How is technology shaping the healthcare sector and what is on the horizon? A digital healthcare transformation is taking place globally that will have an immense impact on patients and providers alike. Four trends shaping the future of digital healthcare.
Rise in patient engagement and mobile technologies
We will see a trend toward more patient involvement in their own healthcare that will be impacted by two factors. First, the healthcare industry continues to invest in the creation of online information, mobile applications, and personal health devices. This translates into increased consumer engagement to enhance health in three important areas, according to a recent survey1: partnering with providers, tapping online resources, and relying on technology.
In addition, the rise in mobile technologies – from wearables like Fitbit, to a growing number of healthcare applications – will help patients to be more involved in their own health as more than a thousand companies are developing new digital/mobile technologies, according to McKinsey2. Mobile and digital technologies, including medical-grade wearables, will help to capture vital statistics, monitor patient compliance, streamline processes and better coordinate care. They will also help to aggregate data, provide predictive analytics, and change not only how patient health is managed, but how hospitals are organized3.
Growth of telemedicine
The global market for telemedicine is expected to be worth more than $34 billion by the end of 2020, according to a recent report4. North America represents the largest slice, accounting for more than 40 percent of the global market. Driving this trend, researchers say, is an increasingly aged population, growth in the incidence of chronic diseases, and a rapid rise in the software market.
Other factors include the shift to value-based care, which is leading more healthcare systems to monitor patients in their home to cut down on the number and duration of hospital stays. Leading healthcare networks are part of the trend toward telemedicine. Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest integrated health systems in the U.S., saw more patients online than in person in 2015, connecting through online portals, virtual visits or the health system’s apps, according to comments from its CEO5.
Use of Artificial Intelligence
While in the early stages, cognitive computing is helping providers to analyze the surge in patient data to advance the quality and value of patient care, guide surgery, and more. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a term that refers to the ability of machines, such as computers, to exhibit cognitive behaviors characteristic of the human thought process. These include the ability to sift data and learn from it. A case in point is work being conducted by Peter Fasching, a gynecologist at Erlangen University Hospital in Germany, who works with international teams to research the role that genomes play in breast cancer6. Professor Fasching notes that we have known the human genetic code – with its three billion DNA building blocks – since the year 2000 and the next phase is finding ways to analyze this data to benefit patients.
A basic Microsoft Excel spreadsheet contains around 16,000 columns, he notes, so to analyze one million DNA components would “exceed our powers of imagination.” The solution, he says, will be to identify patterns and regularities in the data -- for example, using a form of AI known as machine learning, which uses adaptive computer programs – and to then apply insights gleaned from that data to individual patients. One recent collaboration, which involved over 200,000 patients and included Erlangen data, showed variants in more than 70 genes influence the risk of breast cancer. The key to progress, he said, will be to correlate this “new dimension of knowledge with what we already know about cancer.”
Turning Big Data into Actionable Insights
The lack of interoperability of healthcare systems7 remains a huge challenge for technical, financial and even cultural reasons. Illustrating the problem, only about 4 in 10 U.S. hospitals8 have necessary patient information electronically available from care settings outside their system, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA). Interoperability was a hot topic on the agenda at the annual HIMSS Conference and Exhibition9 in conference in Orlando end of February. Siemens Healthineers, for instance, announced a new Digital Ecosystem at HIMSS to foster collaboration and innovation. The system provides aggregated data, global connections to peers, and applications and solutions to healthcare providers.
At the same time it enables solution providers to create, market and offer services efficiently, which are seamlessly integrated into the platform, so that new services and applications reach the market and, ultimately, healthcare providers faster. Data from imaging, laboratory diagnostics and medical documentation can be combined and assessed and this data is generated in one of the healthcare industry's largest installed bases (i.e. the Siemens Healthineers customers on the ecosystem). The goal is to attract the best solutions and technology developers. First partners who already plan to provide their applications and technologies are: Arterys, Dell/EMC, SecondOpinions.com, Stroll Health, TMC, 3DSlicer and USARad.
Leveraging mobile technologies, telemedicine, the use of artificial intelligence, and being able to tap and analyze all this information through interoperable systems is the future of healthcare. These digital tools represent the best hope for advancing medicine.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com