This article is the first in a series of three articles on Healthcare IT trends before, during, and after Covid-19.
When it comes to adopting emerging technologies, Healthcare has always been a laggard among other industries. However, over the last 10 years, the industry has grown to become more digitally mature, relying on the power of innovations that appeared in the tech sphere. In this part, we will go over the technology trends in the Healthcare industry that dominated the industry before the pandemic inflicted the turbulent times. This will allow us to gain an understanding of how Healthcare evolved and what impact the pandemic has had on the industry.
Healthcare software trends in Telemedicine
The idea of treating patients virtually has been on the radar for a while, as more and more patients become drawn to the concept of healthcare coming to them, not vice versa. In recent years, the concept of Telemedicine has taken a clearer shape and even became the backbone of Healthcare digitization. Several trends within Telemedicine serve as its driving force:
- Healthcare applications
Many Healthcare software trends are based on the need for robust remote communication between Healthcare providers and patients. In recent years, Telemedicine software has become very accessible and increasingly capable and includes various integrations, such as Electronic Health Records (EHR) and medical billing software platforms.
- Decentralization of Healthcare
This is one of the most impactful changes that has found reflection in pre-Covid Healthcare IT trends. As a part of the decentralization wave, many medical professionals chose to forfeit large hospitals in favor of smaller community-based practices, thus pushing the development of more robust Telemedicine solutions.
Digital technologies and cybersecurity go hand in hand. As an industry that deals with sensitive data, Healthcare is extremely vulnerable to cybercrime. Thus, data protection will always be the industry's number one priority, drawing significant investments into its solidifying.
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The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
IoMT is a convergence of IoT and Telemedicine, which has brought about a variety of wearable devices (also known as wearables) used to monitor the health status in patients with existing conditions. Connected medical devices make up a significant share of IoT, and their number is projected to exceed 20 billion in the near future.
IoMT (and wearables, in particular), benefit high-risk patients, allowing them to get medical aid on time. They also let people monitor their health constantly instead of undergoing planned check-ups, thus contributing largely to the disease prevention trend.
Before Covid-19, overcoming challenges in IoMT was a primary focus of Healthcare providers. Developers were tasked with ensuring a solid technical base for providing consistent communication within the ecosystem of IoT devices. Because connected devices generate massive amounts of data, developers need to find a way to ensure proper data handling and eliminate the instances of slow or failed connections, which may cost a patient life.
Take a look at the connected, AI-powered asthma inhaler that relies on sensors to collect data and monitor a user’s dose, enabling personalized, data-driven respiratory therapy.
Cloud trends in Healthcare
As remote clinical care continues to gain traction, so does the need for the clinics to move to more robust solutions. Adopting Cloud platforms is a great solution when it comes to improving remote communication between patients and doctors. One more benefit of the Cloud is reducing costs. When patient records are stored online, there's no need to build out costly IT infrastructures on-premise. Additionally, medical records are easier to access when they are stored virtually, which means a patient's location can no longer impede the treatment process.
Another challenge for the Cloud to overcome is dealing with regulations and policies. Many Healthcare providers find it a stumbling stone that prevents them from embracing the power of Cloud, as the regulations are too stringent to meet. Thus, one of the Cloud trends in Healthcare is to find a solution that would help them achieve a high level of compliance with HIPAA and other data regulation policies.
For instance, UCLA Health is employing Microsoft Azure cloud services to synthesize vast amounts of clinical and research data to speed medical discoveries and improve patient care.
Big Data in Healthcare
Big Data comes from various sources, including electronic health records, wearable devices, search engines, genetic studies, etc. For example, due to the insights gleaned from Big Data in genetic studies, patients can be aware of potential health risks and react to problems faster, which is the key to predictive Healthcare.
Big Data can be analyzed and turned into actionable insights by building predictive algorithms, becoming a promising method in the following functions:
- lower the rate of medication errors;
- create illness prevention plans;
- reduce wait time in hospitals due to understaffing;
- prevent patients from readmission and improve long-term care.
