Guest post by John Barnett, project coordinator at Iflexion.
With evolving requirements for care value and quality, caregivers turn to technology to handle emerging challenges related to patients’ health outcomes, care costs and CMS reporting. Each year, new tech-driven solutions arise to assist providers in complying with changing circumstances.
The upcoming 2017 will be even more interesting technology-wise, since after Donald Trump was elected the new President, it’s now possible to form a very different perspective on healthcare. With this in mind, let’s look into market analysts’ predictions for growing trends to watch next year.
3D imaging, augmented and virtual reality
Currently, MRIs and CT scans allow viewing patients’ body parts, organs and tissues in 3D. 2017 may uplift care delivery by harnessing 3D imaging and improving it with augmented and virtual reality.
Caregivers can adopt 3D imaging for patient education and engagement, as well as for treating mental health disorders, such as phobias and schizophrenia.
Surgeons, physicians and nurses might use 3D and enabled glasses for further education and training – for example, to simulate complex microsurgeries. Augmented reality can be harnessed during live surgeries as well, allowing more precision to locate organs and blood vessels accurately, reducing possible damage to healthy tissue.
For instance, eye and brain surgeries imply working in limited spaces, using high-powered microscopes, and making cuts sometimes smaller than a millimeter (e.g., in retina surgery). 3D cameras can widen the picture and allow the whole team to see the target area. When 3D view is coupled with enabled glasses, this may also reduce surgeons’ fatigue from constantly looking into a microscope and keeping an uncomfortable posture with bowed heads and strained necks.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
While physicians have remarkable capabilities to analyze patients’ symptoms and make deductions, still humans can process quickly only a limited volume of information. This is where technology comes into play to support experience and proficiency.
Particularly, artificial intelligence software development is anticipated to become one of the widespread trends of 2017, with such headliners as IBM, Google, Amazon and many others.
AI encompassing machine learning and big data analytics evolves to make multiple healthcare processes faster and more effective. Some of the examples of future benefits are:
- Automated diagnostics based on medical images
- Predicted disease progression with chances to develop complications and further admissions / readmissions
- Predicted reaction to chemotherapy in cancer patients
- Calculated groups of at-risk patients (such as chronic patients with multiple conditions) according to their vitals, heredity, prior diseases, passed procedures and more to enroll them in specialized connected health programs
- Predicted care results and patients’ health outcomes according to established treatment plans, allowing to intervene timely and improve care delivery
Many of future solutions will support natural language processing, as big data in healthcare usually comes in big chunks of unstructured information. If surgeons, physicians and nurses are able to input information directly with their voice, this will also reduce time, effort and, ultimately, costs.
While this technology is already well-known with such existing healthcare applications as implants and orthopedic devices, new options can be unlocked in 2017. As the right medicine dosage is critical for appropriate treatment, especially in case of narrow therapeutic indices (such as blood thinners), the next year might bring an innovative opportunity to 3D printing of medicines. It would allow personalized treatment through customizing drug formulations for patients with special needs (like cancer sufferers sensitive to certain medicines), reshaping pills to facilitate swallowing and creating new drug combinations.
Next, 3D bioprinting can become a more adopted technology, with possibility to recreate tissues, blood vessels and organs. The number of applications is booming – from replacing skin tissue for burn victims to equipping patients with new organs whenever they need it. And little patients can benefit from this technology too, as bioprinting allows to develop airway splints for babies with tracheobronchomalacia, designed to grow with kids. These splints prevent little lungs from collapsing by creating small airways around them.
What is even more fascinating is that printed organs, such as hearts, lungs and kidneys can become a reality, offering more patients a timely transplantation without the need to be on the donor waiting list.
Bioprinted tissues have also great potential in drug research and development to test new medicines on a human-like tissue, without lab animals and human volunteers on early stages.
It is also called robot-assisted surgery. Some major caregivers, such as Mayo Clinic, already use this technology to help patients. The benefits of robotic surgery include more precision, increased flexibility, higher control and smaller cuts. Some of the current application areas are:
- Hip replacement
- Kidney transplant
- Mitral valve repair, and more
In 2017, we anticipate a wider adoption of robots outside operating rooms.
Imagine telepresence robots, allowing a physician actually examine patients while being outside the room, facility or even state. Or robots to help providers transport pharmacy supplies, patient food, lab tests or even trash. There can be patient and elderly care robots to lift patients from beds to their wheelchairs and back.
By the way, robot wheelchairs can become a true revolution. They may transform into standing stations, allowing patients with disabilities to stand proudly, look people in the eyes and ride like on their personal Segway. Moreover, such chairs also reduce back pains caused by constant sitting in one position.
Some robots can also help pediatric patients with autism, phobias, distractions and mental health disorders, being their companion, friend and psychologist.
So what will 2017 bring in healthcare technology-wise?
Analysts think ambitiously, and we hope that many of their predictions will come true, as patients need innovations that could make care delivery more effective and lead to improved health outcomes. Of course, costs matter as well, and 3D printing has major opportunities to cut on financials, especially when took to the assembly line.
3D imaging combined with VR and augmented reality as well as enhanced by AI, has a great potential to change both how physicians and patients look at the disease. Most of conditions are, unfortunately, unpredictable. However, when the human mind stumbles upon natural limitations, technology takes over and forecasts possible outcomes. Everybody want healthcare to be easier to calculate and program, so that patients would live their lives without continuous concerns. Hopefully, 2017 will make a great step towards that.