By : Avery Phillips
Advances in digital technology have changed nearly every aspect of our lives, including how we learn, how we entertain ourselves, as well as how we interact with each other and the world around us. Fortunately, digital technology has also impacted one hugely important aspect of our lives: healthcare.
For many people, online resources and fitness apps are our first line of defense when it comes to addressing minor health concerns. However, medical professionals are also taking advantage of what the digital world has to offer. Here are some of the ways digital technology will allow our healthcare practices to continually evolve, presenting benefits as well as new challenges.
Electronic Health Records
Many medical facilities around the world are moving away from outdated paper systems in favor of digital medical records. Electronic health record (EHR) systems allow medical professionals to more easily store, access, and update patient information, ensuring current records are as accurate as possible. Nurses and doctors are no longer bogged down by filling out extensive and sometimes redundant paper charts, and they aren’t forced to delay treatment while waiting for hard copies of a patient’s medical records.
Aside from logistical benefits, EHRs help to reduce errors related to allergies and prescription medications. They also lessen the chance that doctors will reorder tests that have already been conducted on a patient. This saves everyone time and money. EHRs also create the potential for healthcare providers to securely share medical information about patients with other facilities. At the very least, this is convenient, but providing access to this information could save your life in an emergency situation.
With so much information being held in digital spaces, EHRs have also led to new security problems. Unfortunately, healthcare data breaches are on the rise as hackers attempt to steal mass amounts of personal information stored in healthcare facilities and servers. These breaches affect millions of people every year.
Although there is no completely foolproof safeguard for this data, healthcare providers are working to minimize weak spots in their systems. So far, the benefits of storing health information digitally seem to outweigh the risks, and hopefully healthcare providers will continue to adapt to security challenges.
Another major advancement in digital healthcare technology involves the ever-expanding internet of things (IoT). If you’re unfamiliar with the term, IoT refers to the concept of connecting devices via the internet. The IoT can connect everything from cell phones, to wearable fitness trackers, to household appliances and security systems.
Medical professionals can use IoT technologies to monitor patients remotely in real time using vital sign sensors, blood sugar monitors, and radio-frequency identification tags. These technologies are especially effective for patients with chronic diseases and disabilities, pregnant women, and the elderly. Remote monitoring can help these people to live more independently, while reducing the risk that sudden developments in their conditions will go unnoticed and untreated.
These devices also help patients to take better care of themselves, reminding them when to take medications, assisting with nutritional planning, and helping curb unhealthy habits. Of course, wearable health trackers and mobile apps can help in many aspects of our lives beyond strictly medical purposes. If you’ve used a Fitbit or a similar fitness tracker, you probably know how helpful wearable technologies can be in increasing people’s motivation to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Artificial Intelligence and Preventive Care
While IoT technology can help monitor existing conditions, the best way to live a healthy life is to detect and prevent illness and diseases before they wreak havoc. Many people skip health checkups, wait too long to see a doctor, and only seek medical help when they’re injured or are already ill.
With some conditions, by the time symptoms begin to show, the chances of successfully combating the disease are much less likely. This is true for some of the deadliest and most common conditions, such as lung cancer. Fortunately, early detection screening for lung cancer can significantly improve survival rates. By sharing information with your doctor about your personal and family medical history, along with data gathered from health monitoring devices and electronic health records, you can help to identify other tests that may save your life.
In addition to current tests and predictive factors, major tech companies like Apple, Google, and IBM are working to gather and make sense of the massive amounts of medical data collected through IoT technologies and electronic health records. They hope to decipher medical data using artificial intelligence in order to help doctors better understand patterns related to specific illnesses, individual patients, as well as larger populations.
Artificial intelligence could allow medical professionals to more accurately predict, diagnose, and treat conditions. Used alongside remote monitors and wearables, artificial intelligence could eventually provide continuous feedback to doctors and patients about an individual’s health, constantly tailoring a treatment plan that will best prevent and combat serious conditions.
More Effective Training Practices
Despite evolving technologies, people are and will remain the core of an effective healthcare system. As we find new ways to gather and interpret digital information about healthcare, it’s important that we also develop better training for medical professionals.
One example is the use of simulation learning in medical training. Highly sophisticated digital technologies can allow doctors and nurses to apply their knowledge in realistic contexts without putting a patient’s health at risk. Depending on the goals of a training module, simulation approaches can take many forms. For example, simulation learning for nurses could consist of completely virtual platforms like video games or computer programs. However, training could also rely on computerized manikins that can create highly authentic scenarios for nurses to respond to.
Digital training will also prove essential to responding to healthcare shortages and raising the standard of healthcare worldwide. This is especially true in rural areas and developing countries where there are fewer medical training facilities. For example, in America there is one medical school per 1.2 million people, while Africa has one medical school per 5 million people. Digital courses can eliminate the difficulty physical limitations present, allowing individuals in underserved locations to get the same level of training they might receive at a physical school.
The digital world offers many new possibilities in the healthcare industry allowing medical professionals to store and share data more easily, monitor patients remotely, analyze massive amounts of information to create personalized treatment plans and expand our ability to properly educate healthcare professionals. Hopefully, as we continue to develop and refine new technologies, we will see a gradual shift that improves the access and quality of healthcare worldwide.