Each of these areas can potentially become the next Big Data trend in Healthcare. Data-driven medicine took a significant place among Pre-covid trends. With the adoption of the Cloud, nearly a trillion gigabytes of medical data are generated annually, which brings us to AI trends in Healthcare.
IBM Watson is an AI system widely used in Healthcare that suggests tailored treatment plans for patients and helps patients manage diabetes daily.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) trends in Healthcare
Although AI is still in its early stages, machine learning algorithms are already bringing a lot of value to Healthcare, helping healthcare providers diagnose diseases more accurately, create better treatment plans, do medical research and drug discovery, and increase operational efficiency during peak loads in hospitals. On top of that, AI is widely applied in the following spheres:
- Image classification. As part of assisted AI trends in Healthcare, image classification systems help doctors conduct high-quality diagnostics over a short period of time. In many instances, the efforts of radiologists and ultrasound specialists go into image classification and their description, while AI can automate this process without bringing humans into the loop.
- Predictive analysis. Early treatment can save lives. AI can help identify health risks early on so that they can be addressed immediately.
- Epidemic prediction. AI systems allow specialists to control and predict outbreaks. This has already proven effective during the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
- Personalized medicine. Personalized medicine is Healthcare’s future, and AI is one of its key enablers. According to forecasts, personalized treatment powered by AI will be available for mass use by 2030.
Consider the following Healthcare IT trend: AI has been used in human eye surgery, proving equal or better efficacy than in the traditional manual approach.
Mixed Reality (Augmented Reality + Virtual Reality)
Benefiting both patients and doctors, Mixed Reality is one of the key actors in transforming Healthcare. Environments simulated in Augmented Reality help relieve pains, cope with stress and post-traumatic disorders, and overcome motor deficiencies. It can also be used by doctors as a guide during complex surgeries, procedures, and diagnoses. Another beneficiary of Augmented Reality are medical students who can utilize AR and VR for more immersive research.
Virtual reality provides access to activities and visual experiences otherwise unavailable, including planning complicated surgeries, training and skills improvement, motivating patients to exercise, and improving their emotional health.
As an example of an efficient Mixed Reality application, take a look at how Nanthia Suthana, a neuroscientist, uses virtual reality to help her patients overcome memory loss. Wearing brain implants, patients can dive into virtual reality that simulates the real-world environment so that doctors can record brain signals, decipher brain activities to develop therapies.
Digitalization often comes with security risks, and Blockchain plays a significant role in safeguarding patients’ digital data as a technology that ensures complete transparency of patient’s data usage. Blockchain also addresses the issues related to accessibility and portability of data, so Healthcare providers can access it (with a patient's electronic permission), no matter a patient's location. Additionally, Blockchain allows patients to use a private key that helps them manage who has access to their healthcare record, so when a patient needs to involve a specialist (or several specialists), they can grant them access to their records.
Consider the case of Blockchain application in Healthcare from Simply Vital Health, a US-based company that develops a decentralized system that allows the exchange of patient data between several clinics using Blockchain technology.
Healthcare IT trends before Covid-19: Synopsys
Even without the pandemic factor, remote patient treatment remained the key focus of the industry. In the sphere of Telemedicine, there were several trends at play, including the Internet of Things of Medical devices, wearable devices, and software that enables constant communication between patients and Healthcare providers.
Another trend we mentioned is the Big Data trend in Healthcare, which is fueled by an increasing number of IoT devices and the need to collect and process data coming from them. Then, there’s an AI trend in Healthcare that focuses on gleaning insights to enable patients to see the big picture of their health and develop personalized treatment plans.
Big Data and Cloud often go hand in hand, which led us to Cloud trends in Healthcare, where main task was to find ways of building a sustainable and cost-effective infrastructure, ensuring compliance with regulations and policies.
Mixed Reality has also found a wide application in Healthcare, providing doctors and medical students with a kind of a "third eye" by putting valuable information into their eyesight during surgeries (or preparing for thereof) and training.
Last but not least, the application of Blockchain in Healthcare ensures security, transparency, and immutability when it comes to operating patients' data.
In the next article, we will discuss technology trends in the Healthcare industry during the pandemic.