The Role of Technology in Evolving Healthcare Delivery
The impact of technology and machine learning in healthcare delivery cannot be overstated. From wearable devices and e-consults, to virtual reality and Internet of Things, medical advances are snowballing thanks to our growing understanding of tech.
This hasn’t always been the case, of course. While technological advances have impacted healthcare for centuries, the global pandemic forced the world to become more innovative and digital than ever before. Never in the history of the world has so many healthcare organisations, people and data come together to drive healthcare forward at a rate we never could have anticipated before. UK doctor consultations taking place online rose from 13% in 2019 to 48% a year later, and there was an acceleration equivalent to 7-years in the speed at which digital healthcare solutions were being offered.
While the pandemic may have slowed, the tech certainly hasn’t, making way for a digital future of healthcare.
Here’s more about how technology has evolved.
Improving Patient Care
One of the most obvious and easily evidenced ways healthcare is being transformed by technology is through better patient care and outcomes. Paper based systems have been replaced with Electronic Health Records (EHRs), which makes healthcare communication between clinicians and branches easier, and allows for less manual error.
Patients in the UK have been able to access their GP via online consults, text and email – something that was far less available before. Beyond this, patients have become empowered over the last 10 years to take charge of their health by using health apps, wearable devices and trackers, and by having greater access to information about health online. This helps them to detect when there might be a problem, and can even alert their doctors virtually without needing to make a phone call.
Improved Healthcare Processes
Behind every positive patient outcome is a healthcare process that works. The opposite of course is also true. Technology plays a crucial role in making sure healthcare processes are streamlined and effective. Examples of developments over the years include automated appointment scheduling, better communication across clinics, and more efficient medical data analysis and insights. Machine learning allows for faster and more accurate decision making, as well as creating ways to reduce healthcare costs and allowing clinicians to stay focused on patients.
One example of this in action is the use of machine learning in X-Ray diagnostics. The algorithms used in these scanning devices can recognise patterns that indicate a particular disease, which helps clinicians to get quicker and more accurate diagnosis, as opposed to manually scanning images. As we all know, speed in healthcare saves lives, and this is just one example of how hospitals can reduce patient waiting times and work with diagnosis more rapidly.
Improving Access to Healthcare
As the population ages, and we all get a bit healthier than our ancestors, there’s a growing demand for the health service, resulting in longer wait times and poorer patient outcomes. Technology has been needed to address this problem. Traditional methods, whereby the village doctor would pay you a visit at the first sign of the flu, are long gone. These days, it is common to wait days for an appointment, and 7% wait up to 2 weeks.
Mobile health (mHealth) applications have gained traction to combat the issue, empowering patients to access medical information, get medical reminders, have virtual consultations, pick private same-day options, and get prescriptions online. This is particularly beneficial for people who might have problems reaching healthcare facilities due to various reasons.
Data Security and Privacy
A natural hesitation to going virtual is the concern over data leaks and breaches in confidentiality. Healthcare organisations are therefore, rightly, investing heavily in cybersecurity measures to protect patient information from threats and breaches. Healthcare providers are expected to comply with regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to maximise the safe handling and sharing of healthcare data.
Future Trends In Health Tech
Technology such as XR (extended reality) is one of the exciting innovations underway in healthcare, particularly in the training of staff. VR headsets are now being used more frequently to train doctors and surgeons, allowing them to get up close and personal with the human body, without actually being near one. VR is also used in treatment. Certain therapy techniques for people with autism, social anxiety or chronic pain can be supported by VR, allowing them to work through their symptoms in a non-invasive way.
AI also continues to be utilised in healthcare and will continue to do so. From ChatBots on phones, to artificial intelligence in medical diagnosis, we can expect exciting developments using this form of technology. It’s through this technology that we can also begin to create more personalised healthcare solutions, medicines and therapies.
Finally, we are now seeing ‘digital sims’ (referring to simulated patients) being tested on, rather than relying on long-winded clinical trial methodologies, often hindered by ethical problems. This can speed up medical trials and drug development while also minimising risk to trial patients.
To summarise, the role of technology in transforming healthcare delivery is indisputably vital. It improves patient care and outcomes, maximises accessibility, enhances communication, reshapes therapies and speeds up diagnosis. While there are some inevitable challenges, technology will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in creating a more efficient, accessible, and patient-centric healthcare system for the future.
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