Digital Health Innovative Ideas & Key Trends
December 22nd, 2016
We are all witnesses that 2016 was the year when Digital Health technologies took off and developed actively. Such rapid growth was partly due to the emergence of numerous wearable tech devices, but also due to numerous breakthroughs in other IT-related business areas.
Digital health improves the quality of life, increases the lifespan, and gives people an opportunity to learn more about their lifestyles and how their bodies work.
Most importantly, digital health (or, more specifically, digital healthcare) changes and improves the quality of care for patients, by enhancing the instruments for surgeons and other medical staff.
Let’s find out what are the main trends in health information technologies (HIT) and how will they affect the development of the sphere as a whole.
Databanks and their security
Considering the increasing volumes of health-related data records, the requirements for the database security and data protection are becoming more complex.
The companies that operate in the HIT field - health information service providers - face the need to create adequate storage conditions as well as decent structural organization for various data types. Information for storing includes both text and images, videos, and genome information.
Data analysis tools also are being actively used in the digital healthcare. The algorithms applied to the collected data help to understand the processes that take place inside a human body, which, in turn, help to create better treatment plans and methods.
Insufficient security levels are one of the main problems of the digital health sphere, especially if you consider the sheer number of cyber attacks and hacking.
A survey conducted by Ponemon Institute showed that about 90% of organizations have been victims of hackers within the last two years, while 45% faced with five or more break-in attempts in the same period.
Information security of healthcare companies expenditures are growing and we should expect state regulators’ attention to this area, who will formulate the requirements for patient information protection and make it compulsory to comply with these regulations.
The first wearable devices’ purpose was for people to get more information about themselves. For example, physical activities, walking distances, heart rate, and other vitals. Over time, these devices have captured the attention of ordinary, “non-geek” people.
Doctors, in turn, have decided to take advantage of the information to get to know the patient better. Besides simple fitness bracelets, wearable tech can analyze the person’s pulse and blood sugar level, track stress and respiratory level, ultraviolet radiation levels and correct posture. Some trackers can even monitor and measure blood pressure.
Experts predict that the market for wearable devices will continue to shift from general-purpose devices to more specialized monitors, designed for doctors.
Some of these devices are able to not only monitor certain body functions but also to improve them. For instance, consider popular sleep trackers and smart alarm clocks. They can store information about sleep quality, duration, depth, as well as wake the person up during the natural phase of REM sleep, which helps to feel more rested. Sales of sleep monitoring devices have risen within the last years and there are many to choose from.
The data from these gadgets can be obtained and analyzed in almost real-time. The patient’s data can also be transmitted to the treating physician if the gadget is a medical one. This plays a vital role in caring for elderly people, people with heart diseases, or other illnesses that can be tracked.
Besides treating the known symptoms, data analysis tools will eventually transform into a more sophisticated forecasting tools that will work on preventing the possible health risks.
Analysts predict that over time, people will have sensors to monitor all vitals. Doctors, in the meantime, armed with intelligent data analysis algorithms, will be able to analyze these vitals in real-time and treat many diseases at early stages.
Smart Sensors and the Internet of Things
What got attention in 2016 were the smart sensors you can swallow. Created by a team from MIT, these swallowable sensors can track the person’s vitals based on the sound waves produced by heartbeat and inflation/deflation of lungs.
A bit earlier, a company called Proteus, created a solution for one of the problems that exist in the healthcare sector, namely that 50% of prescribed medications aren’t taken as directed.
What is their solution? A smart pill and patch. When the pill with a sensor is taken, it transmits a signal to the patch, which sends a notification to the person’s cell phone, storing the data in the Proteus cloud. The cloud can be accessed by physicians or caregivers of the person to check the status.
The Internet of Things and medicine develop side by side, bringing about the emergence of new devices and smart algorithms. As part of a smart home system, there are sensors that can analyze the behavior of the residents, for example, an elderly man, and send a notification in case the activity changes dramatically.
Such scenarios can be useful if for instance, if the person took a nap and didn’t wake up after a decent amount of hours, or if the lights were not turned on when it got darker. These sensors can be a part of a large remote patient monitoring (RPM) system or just be connected to wearable devices, such as bracelets that measure blood pressure, glucose level, and other indicators, providing the data for doctors and caretakers to analyze.
Wearable technologies and sensors give a new impetus for the development of telemedicine - remote patients consultations. Store-and-forward telehealth is also a part of telemedicine.
Analysts say that there will be over 5 million patients with remote health monitoring devices by the end of 2016. Every year, the number of such people will increase by about 50% and by 2020, there will be around 36.1 million people, using such technology.
So far, the largest telemedicine market is the US (40%). Europe is expected to grow rapidly as well and by 2020, the penetration will reach 50% of the market.
Studies show that the fastest growing segment of the telemedicine market is the health monitoring systems, which occupies 65% of the total market volume.
All of this means that a lot of attention will be paid to the development of tools for communication between patients and physicians, remote health monitoring and patient data analysis. In other words, the development of telemedicine will be the growth factor for other digital health IT trends.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the near future will begin to move from the laboratory to the health ecosystem. In conjunction with monitoring the data coming from portable devices, AI will analyze the information in real-time and help people make more informed decisions in the field of public health.
Artificial intelligence also helps to diagnose complex diseases, such as cancer, faster and thus offer adequate treatments for them early on.
An AI project from Microsoft uses algorithms to analyze search queries and detect people with early stages of pancreatic cancer. Analysis of their requests before even the first symptoms of the disease appeared allowed to narrow down what information people are looking for. Similar studies were conducted by other scientists as well, for example, from the University of California.
Neural networks, artificial intelligence, and data mining algorithms are able to bring diagnostics to the next level. Who knows, we might get an electronic “Dr. House,” a specialist in the differential diagnosis, in the near future.
Advances in robotics, AI, and behavioral sciences will be used to address the therapeutic needs of people in innovative ways. Robots are already used as a means to help the elderly and care for them. Further development will be directed to meet the emotional and social needs of patients and their rehabilitation.
The world-famous Da Vinci robotic surgery systems have been successfully used in operations for a few years now. A few months ago, a STAR robot (Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot) surpassed a person in several types of surgical procedures. At the moment, the robot is practicing on pig guts, but an operation on a human is not too far off.
Talking about operations, the experts are now talking about the feasibility of telesurgeries - operations done by remote controlled robots. These technologies are already being tested in some US hospitals, and surgeries performed with robot assistants have been successful.
The robots aren’t only used in OP. Electronic “friends” can help take care of the whole family’s health. One of such robots is called Pillo, a variation of a digital assistant.
Such robot can analyze the different medications family members are taking and remind them (for example, via a text message) to take a pill. In addition, the robot can notify your doctor in case you’re running out of prescribed meds.
Virtual reality continues to penetrate medical institutions. VR headsets provide a new experience for professionals, including surgeons, who get to train their skills using a mixture of simulated models and real-world operations.
Analysts expect that by 2020, the virtual and augmented realities market in the digital health sector will reach $2.54 billion. These technologies will be used mainly for doctors’ training and patients’ rehabilitation.
The most widely used virtual reality application will be in surgery rooms. Thanks to this technology, surgeons will be able to hone their skills, learn from their mistakes, and replay their operations step by step to find exactly what and when something went wrong.
Rehabilitation of patients, including those with complex injuries, will also be a good application for the VR. It can be used for social adaptation of people with autism or those suffering from phantom limb pain. Virtual reality games and travels can even help with acute real pain.
Have a creative idea how to help people in digital health area?
Have a creative idea how to help people in digital health area?