Many tech companies have been focusing on the problem of the global pandemic over the past two years. Many healthcare companies, which would not normally be considered tech companies, have also turned their attention towards technology and its potential for transforming the delivery of their products.
The pandemic has clearly accelerated digitization in the healthcare industry. The HIMSS Future Report on Healthcare shows that 80% of healthcare providers intend to invest more in technology and digital solutions in the next five-years. There will be continued growth in areas such as telemedicine, personalized medical care, genomics and wearables. Organizations will use artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and extender reality (XR) to create and deliver new treatments.
Here are my predictions about the five most significant trends that will affect the healthcare industry in the next twelve months.
- Telemedicine and Remote Healthcare
The percentage of remote healthcare consultations rose from 0.1% to 43.5% in the first months after the pandemic. According to Deloitte analysts, most people are happy with the virtual visits and will continue using them.
These are the obvious reasons. However, even if we exclude communicable diseases, there are still many good reasons to be able to remotely diagnose, treat and monitor patients. This trend could save lives in remote areas and areas where doctors are scarce (such as China or India), by greatly expanding access to medical care.
New generation wearable technology allows healthcare professionals to monitor vital signs and provide accurate information in real time. A “virtual hospital unit” was established to manage the care of many patients from their own homes. The pilot “Virtual ER” is an advanced version of this idea and is currently being developed by the Pennsylvania Center for Emergency Medicine.
It is likely that we will see the same methods used during the pandemic in 2022 to treat patients. These techniques can be remotely extended into other areas such as mental healthcare and ongoing follow-up for patients who have had major illnesses or operations. This trend is facilitated by robots and IoT. Smart technology (machine-learning) will notify professionals when sensors detect the need for intervention or cameras see that an elderly person has fallen in their home.
According to the WHO, telemedicine can improve access to healthcare for half of the world’s population. However, this will depend on gaining the trust of the public – there are situations where people feel a face-to-face interaction with healthcare professionals is necessary. Providers need to be aware of this when implementing services.
- Extended Reality in Clinical Training and Treatment
Extended Reality (XR) refers to virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and augmented reality. These lenses and headsets alter the way we perceive the world. They can either place us in completely virtual environments (VR), or overlay virtual elements on real-time photos (EN/MR). All of these devices have potential transformative uses in the healthcare industry.
VR headsets can be used to train surgeons. This allows them to become intimately familiar with the human body without putting patients at danger or requiring the use of medical cadavers.
Treatment can also include VR. It can also be used in therapy to teach children with social autism and coping skills. It has been used to aid in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is used to treat chronic pain and anxiety. These treatments are safe and non-threatening and allow sufferers to deal with their fears and psychosis.
In 2022, AR will continue to be a popular tool in healthcare. AccuVein, for example, is designed to help nurses and doctors locate veins during injections. It detects the heat signature of blood flow and highlights it on the patient’s arm. Microsoft’s HoloLens is used in surgical theaters. It allows the surgeon to see what they are seeing and share it with students or other professionals who might be watching the operation.
AR health applications are also available for those who are not medical professionals, such as the AED4EU geo-layer, which provides real time directions to the closest automated defibrillator device that is publicly accessible.
- Machine Learning and AI Make Sense of Medical Data
As in all other industries, AI is used to help make sense of the vast amount of unstructured, messy data available for analysis and capture. This can be in the form of medical images – X-rays and CT scans, MRI scans and many other sources. It also includes information about the spread of communicable disease like covid, vaccine distribution, genome data from living cells and handwritten doctor’s notes.
Current trends in the medical industry involve the augmentation of and upskilling human workers. The surgeons who use AI to augment their work are enhanced by computer vision, which is a camera that recognizes what they see and relays the information. Automating the initial contact with patients and triage is another key use case. This allows clinicians to spend more time on their valuable work. Babylon Health, a telehealth provider, uses AI chatbots powered by natural language processing to collect information about patients and direct inquiries to the appropriate healthcare professionals.
