15 Apr 2016
With technology advancing so rapidly there’s sure to be an impact on medicine. Already we are seeing advancements in how people collect health data; how to prevent, detect, and treat illness; and there are fundamental changes in how and where treatment is given. Here are eight technologies to watch in order to see how they may impact your health care in the future.
The smartphone has become a daily tool that most people carry with them everywhere they go. There are the obvious uses, such as fitness trackers like Fitbit, which allow the user and their doctor to keep up with a patient’s physical activity. There are also apps for diabetics to track their blood sugar and people who suffer from anxiety or depression to track their mood in order to tailor their treatment. An added benefit of being able to gather all this data is that researchers can get a better understanding of disease on a much broader level.
With smartphones comes a new form of health care called Digital Therapy. Essentially, Digital Therapy couples the clinical aspect of a doctor’s office and the subsequent treatment into a digital format that can be received by a patient through their phone or home computer. This is especially true for treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a psychotherapy technique used as a practical hands-on approach to dealing with people’s problems by changing their patterns of behavior that lead them to difficulty in the first place. Insomnia patients are already seeing benefits from a six week web based program to help relieve anxiety and depression.
Online communities are ubiquitous when it comes to the internet. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or any number of other groups. Social networking offering a lot more to people that suffer from illness other than just sharing picture of their kids. Sites like HealthUnlocked, PatientsLikeMe, and MedHelp bring together people who only work or are interested in the medical field, but people who suffer from disease in a way to track health data. The added benefit of these people coming together is they’re able to offer support and advice for managing their conditions while providing information for ongoing research.
As it is, electronic health records are used by most medical facilities, but that health data is typically stored in one centralized location with only a few services providing it. We’ve already seen the downside to this with the widespread ransom attacks on hospitals where patient care is ground to a halt due to hackers encrypting patient information until a ransom is paid. Blockchains could change that. Essentially they work as a decentralized database by keeping a record over time. Each change to the information stored carries with it all the information that came before it. The benefit is they can be used as an accurate record without it being stored in one location, while at the same time providing the security of an encryption key that only the patient and their doctor has access to.
At-Home Medical Diagnostics
People with disabilities or those who suffer from chronic conditions have had access to adaptive technologies to help them perform everyday tasks for a while. There are tremor spoons for people with Parkinson’s disease and a wide variety of breathing apparatus. By imbedding sensors into this type of equipment, doctors will be able to monitor and track how a patient’s condition changes over time. Technologies like blood testing kits and portable x-ray machines provide the diagnostic capabilities of a medical facility right to the patient’s home.
Drug Dispensing Implants
Up to half of all medication prescribed by doctors is not taken properly. With new technology, a sensor can be implanted in a pill that activates once the outer layer of the pill is dissolved in the stomach. Once active it sends a signal to a patch worn by the patient that communicates with a smartphone app to help both doctors and patients track how well they are keeping up with treatment.
There are large scale studies going on around the world in order for scientists to better understand genes and their relationship to health in the population as a whole. The UK government has the 100,000 Genomes Project and a US company is wanting to build a database of one million sequenced genomes by 2020. In the future, advancements in genomics and gene sequencing will allow doctors to better tailor a patient’s treatment based on their genetic profile and the genetic profile of their disease.
Computers with artificial intelligence can learn without having to be programmed to do specific tasks. In other words, like humans, they can learn from experience or exposure to new information. Companies like IBM with its Watson, Google’s Deep Mind, and Enlitic are all looking to use this level of adaptability to function as a diagnostic tool for medical facilities to better treat patients.