The idea that technology can drastically affect the way we communicate, do business, and live our lives is not a new one. It allows us to keep in touch with people all over the globe and read thousands of books on a single device, and has led to the extinction of video stores like Blockbuster. But what has the effect of technology had on healthcare? In many ways, it is an industry that has been reluctant to change. Digital devices, computerized software, and mobile apps have already begun to shakeup healthcare as we know it, and this wave of the technological revolution shows no signs of slowing down.
For instance, we can now “digitize” humans. Healthcare practitioners do so by monitoring heart rates and blood pressures, keeping track of breathing rates and body temperature, noting oxygen saturation rates and brainwaves, and measuring glucose. Not only that, but computers can do so immediately and continuously. Radiologists can image body parts and create digital reconstructions – an advance that is quickly paving the way for the capability to print functional organs in 3D. This information and more can be uploaded; combined with images, test results, and other data; and shared simultaneously with nurses, doctors, specialists, and even the patients themselves. Researchers and doctors can even run genome sequencing to predict what kinds of conditions need to be monitored in an infant post-natally, to run autopsies, and most importantly – to save lives. Imagine a system with all the diverse capabilities and versatility of an iPhone plus some, but for medicine.
And there’s still much more to come. The same investors who channeled their funds into social media sites and internet games are now turning their attention to healthcare. In fact, venture capitalists have invested over $950 million dollars into healthcare information technology. Imagine what nearly one billion dollars’ worth of investments can do for medicine and patient care. The federal government also has big plans to invest heavily in the industry, to the tune of $29 billion.
For example, IBM researchers have begun developing a supercomputer known as “Watson” that will have the ability to track patients’ histories, stay up-to-date on the latest medical research, and even analyze and make suggestions about treatment options. Another invention is a translation machine that will be extremely useful for doctors practicing medicine in the field. The machine would instantly translate a doctor’s speech into another language. Some investors have also put money into the development of a social media site for physicians called Doximity, which would allow healthcare professionals to ask each other questions and put their heads together to solve difficult cases. There’s also a startup that has created a consultation service through which patients can contact top-rated doctors, either over the phone or online, and thus save a trip to the emergency room. And of course, there are a wide range of mobile apps that encourage people to stay healthy, either by setting goals for themselves, tracking calories, monitoring exercise, or some combination of the above.
There’s a lot of money going into healthcare IT right now, and for good reason. Despite the upfront cost to develop and market these technologies, there’s a lot of evidence that they will pay off handsomely not just in terms of profits, but in terms of patient satisfaction, physician performance, diagnostic ability, and treatment success.