As the healthcare industry enters the new year, tech titans and startups alike are aiming to disrupt the status quo.
In recent years, technological innovation has been a major driver of change across nearly every vertical — and the healthcare industry is no exception. To date, Google has been leading the pack as one of the largest incubators in the healthcare market; and while the behemoth is showing no sign of losing momentum, some smaller operations are gearing up to join the fray in 2017. From search engine innovations to mobile app development to remote patient monitoring technology, here are some of the biggest tech trends in healthcare currently on the rise.
Automated Patient Care Solutions
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have been two of the hottest tech trends in 2016, and their importance will only continue to increase as we move into the new year. The AI market for healthcare has a projected compound annual growth rate of 42% until 2021, spurred by a need for standardized electronic health records (EHR) and a reduction in labor-intensive healthcare worker tasks. By 2025, it’s anticipated that AI systems will be implemented in 90% of U.S. hospitals to reduce the cost of labor and care, improve treatment outcomes, and streamline hospital workflows.
Biotech startup Butterfly Network recently developed a handheld 3D ultrasound device that will cost only “a few hundred dollars,” connect to smartphones and tablets, and be capable of diagnosing cancer and other serious conditions. The device creates 3D images in real time, then transmits that data to the cloud, where an automated diagnosis process takes place.
It’s likely that we’ll be seeing this kind of automated patient data analysis more and more moving forward. For instance, there has been a recent surge of technologies that perform directly observed therapy (DOT) without any need for human review. Whereas traditional DOT would require healthcare workers to physically observe and record the administration of medication, automated DOT solutions incorporate facial recognition software and motion sensors, thereby enabling patients to verify treatment and recovery progress from the comfort and privacy of their own homes.
This data-collecting craze aligns with the advent of remote patient monitoring, which is expected to grow into a $1.9 billion dollar industry by 2025. With this technology, physicians are able to monitor patients with chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes in a more cost-effective manner. In other words, patients and caregivers are able to stay one step ahead of serious health-related issues without having to take on the burdens of cost, time, or transportation that regular in-office visits entail. These programs are already emerging in full force — take, for example, Vidant Health’s remote patient monitoring program, which treats approximately 700 patients at any given time. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Vidant reduced the number of in-person hospital visits by a full 74% in 2013.
Google’s Continued Commitment to Healthcare Innovation
Back in 2014, Google announced its intention to pour a massive amount of investment capital into healthcare innovation, and this effort has spawned a wide array of cutting-edge healthcare companies. For example, Google’s DeepMind — famous for competing against the world champion of the ancient Chinese board game Go — launched an iPhone app called Streams in early 2016, which is intended to alert healthcare professionals to critical patient information in real-time. In the future, DeepMind hopes to expand the functionality of Streams to include prioritization of admitted patients by way of a merger with an existing medical task management app called Hark.
Google has also launched a more wide-reaching initiative called Verily, which aims to help multidisciplinary teams “uncover new truths about health and disease.” Verily uses a combination of AI tech and machine learning to analyze huge swathes of medical information, including electronic health records, data from wearable technologies, and more. Verily is still in its early stages, but it has already been involved in a number of research projects -- among them Google’s Baseline Study, which intends to “identify the traits of a healthy human being by closely observing the transition to disease,” and a multiple sclerosis research program, which employed wearable sensors in tandem with lab-based tests and machine learning algorithms to “gather and analyze biological, physiological, behavioral, and environmental variables.”
As 2016 draws to a close, it’s clear that the healthcare industry is heading in a decidedly digital direction — however, rather than view this ongoing evolution as a threat, medical professionals should embrace these technological advancements wholeheartedly. From consumer-facing platforms like Google’s symptom search, wearables, and wellness apps, to advanced AI systems, data analytics, and robotic surgery technologies, all of these advanced technologies have been developed with the same simple goal in mind: to provide a higher quality of care at a lower cost to the patient.