By Brooke Faulkner, freelance writer; @faulknercreek.
Up to a fifth of patients with serious conditions are first misdiagnosed, and that leaves tremendous consequences. With the help of healthcare technology, doctors are able to diagnosis patients more effectively and easier. For example, migrating patient data from paper to online, known as electronic health records (EHRs), has greatly aided the medical world. Technology, especially using artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, has enabled doctors to make faster, more accurate diagnoses, and thus provide better care.
The volume of big data
Duquesne University estimated there to be 150 exabytes of healthcare data collected in 2011. Four years later, they reported about 83 percent of doctors had transitioned from using paper to electronic records. By now, with the ubiquity of the cloud, these numbers have assuredly gone up.
Massive amounts of data make predictive analytics possible, as trends can be spotted and analyzed. By spotting patterns, diagnosis of a disease becomes easier even for doctors unfamiliar with a specific disease or symptom. Uploading symptoms allows a computer to compare records and identify symptoms comorbid of other problems. This allows even specialized doctors to recognize issues outside of their field. Medical mistakes lead to the death of some 440,000 people each year; while misdiagnosis is only a part of this number, correct diagnosis and treatment will reduce it.
Big data can even be collected in the form of PDFs as part of telemedicine. A doctor can send PDFs to patients as part of a poll or survey or simply to collect symptom information from the patient. From there, data entered in the PDF can be collected and analyzed, generating patient data or feedback for the doctor.
Google flu trends
Google ran what can best be called an experiment from 2008 to 2014. Using artificial intelligence, the search engine recorded flu-related searches in an attempt to predict the severity of an outbreak, as well as the affected geographical area.
It was a flawed model, and tried to use big data as a replacement, rather than a supplement, for traditional data collection and analysis. It completely missed a flu outbreak in 2013, the data off by a massive 140 percent, and Google Flu Trends ended its public version in 2014. The algorithm monitoring flu-related search terms was simply not sophisticated enough to provide accurate results. While new data is no longer available to the public, historical data remains available to the Centers for Disease Control and other research groups. It’s possible that once the algorithm and predictive analysis is capable, the program will continue.
By Brooke Faulkner
The phrase “medical tourism” has been coined to describe the millions of Americans who are traveling across the globe to have surgery or other medical procedures performed. According to Visa and Oxford Economics, this trend is growing at a rate of 25 percent per year.
Healthcare in the U.S. has become increasingly expensive — to the point that some necessary treatments are entirely out of reach for the average American. Combine that with rising health insurance premiums and high deductibles, and it’s no wonder 1.4 million people traveled abroad last year to get the medical care they needed.
Additionally, many countries offer more advanced technological solutions and experimental treatments that are not yet available within the U.S. Better, more advanced care that is less expensive sounds like an attractive reason why so many Americans are taking advantage of overseas healthcare.
The reason these countries can offer above-standard care for less money is that the doctors are paid less and hospitals charge less than in America. Plus, the insurance costs are a fraction of U.S. expenses. The result is that some U.S. health insurance companies now support overseas treatment and even pay for the travel along with the cost of the procedures.
Talk of improvements to the U.S. healthcare system becomes popular during an election year, but unfortunately, things don’t seem to improve; they continue to get more expensive for the average American.
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was in part meant to discourage traveling outside the country for healthcare by making it easier for all Americans to be able to afford their own treatment. Unfortunately forcing everyone to have health insurance only increased health insurance premiums, hospitals and physician fees and complicated the issue making affordable healthcare further out of reach.
U.S. Medical Technology: How Does It Measure Up?
In the U.S., healthcare professionals have a number of factors to consider when implementing technology. They must consider cost, leadership buy-in and other keys to successful implementation. Unfortunately, because of the excessive investment cost for medical technology implementation here in the U.S., America is sorely lagging behind countries like Canada, China, India and England. These countries have access to bigger budgets, fewer government bottlenecks, and a more streamlined approval process to get medicine and devices out into the market faster.
The United Kingdom, China and Canada are all investing serious money in biotechnology and experimenting with pharmaceutical cures that are years beyond the technology produced by U.S. companies. Lawmakers in those countries are invested in supporting and funding new technologies to lead the pack in innovation and medical history.
The difference is that in many of these locales, the government solidly backs the research and development of medical technology solutions rather than private companies. In the U.S. most of the advancements come from the private sector and are not government sanctioned or funded.
By Brooke Faulkner, freelance writer, @faulknercreek.
The proliferation of wearable mobile-connected devices has done a lot of good for people trying to lead healthier lives. People are able to gather data about their sleep to help them get better rest, track insomnia, stress, and exercise, and keep up to date on their own daily routines and health.
Many of the devices exist not just as trackers but as ways for people to motivate themselves to exercise more, go to bed at more regular times, and other little things that slip by in the daily grind.
Healthcare Data in the Modern Age
Sleep is absolutely related to health. Many health issues affect our sleep or are caused by issues with sleeping. A number of medical professionals are interested in how, when, and for how long we sleep. These days, that information is stored in digital medical records, which have a number of advantages. Specialists can access information far more quickly and easily to help us with medical problems.
