COVID-19 has changed the medical world. As the amount of cases continues to rise with more hospitalizations and deaths than ever before, the medical community is scrambling to keep up. How can we protect the health and welfare of our chronically ill patients without putting them at risk for the disease? What about the real possibility of putting ourselves at risk? And then we have to consider mental health patients, who depend on their counselors and group meetings to cope.
Luckily, technology has come to the rescue for many. With the use of telehealth, high tech wearables, and the many applications that patients can now download on their smartphones, we are not completely vulnerable. We just need to think outside-the-box, so to speak. We can provide patients the care that they need and deserve without putting ourselves at undue risk. It’s just going to look way different than the traditional ways we are used to.
This article takes a look at these “high tech” ways of keeping in touch with patients and monitoring their conditions without exposing them or ourselves to COVID-19 or any other highly infectious diseases for that matter.
Technology has always been at the forefront of improving our understanding of diseases, but the rise of big data has taken this to new heights. Big data in healthcare isn’t new, but it is worth discussing over and over again because it has not yet reached its full potential. No one even knows what its full potential looks like yet.
Even still, the application of big data in healthcare has now reached a point where it’s producing meaningful results not only for researchers but also for clinicians and patients.
Big data has provided changes to the way people in healthcare and research work, but what about the changes it’s provided to specific treatments? These changes are already here, and they’re indicative of both what’s to come and what’s possible for both individuals and patient populations.
What is Big Data in the Healthcare Context?
Big data is a broad concept with applications in a wide swath of fields. In the healthcare context, big data refers to the practice of collecting, analyzing, and using data from many different sources, including patient data, clinical data, consumer data, and physical data. In the past, it was possible to collect only a few types of data in smaller volumes because the tools needed to process and apply it were unavailable.
In this way, big data goes hand-in-hand with other technological developments, like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Before machine learning, both clinical studies and applications were massively limited in terms of their scope: you could only handle a certain volume of data or a set variety. Veracity was also a problem with big data sets, which impacted the validity of studies.
Today, big data is a huge part of healthcare. You can find it in the creation of electronic health records (EHRs), pharmaceutical research, medical devices, medical imaging, and genomic sequencing. It differs from previous advances because it encompasses what data scientists call the 3Vs of Big Data: volume, velocity, and variety.
Big Data Reintroduces Old Treatments
Evidence-based medicine is at the core of modern practice. From diagnosis to treatment, physicians and specialists rely on an extensive foundation of research before making decisions. Medical big data has the ability to impact predictive modeling, clinical decisions, research, and public health. But it does so with greater precision: big data uses temporal stability of association. It leaves causal relationships and probability distributions behind.
Hypertension represents an ideal case study of the impact of big data on medicine. Despite the various effective medicines, including beta-blockers, the rates of uncontrolled hypertension in the general population are still very high. Scientists are using big data and machine learning to identify other drugs that may be working against beta-blockers to prevent the patient from gaining control of their blood pressure. One study identified proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and HMG CO-A reductase inhibitors as drugs that weren’t previously considered to be antihypertensive but that actually improved success rates in hypertension treatment.
Without big data, it would be both time-consuming and expensive to rerun studies on these kinds of drugs. Moreover, there simply wouldn’t be enough data available to do it.
Anyone who watches the news should be aware of the constant threat of identity theft. Every day, hackers create new scams and tactics to steal private information that they can sell to the highest bidder or use to take out loans and credit cards and put victims in debt. Unfortunately, few industries are as exposed to these threats as the healthcare industry.
Every time someone goes to the doctor, they are sharing personal details with their medical provider and other staff, which gets logged into a computer for later — and hackers are eager to unlock this treasure trove of private info. As technology advances, so will the threats, so extra precautions will be necessary. Below are the threats coming down the pike and how to prevent them.
Emerging Healthcare Threats
Healthcare will always be a huge target for cyber thieves simply because of the pure amount of information that is created with every doctor’s appointment or surgical procedure. An emerging threat that is gaining steam is ransomware attacks, where hackers take control of patient data with the hope of illegal profit.
Just one example includes how, early in 2019, hackers gained access and encrypted the data within the computer system of provider NEO Urology. Fearing the worst, the staff paid the requested $75,000, and the data was freed. It was a painful price to pay for a threat that could have been avoided.
All it takes is one successful scheme to bring the criminals out of the woodwork. Since the NEO hack, several other ransomware attacks have occurred around the country, including instances in New York and California, where thousands of patient records have been compromised. When these attacks occur, it is not only patients that face the consequences, but also the business, as the cost to repair a corporate image and fix the damage could cost a company millions.
