According to the Centers for Disease Control, annual spending on healthcare for patients suffering from chronic and mental health issues is $3.5 trillion. The most common conditions include heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity. Affordable healthcare is still out of reach however, and the government continues work to solve that problem. In the meantime, technologies that will change the entire face of healthcare as we know it are being developed. Collectively identified as “digital healthcare,” these innovations will streamline and improve healthcare services delivery in a system frequently described as “broken”.
In this article, we will take a closer look at seven points you should know about digital healthcare and how they will improve the existing system.
1 – Telehealth Will Be More Important Than Ever
Telehealth has already proven to be an effective digital healthcare tool. It provides doctors, nurses, and medical professionals with the means to diagnose and treat patients for whom physically entering a clinic or examination room is difficult due to distance or physical condition. The service is given via telephone and/or a computer screen. If you can imagine using Skype to see your doctor, you can understand the main premise behind telehealth. Doctors’ offices are busy places and sometimes they end up run behind schedule. Telehealth has helped keep patient appointments running at a timely pace and reduced stress in the doctor’s office. Plus, for individuals who cannot visit a clinic due to mobility issues or living in a remote setting, telehealth has given access to medical care for many who previously did not have any, or only very limited, access.
2 – Patient Engagement is a Major Key
Patient engagement is a strategy where patients, their caregivers, and healthcare professionals employ tools and take actions that result in healthy outcomes. These outcomes are possible only when all parties involved use provided information to make informed decisions related to treatment options. The benefits of improved patient engagement are significant, including: reduced costs, increased communication between patient/caregivers and medical professionals, increased patient satisfaction, and better health within the general population. Patients generally prefer to play an active role in their healthcare; through engagement, this goal is achieved. As Orthogonal notes, patient (and clinician) engagement is a major factor when it comes to the success or failure of a digital health solution.
3 – Mobile Devices and Wearables Will Change Healthcare
One place where digital health far exceeds that of traditional healthcare methods is in the collection of data. Digital health relies on wearables, mobile computing, and artificial intelligence. Each of these technologies has provided incredibly accurate and precise ways to measure health, diagnose disease, and monitor the management of chronic conditions that would be far too difficult to track through non-digital means. In some cases, measurements would have required frequent visits to a doctor’s office to access the tools needed. The use of mobile devices and wearables have greatly improved all aspects of healthcare delivery from diagnosis to treatment and long-term follow-up procedures.
4 -3D Printing is the Newest Innovation
Although 3D printing is no longer a new technology, what it can do in healthcare is very innovative and may lead to some incredible advancements in the delivery of specific healthcare services. Research is currently underway to determine how 3D printing can be used to replace hearts and other organs, or parts of them. Just imagine the cost savings that could come from 3D printed devices that could save lives! 3D printing is already being used in skin grafting and bone replacement with excellent outcomes. It may not be too far in the future that 3D printed parts embed the heart, or some other vital organ, rather than having to endure the search for suitable donated organs and undergoing replacement surgery.
5 – Virtual Reality Is Playing A Larger Role
Doctors are employing virtual reality as a treatment option for pain. The way this works sounds simple enough. A patient experiencing pain is given a VR headset that can access various immersive programs. Think of it as a headset that takes you to a different place that you can see and visit virtually. The headset treatment lasts about ten minutes per session and many patients who use this method report the pain either subsides or completely goes away. Essentially, the VR system distracts the mind from the pain. When this happens, the brain believes the pain is gone and no longer responds to it.
6 – Robotics Will Improve Surgical Procedures
Robots are already occupying operating theatres across the country. They are used primarily because of their accuracy. A surgeon programs the computer that operates a robotic arm or device to cut or remove a small item within the human body. The work is done with extreme precision. Robots in operating rooms assist surgeons with delicate procedures that once took hours to perform, reducing the time and with better medical outcomes. Expect robotics to be used in more complex situations as the technology continues to evolve.
7 – Digital Tools Will Continue To Be Developed
Several apps already exist that promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyle choices. Many more of these will be developed to track emotions and sleep patterns, or to maintain your prescriptions, keep your health records current, develop your memory skills, and so on. These types of apps, that can be downloaded to a Smartphone, tablet or desktop, will assist in helping individuals take more control over their mental and physical health.
Digital health has come a long way in a short period. It has provided much innovation in the way healthcare is delivered to patients and given them greater access to a wide variety of services. Digital healthcare has changed the face of healthcare by streamlining service methods, thus reducing costs and improving medical outcomes. Expect to see many innovations soon. The ones listed above are just scratching the surface of what healthcare might be in the future.