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Digital transformation in healthcare: Five top trends

By Tim Sandle     Jul 7, 2017 in Health
Digital transformation is rapidly affecting every business and service and healthcare is no exception. Here are five key trends that are altering the way healthcare is delivered.
At the more obvious level, technology is shaping healthcare by advancing some areas of medicine to help us to live longer. 3D printing, for example, is allowing bespoke medical devices to be created and which are finely tuned for the individual patient.
Read more: How 3D printing can save your life
There are also more subtle ways through which digital transformation is altering healthcare, most notably in altering the patient-doctor interaction and experience. Arguably healthcare is now firmly entrenched as part of the 'information economy'. In fact one consultant predicted a few years back that "Internet technology may rank with antibiotics, genetics and computers as among the most important changes for medical care delivery." Perhaps we're not there yet, but things are progressing. Here are Digital Journal's pick of the top five digital transformations in healthcare:
The Internet of Things
File photo courtesy of AFP.
File photo courtesy of AFP.
Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP
The Internet of Things concerns the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. The principle can apply to almost any industry, and this includes healthcare. As an example TechRadar cites cases of patients wearing interactive health monitors. In this case, adverse variations in key readings can rapidly alert a physician.
One example of this is the Dario smart glucose meter. This device integrates directly with a smartphone, allowing the user to track and monitor your blood glucose, and much more, on your phone.
Fitbit Alta
Fitbit Alta
Following on and connected to the Internet of Things are the vast array of health-related werarables. Smartwatches, fitness trackers and the latest wearable technology and smart devices are examples of 'wearables'. While many wearables are popular with consumers and used for tracking fitness and so on, there are some more serious medical applications. One such example is a novel wearable vest for tracking pulmonary congestion in acutely decompensated heart failure. This works on the basis of bioelectrical bioimpedance analysis. This is a commonly used method for estimating body composition, and in particular body fat, looking at the flow of an electric current through body tissues.
Big data analytics
Big data refers to how extremely large data sets can be be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, particularly those relating to human behavior and interactions. The era of big data has brought with it new opportunities for health organizations to extract insight and value from a mass of data. To use this best requires new approaches for data management and analysis.
According to research analysts McKinsey an example of big data for healthcare can be seen with drug discovery. This is helping researchers to clearly understand what constitutes a disease, from the DNA, proteins, and metabolites to cells, tissues, organs, organisms and ecosystems, and thus the types of suitable drug molecules needed to address the more complex diseases.
File photo: Surface Laptop
File photo: Surface Laptop
Simply put telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology. This can mean by text, video linking, email and so on. The main advantage is that telemedicine can overcome distance barriers and to improve access to medical services that would often not be consistently available in distant rural communities. The disadvantage is a loss of the patient-doctor interaction, and questions about how well diagnosis can be made from afar.
According to Forbes, a key advantage is with saving time. Here industry watcher Daniel Newman writes: "Patients no longer have to schedule their days around routine follow-up visits (and long office waits). Instead, they can hop on a conference call to get the prescription update or check-up they need." Another application is with the less developed world, The Wall Street Journal notes that Doctors Without Borders has taken advantage of such services to relay questions about tough cases from its physicians in remote areas like Niger and South Sudan to a network of 280 experts around the world, and back again via the Internet.
Artificial intelligence
A medic at an Ebola treatment unit in Freetown on December 19  2014
A medic at an Ebola treatment unit in Freetown on December 19, 2014
Evan Schneider, UN/AFP/File
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are coming to medicine, helping surgeons to analyze data to make an incision and guiding specialist doctors as to disease diagnoses. Developments have led Andy Schuetz, a senior data scientist at Sutter Health to tell Medical Futurist: “I have no doubt that sophisticated learning and AI algorithms will find a place in healthcare over the coming years. I don’t know if it’s two years or ten — but it’s coming.”
An example, according to Wired, is an application called Modernizing Medicine. This is a web-based repository of medical information and insights. It not only allows doctors to passively review drug information, it guides them with the interpretation.
These five examples are the tip of a very large ice berg encapsulating the digital transformation of medicines and healthcare. Digital Journal will be featuring several cases in this field over the coming weeks.
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