New technologies are on the horizon, but they too must be safeguarded from cyber threats. Lately, the idea of integrating artificial intelligence into hospitals has been gaining steam, as experts believe that this technology could limit the number of hospital errors as well as assist with earlier detection of medical issues. However, while this technology continues to evolve, it is still open to the risk of cybercrime.
As a first step to securing your hospital systems, a penetration test should be completed. Penetration testing involves inspecting your system for vulnerabilities, such as weak firewalls or poor security policies, and creates a report, so you know what to fix to protect patient information involved. Your baseline security should be intact before adding any new features.
How did you first hear about your doctor’s office or primary care facility? Were you passing by and saw a sign, or was it the closest place to your house when it came time for a checkup? Chances are neither was the case; if you had a choice in your healthcare provider you probably heard about them and the quality of their work through some sort of marketing strategy.
Although many of us try not to think too much about it, every single healthcare facility we visit is a business. Ultimately, this means they are subject to the many ups and downs of running a business, which includes the need for a recruitment strategy, and a brand identity, and marketing. Hospitals, clinics, and every healthcare professional out there strive to build brand recognition and positive brand identity their patients will remain loyal to and newcomers will flock towards.
Most moderate to large healthcare facilities invest substantially in marketing strategies that are likely to build trust with patients and draw a steady stream of new patients. In 2020, healthcare marketing and recruitment are more important than ever and much of it is happening digitally. Here are some online methods healthcare organizations can capitalize on to improve their online presence and brand reputation.
Capitalize on tech gains
Technology in the healthcare industry is expanding capabilities at an astounding rate. The things that are possible — such as electronic medical records or smartwatches that send health data directly to your doctor — were only dreams two decades ago. Advances in technology, especially in the realm of big data, offer substantial marketing and recruiting opportunities for the industry.
In essence, the rise of big data has turned healthcare on its head (for the better). Within the hospital setting, it allows healthcare professionals to easily consolidate patient data and reveal potential healthcare concerns that otherwise may have gone unnoticed, greatly improving patient outcomes. From a marketing perspective, it can help identify where needs in the community may be and enable marketing professionals to more accurately design targeted outreach campaigns.
It’s perhaps the greatest gift a person can have, but we usually take it for granted until it’s gone. Without it, nothing else in life is quite the same. And once it’s gone, it can be very hard to get it back. And while patients play the ultimate role in safeguarding and directing their health, the truth is that no one can do it alone. No matter what your role in the healthcare industry may be, you are charged with a sacred obligation to treat your patients with respect, honor, and care.
No matter who our patients are — rich or poor, young or old, sick or well — they depend on healthcare experts to help them protect this most precious gift of health. They expect and assume that those whom they entrust with their lives and the lives of those they love will be respectful of that trust, will care for them and their dear ones ethically and honorably. But what does this mean for your clinical practice? What do healthcare ethics look like in the year 2020?
Honoring the Human in the Technological Age
Privacy is one of the most sacred rights and significant concerns in healthcare. However, there’s no escaping the fact that we live in the era of big data, and there’s also no escaping the fact that big data can be a tremendous asset in healthcare. Even if a patient is thousands of miles away from home and from their primary healthcare providers, electronic health data can facilitate the sharing of essential medical records, from scans to lab results, with just the click of a button.
But how, in this age of big data and breathtakingly fast technological evolution do we ensure that respect for the human is not lost? How do we avoid reducing individual patients to a mere system of lab results and scans? How do we prevent losing the person in a sea of data sets? That will and must be one of the principal ethical considerations in 2020.
Developments in technology have had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. We can hardly get through an hour without tech having an effect on what we’re doing, let alone a full day. From the morning alarm on our smartphones, to the Bluetooth sound system in our cars, to the social media accounts we share everything on, technology surrounds us.
Perhaps one of the aspects that many of us think the least about is how it has utterly transformed the way we manage our healthcare data. The development of electronic health records and, even more importantly, the cloud, have brought about all sorts of changes. Many have the potential to impact our lives in both positive and negative ways depending upon how they are managed.
When it comes to our health data, there is an added urgency in making sure everything is safe and secure no matter where it is ultimately stored. Well managed data can mean a more efficient and effective healthcare service, while mismanaged data can lead to the loss of personal information and an unraveling of the privacy most of us have come to expect in a professional healthcare setting.
