Imagine having a personal physician by your side 24 hours a day, keeping tabs on your health and always ready with the right treatment and lifestyle advice. It's no longer such a far-fetched idea, thanks to some of the latest advances in healthcare technology.
Here are some ways in which the latest developments in the field are leading the way to better diagnosis, treatment and management.
We all hope to stave off illnesses before they become life-threatening, but the best we can do is try to avoid their root causes. One way is to study the interactions between environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors that contribute to good health (or its opposite), and apply these lessons to our own lives.
However, doing this on an individualised basis requires careful analysis of massive amounts of information – something most medical professionals don't have time to do. This is where cognitive computing can step in by sifting through patient data and making recommendations based on latest medical knowledge – for instance, by analysing a patient's medical history to decide whether they should be hospitalised or can be safely sent home.
It could also help to identify patients who are at higher risk of certain diseases based on their genetic profile, diet, employment and other factors. As these predictive models improve, the healthcare sector can expect to see improvements in patients' health along with reduced costs and admissions.
The Internet of Things
Smart fridges and cars aren't the only areas where internet-connected sensors are making inroads – they can be extremely useful for healthcare too. Whether attached to the patient or monitoring them from afar, these connected devices can be a smart and cost-effective way to keep tabs on the health status of patients.
This could range from measuring glucose levels in diabetes sufferers to continuously monitoring blood pressure and heart rhythm. Another potential application is fall detection for elderly or disabled people who are living alone. With a predicted $117 billion market for the Internet of Things in healthcare by 2020, it's slated to have a major impact on home monitoring and remote care, and how patients engage with their providers.
All the patient data that’s already flowing in from electronic health records, health sensors, cardio-monitoring machines and other sources is only expected to increase in volume. This will make big data analytics – the practice of using technology to analyse and understand the data – a necessity for healthcare providers.
As well as helping doctors predict the possibility of future illness based on a patient's history and current symptoms, data analytics can also help them choose better treatments for their current patients by factoring in data from past treatment outcomes, as well as the latest medical research published in peer-reviewed journals and databases. This data-centric approach has the potential to lead to better diagnoses and more personalised treatments, saving time and money, and even reducing insurance premiums for low-risk individuals.
Self-managed and remote healthcare
Increasing penetration of smartphones and wearable devices has already seen many people taking more responsibility for their own health, with mobile apps guiding us towards healthier lifestyles and avoidance of future health problems. These currently range from pedometers to calorie counters to alarm clock apps that are tuned into sleep cycles.
Improvements in information and communication technology are also benefiting patients who have limited access to healthcare services, such as those living in regional and remote areas. Telemedicine allows them to engage with healthcare providers via videoconferencing and personal healthcare apps, providing more accurate diagnosis and treatment at home while reducing the number of trips required to urban centres.
Tomorrow's healthcare technology will be about more than just better drugs and treatments. As the amount of healthcare data grows, along with our ability to understand it, doctors and their patients will enjoy more options and better insights on how to promote general wellness, saving costs and improving quality of life for everyone.
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