘block’ gets added to the ledger. These blocks are time-stamped and are not alter-able.
If someone tries to falsify a block (like changing the result of your report), all the agents on the network are notified.
Now, why blockchain in the healthcare industry?
Imagine a patient file written with a permanent marker. It records the names of everyone who has opened or edited the file and is available wherever whenever required. Imagine a paracetamol tablet that comes with information of its manufacturing location, date, time, the person handling the drug, the supply chain information, and all this data is legitimate. Imagine an insurance claim filed for surgery, the details are automatically found for the patient file, and there is no possibility of a fraudulent claim. These are all examples of the benefits of blockchain in the healthcare industry.
This industry is riddled with ‘transactions.’ Some are purely monetary – like money exchanged between payers and providers. Others are immaterial transactions – such as contracts, sharing electronic medical records or selling patient data too. Another ‘transaction’ is purely the act of communication – text, mobile apps, phone and even consultations.
Plainly put, all of these interactions could be built into a blockchain. It will safely record everything and increase the ease of sharing information between patients and providers. Along with this, it will help professionals have the complete history of the patient, while also preventing tampering with medical records.
Among others, some vital advantages of blockchain in healthcare:
There is no chance of losing data
Easy access and transparency of data
Lessens teething issues; these include discrepancies in medical records, insurance fraud, data breaches etc.
It is a complex system, but what everyone – health providers and patients – need to know is that if they use blockchain – their transactions are safe, secure, detailed and easily accessible. And, once put into motion, this will revolutionise the healthcare industry.
The healthcare system is undergoing a seismic shift in how information is obtained and disseminated. The digitisation of health has only just begun and will continue to snowball, making healthcare easily accessible, efficient and accurate.