As the world leans into new technologies, the world of healthcare is seeing a drastic shift into a more digital landscape. Along with its decentralization, digital healthcare allows for more accessible means of getting the care you need and potentially taking down many of the barriers involved with promoting good health. However, digital healthcare itself is growing to encompass numerous different facets of modern health. Considering how technology is changing at a rapid pace, digital healthcare is bound to follow suit. Read on to learn more about some of the top trends of digital healthcare and telemedicine.
Wearable Devices and the Internet of Things
From heart monitors to calorie trackers, digital health devices have continued to grow in convenience, accessibility, and ease of use, and that trend is only going up from here.1 Much of that comes from the growth of the Internet of Things, which refers to the system of everyday objects that are now equipped with computing devices that allow them to actually send and receive data. From thermostats to refrigerators, the Internet of Things encompasses just about everything these days, allowing for basic communication between your household objects.
In terms of personal health devices, the Internet of Things allows for the sharing and transmission of data, not just between devices, but also from your home to your doctor’s office, allowing for more comprehensive care. For example, if you have an existing heart condition, a wearable heart monitor can record your resting pulse and other data in real time. This can then be sent to your doctor to develop an ongoing treatment option that works for your specific needs.
Along with the convenience and more personalized care, the trend of wearable health devices that are connected to the internet contributes to the more proactive mindset that health is and should be an everyday thing, not just something that people pay attention to during doctor visits.
Virtual Healthcare and Telemedicine
For many people, traditional healthcare can be inaccessible. This can come down to basic costs, premiums, and the often confusing, often tortuous process of getting and using health insurance. For others, especially those in underserved and rural communities, inaccessibility comes down to physical distance. Even if family physicians are close, they may be in short supply. More often, specialists are often hard to reach, requiring travel. That means days off of work, childcare, and other expenses just to see a doctor and access health.
Virtual healthcare and telemedicine in psychiatry can play significant roles in closing that distance. When clinics are far away or otherwise difficult for patients to reach, they can turn to virtual healthcare. Virtual healthcare refers to virtual meetings between patients and clinicians through telecommunications technology. There are a wide range of health apps and online platforms allowing for this connectivity. As long as you have an internet connection, audio, and video, you can reach a doctor and receive the chronic care management that you need. Virtual healthcare can also take place in a clinic environment where you can interact with an offsite medical specialist, preventing the need to travel to another city. Overall, this allows for better virtual care than phone calls or emails.
While virtual healthcare has mainly been used for check-ins, consultations, status reports, and general visits, the digital health technology involved with virtual healthcare is continuing to grow and change. This may eventually allow for more in-depth diagnoses and even remote treatments. The convenience and ease of use can also make virtual healthcare feel less intimidating than in-person doctor visits, allowing for more regular care.
While self-automated robots as depicted in popular culture are still a long way away, collaborative robots in the medical industry are quickly evolving. Some are already even used in operating rooms throughout the world. However, the potential applications for robotics go beyond surgical procedures, and while not strictly “digital,” these robots can work in conjunction with digital technologies to provide improved care.
Combined with virtual healthcare, robots can assist physicians in examinations through telepresence and video conferencing technologies, allowing for diagnoses or even treatment. Robotics can also allow for automation in medical labs without sacrificing efficiency or accuracy.
The Spread of 5G
Mobile carriers and telecommunications companies are slowly rolling out 5G services. While the actual infrastructure to support 5G and allow it to viably spread will still take time and resources, the promise and potential of 5G in everyday life is astounding, and that extends to medical industries as well. 5G offers a variety of benefits, the main one being a faster transfer of data, but combine that with low latency and low power needs and you potentially get efficient responses without any lag. This may allow for true immersive virtual reality, but the low latency makes telesurgery a more viable option. This means that a doctor who lives across the country could perform a precise, delicate surgical procedure without you having to visit their office in person.2
Aside from these larger applications, 5G can make existing telecommunications much easier and more efficient. Healthcare providers can more quickly send large imaging files and data to specialists and patients. Remote monitoring will be faster and more accurate, while wearable devices and the Internet of Things would allow for a greater capacity of health data and service.3
Healthcare Data Analytics
Data analytics broadly refers to the process of taking in large amounts of data and analyzing them to essentially learn where healthcare providers can improve. It’s a means of focusing on quality over quantity and enhancing nearly all internal processes. Previously data analytics was a slow and inefficient process done by hand, but incorporating new technologies and software allows for faster and more thorough examination of large amounts of data. Hospitals can algorithmically analyze data and even find hidden information that could be useful.
Practically, this can contribute to:
- Insights on ongoing resource allocation
- Tracking performance of physicians and practitioners
- Identify patients who may be at a high risk of disease
- Track the health of populations at large
All of that makes for more affordable and accessible operations and, ultimately, better patient care.4
Of course, none of the above matters without a commitment to securing patient and hospital data. Maintaining cybersecurity has been an important part of any organization’s existence ever since the internet started. Considering the shifts to digital platforms and telemedicine, robust cybersecurity is likely to see just as much of an upward trend. This ensures protection for the data of patients and providers and prevents the disruption of care.
Of course, as the threats in the digital landscape are constantly shifting, cybersecurity itself has to evolve as well. Eliminating threats completely is close to impossible, but providers can still mitigate risk as much as possible. Manufacturers can remain vigilant and identify potential risks and hazards, while health care delivery organizations can evaluate network security to protect hospital and healthcare facility systems.5
Pinpointing the exact trajectory of digital healthcare (and healthcare in general) isn’t easy, but we do know that trends in technology can contribute to some promising developments in digital healthcare. The growth of interconnectivity and the more efficient transfer of medical data are sure to make digital care more ubiquitous in people’s lives. This will hopefully lead to greater accessibility to medical care and a greater focus on everyday health.