We’re collectively living in an age where healthcare providers are being put under pressure like never before.
Faced with increasing expectations from patients, budget squeezes from governments and consistent population growth, maintaining standards of care and driving them forward is becoming harder and harder every day.
There’s also a gap between the human resource needed to keep everyone healthy and what’s available: a World Health Organisation report from 2013 found that there was then a global shortage of 7.2 million physicians– with that figure expected to keep rising in the next decades.
All these factors have led healthcare bodies to look towards technology for methods of doing their current jobs faster, cheaper or more efficiently. That way, they can free up more time and money to keep delivering high levels of care to everyone that needs it.
In this blog, we’ll look at five diverse tech areas, how patients and care-givers alike can benefit from their applications, and the business benefits – not only from an industry standpoint, but yours as a providing organisation, too.
So much data is generated in healthcare today – either through patient’s personal readings or through the care provision process – that it would be a waste not to make use of it to find efficiencies.
A great example can be found in Paris, where a group of four hospitals have been trialling a Big Data-powered solution that allows them to predict hospital admission rates. Over ten years, data has been gathered from a variety of sources– from previous admissions rates through to external factors like public events or the weather – to forecast likely numbers of patient admissions, day-by-day and even hour-by-hour.
The key benefit is that hospital management can more effectively manage staff, making sure that enough personnel are working at busy times and ensuring that human resource isn’t wasted through overstaffing during quieter periods.
Advances in cognitive technology and artificial intelligence (AI) means that health professionals can increasingly uncover insights that even the best human endeavour just can’t.
In a major development, IBM is working on hyperimaging systems that can create pictures based on a range of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond the capabilities of the human eye.
The possibilities of this innovation for health are so vast that it genuinely opens up the possibility of illnesses, diseases or public health hazards being spotted before they can cause harm. For example, a diseased tooth, food that’s unsuitable for coeliacs or counterfeit drugs could all be dealt with proactively rather than reactively.
This shift in approach can deliver major savings for care providers, as proactive case would naturally reduce the number of cases requiring costly remedial treatment.
Patients are increasingly becoming consumers, using an array of digital and physical tools to keep track of their care.
Whether it’s communicating with care-givers by email or text, or using wearables like fitness trackers to monitor and compile health data that can potentially spot issues earlier, patients are more engaged and in control of their care than they’ve ever been before.
If the industry can be successful in assuaging patient fears about security and personal data, and can enable mass take-up of innovations like these, then it isn’t overstating things to say that it could revolutionise healthcare on virtually every level.
Think about it: no appointments taken up to discuss relatively minor matters (like test results that don’t suggest major health concerns), no time spent gathering data about patients (as they can produce it automatically through wearables), and better care provision for people in remote areas that can be impractical or expensive to properly care for.
And in terms of how much money patient tech could help save the industry, the figures at play are considerable. McKinsey research has indicated that technologies that reduce primary care costs could, if adopted en masse, save up to $220 billion a year in the United States alone.
Far beyond its origins at the beating heart of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Blockchain doesn’t seem like the most obvious technology to be applied to healthcare. But it can make a real difference: for example, there are major positive steps in the development of Health Information Exchanges that ensure patient data is consistent between care providers.
The applications for Blockchain within healthcare can – and hopefully will – go much further than the frontline, into areas like clinical and pharmaceutical trials. The history of healthcare research is littered with reports and analyses that don’t feature recorded results or which present their findings in a selective or deliberately skewed manner.
In this context, Blockchain can act as a failsafe: locking results and data into its ledger where they can’t be amended or refuted. In an era where even healthcare can be afflicted by ‘fake news’, it can give important research some much-needed gravitas.
Internet of Things
The advent and exponential growth of connected devices within the home is proving helpful in keeping people healthy. The Internet of Things (IoT) offering greater opportunities for better care to be delivered to those that require close and regular medical attention, such as the old or the infirm.
For example, an IoT healthcare solution can collect data from a variety of sensors and other sources within the home, monitoring patient activity and alerting appropriate care providers as soon as problems emerge. This can be done without the need to deploy wearable devices, which may not be comfortable or practical for some patients.
Integrated systems like IoT networks can allow for more proactive treatment and quicker emergency responses, and can free up home-visiting staff for more urgent tasks. It also means patients can receive care and reassurance without the inconvenience of being constantly bothered by human intervention in their own home.
So what does this mean for a providing organisation like yours?
The advances in all these technologies, allied to the demand from healthcare bodies to find substantial efficiencies, means there are growing business opportunities for independent software vendors, system integrators and service providers like you.
Among them, machine learning is a particularly fast-growing area: it’s estimated that its global as-a-service market will grow by 1856 per cent between 2016 and 2025, reaching a value of nearly $20billion.
So if you can get on board with these technologies now, and take advantage of the growing clamour for innovation within the sector, it won’t just be patients that feel better – your bottom line will, too.
With the cognitive power of Watson Health, you can help your clients deliver efficient, personalised and responsive care when you partner with IBM.