Medical Records, HIPAA and the Cloud
In 1996, the United States government passed HIPAA, a landmark healthcare act that helped to create and enforce privacy and data security requirements associated with medical information. The act has since been expanded in an effort to keep up with modern technologies, and nearly everyone involved in the healthcare system is expected to follow the rules. Because of this legislation, one can expect that their medical records will be kept private unless they choose to release them, no matter where they are stored.
Cloud-based data storage and technology provides numerous benefits to the healthcare system including things such as better dataset analysis, improved efficiencies in individual patient care, and a much lower cost. However, it can also lead to a number of concerns, especially when it comes to HIPAA compliance. HIPAA rules not only apply to the medical facilities that are using cloud technology, but also to the tech vendors as well.
Unfortunately, just because cloud technology providers are not exempt from HIPAA rules, does not mean that they necessarily follow them. There is no real certification process and the government doesn’t exactly clear companies to work with healthcare organizations. It is completely up to the healthcare entity and the tech provider to make sure their services are meeting the necessary HIPAA standards.
Loopholes in the System
It may come as somewhat of a surprise to both patients and healthcare providers to learn that there are popular new aspects of medicine and technology that aren’t necessarily covered by HIPAA regulations. For instance, HIPAA does not cover anonymized data such as the data that is collected during genetic testing. Essentially, this allows for a patient’s anonymous information to be shared at will.
When most people visit their health professional, they go in confidence that they are in good hands and the confidentiality of their health issues and personal information is protected. After all, who can a person trust more than their doctor? Unfortunately, while patients are safe a majority of the time, there is the chance that a data breach could result in the release of private information.
This breach could be because of a computer hacker, a system breakdown, or even a natural disaster. In any case, the healthcare organization is responsible for keeping patient data secure. If they fail to do so, then they must do damage control and patients must do what they need to in order to protect themselves. Here is a breakdown of what is expected of these companies and what consumers should do in the event of a medical data breach.
The Responsibility of Health Companies
When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was officially enacted in 2003, it set a precedent that health organizations must ensure that all patient information is private and confidential. Along with that came the HIPAA security rule, which says that the same organizations must perform risk analysis and have the proper safeguards in place so that data cannot be stolen or leaked to unauthorized individuals.
While many organizations have the proper barriers in place to protect the loss of data, there have been instances where significant breaches have resulted in major leaks. The data leaked in such a breach can include everything from patient names and addresses to Social Security numbers, which can be used to conduct identity theft. If you discovers that a breach has occurred and it affects your patients’ data, then you must take action. You should also prepare for your patients to do the same — often in the form of lawsuits.
Back in 2014, UCLA health was involved in a class-action lawsuit and had to pay out $7.5 million after hackers broke into their system and copied or stole the records of 4.5 million patients. Another such breach took place recently in 2019 when the teaching hospital at the University of Connecticut was infiltrated. In this instance, the hackers accessed employee email accounts, which also potentially contained patient records and Social Security numbers. The related class action suit is still pending.
Without a doubt, data is the driving force for innovation within healthcare. It has allowed for processes to be streamlined, busy work to be automated, and medical professionals to have more time with their patients. This data within health informatics is giving doctors, nurses, and the like access to better patient information and allowing more precision within their work.
These innovations are disrupting two arenas within the industry: patient care and institutional structure. Not only do these innovations in healthcare informatics better inform doctors and allow patients to receive an improved quality of care, but they can ensure that healthcare facilities run more smoothly. Here are a few ways that innovations from data informatics have been changing the world of healthcare.
More Patient-Focused Care
Data has allowed medical care to become more patient-focused. This means more time and effort is given to patients individually. Doctors have less paperwork to do because a lot of the organizational work is automated. But patients are also able to take care of themselves at home, or at least effectively communicate with doctors about their condition.
There are many applications for telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. We are seeing sexual health, disease symptoms and concerns, heart rate, dietary problems, and mental health counseling being addressed with apps or telemedicine practices.
For instance, rather than waiting for regularly scheduled checkups, some patients are able to take their own blood pressure and report it to their doctor using a mobile app. This is done through a process called computerized provider order entry (CPOE). Some doctors are wary of this practice, which has inspired conversations about the trustworthiness of patients. But it could be incredibly helpful for those with limited means of transportation or who rely on a caretaker.
AI is able to operate with expert precision and analyze patients in a way that doctors have never been able to. For instance, AI can accurately detect skin cancer. In the past, doctors would have to determine this from dermoscopic images. AI is able to analyze patients and provide a more accurate result. This advancement could have incredible consequences for cancer prevention.