Preventative medicine is another area of healthcare that AI will profoundly impact in the next few years. Preventative medicine is not about reacting to illness and providing treatment after it has occurred. It aims to anticipate illness and provide solutions before it happens. This includes predicting the likelihood of an outbreak of contagious disease, hospital readmission rates, and where lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, environment, and lifestyle will lead to health problems in different areas or populations. For example, it is possible to predict opioid addiction in communities or which patients are most likely self-harm to attempt suicide. AI allows for tools to spot patterns in large datasets more accurately than traditional analytics processes. This results in better predictions and patient outcomes.
- Low-intensity Extracorporeal Shockedwave Therapy
Shockwave therapy is becoming more popular among physiotherapists. Extracorporeal shockwave treatment (ESWT), which uses a lower level of energy than medical applications, is used for many musculoskeletal disorders. It is mainly used to treat connective tissues such as tendon and ligaments.
The physiotherapists can also use shockwave therapy to treat persistent tendinopathy. Some tendon conditions are resistant to conventional treatment. Shockwave therapy is another option for physiotherapists. Shockwave therapy is most beneficial for tendinopathies (also known as tendinitis), that have been present for at least six weeks. Tendinopathies include tendinitis, tendinitis, tendinitis, tendinitis, shoulder, tendinitis, tendinitis, neck, tendinitis, shoulder, tendinitis, tendinitis, calcific, and Achilles tendinopathy. They can also be caused by repetitive strain or overuse.
Your first visit will be a physical assessment by the physiotherapist to determine whether shockwave therapy is right. The physiotherapist will inform you about your condition and recommend the best exercises. The treatment is usually performed once per week, and can last between 3 to 6 weeks depending on the results. The shockwave treatment is not painful and lasts for 4-5 minutes. It can also be adjusted to make it more comfortable.
Launch Medical has created a device that uses low-intensity extracorporeal shockedwave therapy (Li ESWT). Urologists have been using this type of therapy in clinics for more than a decade to treat ED. Today at home shockwave therapy is much more affordable than in the past.
- Digital Twins and Simulations
Many industries are adopting digital twins, which allow for the creation of models based on real-world data. This allows you to simulate any system or process.
This trend is a part of healthcare and includes the concept of the “virtual person” – digital simulations that simulate patients to help with drug testing and treatment. The aim of this trend is to reduce the time required to move new medicines from design to general use. Initial models and simulations of organs and systems may have been limited. But, there are now models that can simulate whole bodies. While this seems unlikely, current research shows that it is possible. However, we will see further progress in 2022 towards this goal.
These digital twins of human organs are closer to reality. They allow doctors to examine different pathologies and test treatments without exposing patients to harm. This also reduces the need to conduct expensive animal or human trials. The Living Heart Project is a great example. It was launched in 2014 and aims to use crowdsourcing to create an open source digital twin of the human hearts. The Neurotwin project, a European Union Pathfinder Project, models the interaction between electrical fields in the brain. This could lead to new treatments.
Digital twin technology has the potential to speed up and lower the cost of healthcare treatments. This is why it is expected to be one of the top tech trends in healthcare 2022.
- Genomics and Personalized Medicine
Traditional medicines and treatments were created in a “one size fits all” fashion. This was because trials were designed to maximize drug efficacy for the greatest number of patients with the least number of side effects. Modern technology, such as genomics, AI and digital twins allows for a more personal approach. This results in personalized treatments that can be customized to each patient.
The Empa healthcare center in Sweden, for example, uses AI and modeling software, to determine the right dosage of painkillers (including synthetic opiates such as fentanyl) for each patient. They can be life-saving for patients with chronic pain, but they can also prove dangerous if used at high doses.
Novo Nordisk, a drug company, has teamed up with Glooko, a digital health company, to develop personalized diabetes monitoring tools. These tools provide tailored recommendations for diet, exercise and management of their illness based on their blood sugar readings, as well as other specific factors.
Genomics is the study and use of genes. It can also be used to map individual genomes. This technology is especially useful in creating personalized medicine. This is rapidly leading to new treatments of serious diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. We can expect significant investment and progress in nutrigenomics, a sub-field within genomics. This involves the creation of personalized health-focused diet plans that are based on different genetic factors.
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