The future of healthcare lies…outside healthcare

Health technology isn’t developed in a bubble; many of the essential devices and programs we take for granted today have their origins in non-medical industries.

Along the way, they were adapted and tweaked so that they could help improve patient care and outcomes. We’ve found five tech trends that are currently personalizing and enriching other sectors, and are sure to have an impact on the future of healthcare.

From multinational corporations: teleconferencing

Teleconferencing technology, pioneered by companies like Cisco, has made the corporate world more connected. It’s now common for teams on opposite ends of the globe, which were once limited to phone and email communication, to use video conferencing to better collaborate on projects and documents in real time.

Telemedicine is the embodiment of this type of technology in healthcare. However, it has far greater potential and will eventually bring basic medical care out of clinics and hospitals and into the patient’s home. St. Louis, Missouri’s Mercy Virtual Care Center is a four-story, 125,000-square foot “hospital without beds” and has monitored over 3,800 patients remotely since 2006. Virtual-care nurses examine patients over video chat and patients can use wireless vital-sign monitors to measure the likes of blood pressure and heart rate, with the data sent directly to the nurse.

In the future, wireless patches containing various sensors will replace this range of different monitors. And video conferencing will be incorporated into advanced telemedicine robots that will allow doctors and nurses to remotely perform more comprehensive visual examinations and medical imaging.

When telemedicine is genuinely an everyday technology, it will allow older patients to remain more independent and comfortable by staying in their home, yet know that they are still being monitored and cared for by their doctors. Clinicians will be able to serve a broader range of patients, devote more in-person resources to those that need it most, and see a more comprehensive view of their patients’ health as they go about their normal activities of daily living.

From the gaming industry: virtual reality (VR)

VR has hit the mainstream in video gaming and interactive media. Companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Sony are actively developing advanced VR systems, while Samsung and Google have produced devices that turn your smartphone into a VR headset. While VR has led to the creation of extraordinary new video games and amazing immersive experiences, its utility outside of entertainment has largely been limited so far.

California-based Osso VR is pointing the way to a future where this kind of technology is used in healthcare in a routine way. The company’s platform trains surgeons on orthopedic surgery procedures using VR. Users can freely look and move around a simulated operating theater with a VR headset, while hand-held controllers allow them to manipulate virtual tools and devices in the right sequence and “operate” on a patient with accurate and precise movements. The program even grades performance based on time, accuracy and other metrics.

When this type of technology gains more widespread adoption, more doctors and surgeons will be better educated and prepared, with the flexibility to train as often as they need in their own time. Surgical procedures will be safer and patients will also feel at ease knowing that their doctor is has undergone hours of virtual training.

From the automotive industry: robots

Like it or not, robots are steadily changing manufacturing processes, particularly when it comes to assembling a car. Automotive-factory robots can run continually, have an extremely high level of precision and consistency, and can work in environments that are hazardous to humans.

Robots’ ability to be precise will see them increasingly used in a medical setting. Surgical robots, such as the da Vinci, can perform many difficult and complicated procedures that require exact skill on the surgeon’s part. Acting as replacement hands for a human surgeon, da Vinci delicately navigates its arms as the surgeon controls it from a nearby computer terminal. Unlike the surgeon, da Vinci isn’t directly affected by factors like too little sleep or too much caffeine that can lead to shaky hands. Surgical incisions consequently have become smaller, with less pain and faster healing.

While there are still many technological, security and ethical issues to address, it’s likely that artificial intelligence will someday be a key feature in surgical robotics. With advanced algorithms and access to vast amounts of data, surgical robots could plan and perform entire operations with little or no intervention from their human counterparts.

From the sharing economy: location awareness

Thanks to the GPS chip embedded in most smartphones, lost travelers can use ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber to find a car within minutes that will get them to their destination.

These location technologies have the power to dramatically improve patient empowerment, too. A doctor-on-demand service for select cities in the US called Heal is run through an iOS or Android app. Users can share their location to request a doctor when and where it is convenient, as well as pay for services through the app.

Location awareness could also save a person’s life in an emergency. A company called PulsePoint has developed a database of crowdsourced automated external defibrillator (AED) location information. In an emergency, the PulsePoint app can locate the nearest AED and pull up instructions on how to use it. PulsePoint users who are citizen first-responders or CPR-certified can volunteer to be alerted when a local emergency occurs that may require their assistance.

From the filmmaking industry: drones

Drones have quite literally given us a new perspective on the world. Many of the beautiful, birds-eye shots of cities and natural wonders now seen on television or in the movies were created with the help of drones. They have made cinematography safer and less expensive, and have captured footage in locations and environments challenging for humans to film in.

When a natural disaster or possible outbreak occurs, drones can swiftly perform reconnaissance of an area or deliver medical supplies without exposing workers to potential hazards. Keenan Wyrobek, co-founder of Zipline International, reported that his company’s drones successfully delivered more than 4,100 units of blood in Rwanda in just over a year. Drone-delivery company Flirtey announced in October that it will launch a service to dispatch a drone carrying an AED when a cardiac arrest emergency call is placed to 911.


Scott Jung

About the author

Scott Jung

Scott Jung is a Silicon Valley based medical and health technology journalist and advocate. He currently is a senior editor at Medgadget, one of the world’s most trafficked and linked to medical blogs on the internet. He is a regular contributor for Telemedicine Magazine's "TeleTech" column. Scott has written for companies such as Intel and PUR, covering topics ranging from reviews of the latest consumer wearables to an exploration of Colombia's emerging health technology sector. Most recently, he has been appearing on TWiT.tv’s The New Screen Savers as a semi-regular medical and health technology correspondent. Scott holds a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Southern California.


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