2017 is almost upon us. And with it brings the predictions and expectations of the trends that may have significant impact on the industry in the next four quarters. And, healthcare in 2017 is no different. There are many innovative and exciting technology trends on the horizon – some new and some newly maturing that promise to leave an impression on healthcare delivery as well as clinical research in the coming year and beyond. Here are 5 trends that I feel will be worth watching out for!
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), precision medicine is “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.” While there is a lot of overlap between “precision medicine” and “personalized medicine”, it is important to note that personalized should not be misinterpreted as implying that treatments are developed uniquely for each individual. Rather, the focus is on identifying approaches that could prove effective for patients based on genetic, environmental and lifestyle. The Precision Medicine Initiative that was announced by President Obama seeks to revolutionize the way diseases are treated through a thorough research effort aimed at studying individual differences in people and how these differences affect treatment and care. This massive initiative seeks to build a large scale research participant group of one million or more US participants across diverse social, racial, ethnic, age groups, economic circumstances and geographies. To this end, NIH recently awarded $120m to 5 companies to build apps and enroll 350,000 participants. This underlines the importance of mobile apps as a powerful tool in the world of medical research today. Mobile Apps allow researchers to leverage the many powerful sensors and processors (for example, tracking movement) that are standard with today’s smartphones to gather new types of data. It encourages higher participation in research studies by leveraging the ‘anywhere anytime’ premise of the mobile to collect data thus helping researchers overcome resource and logistical constraints. Use of mobile and IoT technologies enables putting people front and center thus empowering ‘Patient-centric Research’ approach.
Cognitive computing simulates human thought processes in a computerized model. Through deep learning algorithms that use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing, the computer can mimic the way the human brain works. Most notable, of course is IBM Watson. As the healthcare world grapples with humongous amounts of data generated, consider this -Watson can read 40 million documents in 15 seconds. 80% of health data is invisible to current systems because it’s unstructured. Watson Health can see it. A quick look at IBM Watson’s capabilities highlight the potential it has in healthcare. From wellness to improving healthcare outcomes, from reducing costs to driving innovations, Watson is fast becoming a powerful player in this field. To this end, IBM has been leveraging Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities. Watson’s cognitive computing is being used in increasingly innovative ways in healthcare. For example, in optimizing patient selection and recruitment in clinical trials, in oncology in the creation of personalized treatment plans, to streamline and automate authorizations, NLP solution platform for extracting medical facts from unstructured data.
Health wearables have been the new hot thing in the healthcare space for a couple of years now. They are harbingers of an evolving HealthCare delivery model where the focus in on personalization, engagement and bringing care closer to where the patient is versus getting the patient closer to the point of care. Wearables come in myriad types – sleep sensors, smart clothing, smart glasses, skin patches, activity monitors, fitness and heart rate monitors, smart watches, continuous glucose monitoring and more. Most contain sensors that collect raw data from wearables. This data then needs to be to fed into and analyzed by a software application. This type of analysis can then trigger an appropriate response which could range from a smartphone notification to an action by a physician or nurse. While earlier, there were no studies that could link wearables to positive clinical outcomes; there have been many studies over last year to prove that wearables do benefit physicians and patients. So much so that, a ‘smart shirt’ designed to remotely monitor the wearer’s health via a series of sensors is set to be tested in space in an upcoming mission by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). With a growing thrust towards personalized healthcare instead of a “one size fits all” and burgeoning health apps, health wearables are still going to be a key factor in 2017. According to the Huffington Post, the number of wearable devices shipped to consumers is expected to reach 130 million by 2018.
Blockchain is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger technology. It allows for businesses to digitize transaction workflow through shared and replicated ledger. While Blockchain technology has gained a firm standing in the finance and insurance sectors, there is a growing interest in the healthcare world too. Blockchain technology organizes data in a way that transactions can be verified through the consensus of all parties involved. In the world of healthcare, this could mean data ranging from an individual’s personal health record to financial payments. But since each action is verified against an authorative ledger, accuracy is ensured. In healthcare, a patient’s record can thus be validated and errors reduced. Multiple checkpoints can ensure security and enhance privacy. A history of transactions in a network that can be accessed by all users ensures that all pieces of information are verified. With use cases in population health and healthcare insurance, this innovative technology can lead to more transparency and reduced administrative costs. In the case of population health, middlemen can be eliminated and in healthcare insurance, Blockchain can ensure continuous access to patient records. With all players connecting to one single network and working on one shared information database, security is enhanced and chances of misuse greatly lessened. Blockchain is a promising technology and has the potential to bring about positive changes in areas like identity and medical billing fraud.
In a healthcare world, where personalization is becoming the key to enhancing loyalty and retaining patients, bots play a truly valuable role. Through chatbots, patients have convenient access to health support from doctors and nurses, during and even after stipulated business hours. This secure and personalized communication can be used for anything from medication advice from physicians to administrative tasks like scheduling appointments, prescription refills and test results. Be it via text, phone, email or website contact, chatbots can use techniques like sentiment analysis and image recognition to provide patients and caregivers with immediate and personalized answers to their most pressing healthcare queries. While there are associated risks like hacking of private patient information, healthcare providers will have to ensure utmost security of data to combat this risk.