While cybersecurity is an issue constantly addressed by the media and something small and large businesses alike are consistently focusing on, one of the biggest digital dilemmas comes from the healthcare system. This may be unsurprising, given that financial records and personal data are all stored within patient care files. Hackers are fully aware of the value of this data, and it’s about time that the medical industry shows that it does as well.
Sadly, one in four consumers have had their
healthcare data breached. This calls for swift action by the players in the
field. Some experts think that the answer can be found in blockchain. That’s
right — the same technology that secures Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
could soon become the key to protecting patient records.
While there have been ongoing discussion among
government and finance officials about the actual risks of cryptocurrency, it’s
generally agreed upon by tech experts that blockchain is one of the most secure
ways to go. Will the world see this technology implemented into its healthcare
systems soon, though? It’s very possible that the answer is “yes.”
The Security of Blockchain Makes
It the Best Ledger for Healthcare Networks
The reason that blockchain technology a
regular part of public discussion and being normalized in new industries so
frequently is its transparency and security measures. It’s garnered public,
private, criminal, and government interest due to this, and it’s doubtful that
its popularity will stop anytime soon. But what is it about the ledger that
makes it so safe?
Primarily, it’s the unique approach it takes
to security keys. There wouldn’t be a way for someone to modify or corrupt
information within a blockchain system without the relevant key. At one point
it was even believed that the technology was unhackable.
While there is still debate over what it means to hack blockchain networks and
whether or not it’s even been done, that debate still points to the safety of
those networks at large. Without a doubt, it is the most secure ledger for
protecting personal data — and hospitals may need it the most.
Making It Official
The lengths at which blockchain is being
adapted cannot be understated. Government officials are starting to explore the
technology, and the big four investment firms are even beginning to pay attention to it. But what
does this mean for the healthcare industry?
Well right now, blockchain still is not the
norm. Currently, if a hospital or healthcare organization wants to adopt it,
they are probably making the best move in terms of security.
While there are downsides to this kind of mass
adoption (discussed at further length below), it also calls for advancements to
be made, which could better these systems as a whole. It should be noted that
with something as new as blockchain technology hitting the greater market,
there are a lot of changes bound to happen that cannot be accurately predicted
The Adaptation of Blockchain in
Culture May Challenge Security
Granted, it is very important to recognize
that blockchain’s mass acceptance could adulterate the technology. With
businesses at large implementing it into their operations and the parallel use
of mobile money tools in modern society, people are going to start looking for
loopholes. Hackers are going to make it their duty to try and disrupt it.
For this reason, there needs to be external precautions set up for security. A good example is business insurance — something necessary for every hospital, even with blockchain implementation. The loss of mass amounts of data is bound to occur, so hospitals need to be protected, even when their systems seem foolproof.
Right now, hospitals and organizations at
large need to understand that blockchain is a very important technology to the
future of healthcare. But it cannot be solely depended on, either. Other
precautions need to be taken to protect patient data by the healthcare
industry. Blockchain may be the best option healthcare networks have for data
When you hear the words “cancer treatment,” you probably think of things like chemotherapy, radiation or even hair loss. While many cancer patients go through painful procedures that create uncomfortable and life-changing side effects, there might be new ways to help them deal with the disease and their care.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are technology trends in healthcare that have recently taken the industry by storm. While many researchers have been interested in this technology for some time, it’s only been in the past few years that studies have started to prove its usefulness in helping cancer patients undergoing care. Here are the essentials you should know to understand the use of VR and AR for cancer patients.
What are VR and AR?
Virtual reality is an immersive technology that closes the user off from the real world. Using a headset and video screen, the user can feel the experience of being transported to new locations. If you’re unfamiliar with this technology, do a quick online search to find videos of people who feel they are falling or that things are moving toward them in such a way that they instinctively shift their body to avoid contact. These videos are amusing, but this technology is so much more than just fun.
Augmented reality, often called AR, uses a camera or smartphone to add digital elements to the real world. Typical uses are lenses on the popular app Snapchat or the ever-intriguing game of Pokemon Go. AR has many applications in healthcare as well.
Use of VR and AR in healthcare
Medicine and other treatments are both palliative and curative. However, all medicines and procedures have limitations and at times create negative effects that patients must adapt to or learn to overcome. Researchers continually look for new ways to impact patient care with immersive technologies and other cutting-edge advancements. Both AR and VR have received acclaim for their role in the healthcare industry.
Not only can this tech help patients, but it can improve healthcare as a whole. A few of the ways VR is impacting healthcare can be seen in the treatment of chronic pain, the restoration of low vision in older patients or those with damaged vision, and the expedited recovery of patients after traumatic brain injury.