There are, however, disadvantages to medical records being easily accessible and easily updatable. Privacy and security have become major concerns for healthcare providers, as the records contain our most sensitive information, which proves highly valuable to hackers.
Official medical records, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. We use the internet not only as a go-to for advice about medical conditions, but as a method to voluntarily record all sorts of data about us. Recording, storing, and tracking sleep data on our personal devices gives us a lot of power to “do it yourself” when it comes to preventative health and tracking changes in our sleep patterns. This ease of use, however, comes with a cost. It’s not all about sinister hackers, either; that data can be used in all sorts of ways that are, while not outright damaging, at least partially invasive.
Wearables, Bluetooth and Data
Tech companies are working on more advanced ways to use high-tech devices to track our sleep. These include wearables and even devices that don’t need to be attached to the body. The amount of information gathered, and its accuracy, varies greatly by device. The Bluetooth connectivity and the ability to store, track, and share the data the devices collect are parts of their appeal.
The number and type of people who benefit from this information is vast. Sleep disorders are a common side effect of other medical disorders, and managing sleep is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, especially for people who are at greater risk for certain conditions.
You don’t need to have or be at risk for medical complications to make use of sleep data, however. There are plenty of careers in the U.S. which require people to work long or unconventional hours. Night shifts and long shifts, such as those worked by nurses, can cause havoc with the circadian rhythms that regulate our sleep. This can create complications for otherwise completely healthy people. Being able to self-regulate with the help of wearable devices is a great advantage.
By Brooke Faulkner
There’s no question that the forward march of medical technology has improved personal and public health, creating lasting positive change for humanity. New technology, however, sometimes comes with risks. While those risks rarely outweigh the potential advantages, fully exploring and preparing for them is an important responsibility.
New Solutions Pose New Dangers
One demonstration of this relationship occurred as we were developing medical devices meant to be used inside the human body. Using medical devices internally presents the problem of contamination from external sources, and we learned that killing bacteria isn’t enough — specifically, we discovered that the endotoxins produced by dead bacteria can also be harmful.
That particular issue, we’ve already solved. It is, however, an excellent example of how new benefits can present dangers that we hadn’t contended with before: our ability to kill bacteria presented a new problem as our technology continued to improve, and we started putting medical devices inside the body. We realized that some types of dead bacteria are still dangerous, and that our sterilization standards had to improve.
This relationship between new advancements and new risks continues today, although it takes different forms. The hot-button issue these days has more to do with data and privacy, which while not directly health related, has significant risks when breached.
Healthcare Data Innovations and Breakthroughs
Our ability to collect, process, and draw conclusions from ever larger amounts of data has been a huge boon to the medical industry.
- Asset tracking is the process of using fluid, regularly updated databases to keep track of physical assets and tools at a facility. However, it’s useful in many more ways than inventory management. Scanning and mobile device technology allows an asset to be kept track of at every point in its journey, from storage to use.
This method of tracking and categorizing physical assets, as well as patients, can be very useful in preventing serious accidents caused by miscommunication. Even life-threatening mistakes, such as wrong-site surgery, can be prevented by good data management. Timing, types, and amounts of medication can also be streamlined with this process, which could for example automatically sweep a database for potential adverse reactions or conflicts before a drug is prescribed to a patient.
- Giving doctors access to a digital database that covers a patient’s entire history is another advantage that advanced data technology can provide. These databases can be populated with information from several different sources, including family doctors, specialists, and even self-reported data. A doctor can have access to the notes of their peers in the medical community quickly and easily, vastly improving the care that a patient receives.
- From a management point of view, new data technologies allow administrators to streamline the operations of their offices and hospitals. Understanding how to best utilize staff for a balance of efficiency quality has a direct impact on the health of patients.
- Predictive analytics are another area which can be hugely beneficial to the healthcare field. Basically, it’s an automated process that does much of the work a doctor does already: look at a patient’s history, compare it with current medical knowledge, and use it to make predictions about that patient’s future needs. The difference is the scale at which it can be performed when automated and the sheer volume of up-to-date data that can be included. Doctors can’t be expected to keep up to date with every new study, but a database can be populated with that information to compare against.
On both a wide and individual scale, the applications of our improving data technology are saving lives and improving the quality of life of patients.
All this integration, however, comes with those pesky risks. Not nearly enough to warrant halting progress but enough to need heavy consideration.
Cybersecurity in Healthcare
The problem with health data is it’s often some of the most private and consequential data about human beings. That, unfortunately, makes it some of the most profitable to identity thieves, and even advertisers with few scruples. Healthcare data can be held to ransom, used for identity theft, or even insurance fraud. As DeVry University notes: “Your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number are all in one convenient location — ripe for stealing. Cybercriminals can take your private health information (PHI) and sell it for high prices. In fact, stolen medical records sell for 10 to 20 times more than stolen credit card numbers.”