Just a quick glance at the digital health care market will immediately show us how fast this industry is growing. Being valued at $305.78 billion in 2018, the upcoming technological advancements in health care information systems, wearable devices and health care infrastructure will push the overall market value to a whopping $536.6 billion by 2025.
But health care shouldn’t be a privilege for the few, rather, a right for everybody, and the role of the newest technologies should be to make medical care more affordable, equitable and accessible to people across the world. Achieving universal health care is, in fact, one of the key targets of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the focus of World Health Day (April 7) in 2019. Health tech may become instrumental in bringing quality care to people who cannot afford it, live in the most remote areas, or have particular medical needs.
Let’s have a look at some of the top health tech trends that are making the biggest impact on the market right now.
Enhancing Primary Care With Better Patient Education
Primary care is a fundamental level of care that is focused on accessibility and equity, and finds its center on promoting good health to the broadest range of people regardless of their ages, socioeconomic status or geographic origins. Because of that, the 2008 World Health Report indicated this level of care as the most efficient framework upon which a universal health care system could be built. The existing systems which are built around the tenets of primary care are able to provide quality care at much more affordable costs.
In simpler terms, primary care can be instrumental to provide more affordable care because it is linked with prevention. And prevention means that less money is spent for health care, that patients live longer and healthier lives, and that many diseases are avoided. Patient education is a key aspect of primary care, since general practitioners/primary care practitioners (GPs and PCPs) spend a lot of time educating their patients about prevention. Most new technologies which come in the form of apps and wearables can help them in their efforts. Over 70 million people in the U.S. are already using these devices to monitor their parameters such as calorie consumption, sleep patterns and fitness plans, and their functions can be easily expanded to add ECG monitors and other life-saving sensors in smartwatches.
Data collected by wearables can be sent to health care professionals to help them monitor their patients, such as by providing real-time information about a patient’s health and conditions. But this tech can also improve the patient’s experience by helping them communicate in a timely fashion with their health care providers, understand lab work results, and avoid dangerous drug interactions.
AI is making a rather dramatic entrance in the health care tech industry, and is set to become a disrupting technology with an estimated annual growth of 40 percent through 2021. The top three applications of AI in this market seem to be robot-assisted surgery ($40 billion), virtual nursing assistants ($20 billion) and administrative workflow assistance ($18 billion). All three of these applications seem particularly attractive and valuable since, in due time, AI is more than able to pay for itself. Past information can be integrated by cognitive robotics to improve efficiency, precision and outcomes, and save a lot of time and resources needed to train and hire new surgeons.
Able to spot even the most minuscule details that the human eye could miss in medical imaging, machines seem to be bound to substitute some medical professions such as radiologists. Some, such as IBM Watson, can help with the diagnostic and triage processes, spotting patients who are more in need of medical intervention and creating custom care plans. Is this ethical? Should a machine be able to choose if a human should live or not? As ominous as it may sound, that’s our future. You can’t stop the future, you know. (For more on AI in health care, check out The 5 Most Amazing AI Advances in Health Care.)
EHRs and Interoperability
The health care industry is still struggling with interoperability issues, especially because the exchange of clinical data is never simple. On one hand, exchanging data in a timely fashion is extremely important when a medical emergency occurs – just think about the Ebola epidemic which is ravaging the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now. On the other hand, though, protecting a patient’s sensitive data is paramount to preserving his or her privacy. Struggling with data issues slows down all those medical operations that require speed, sucks money and resources like a vacuum cleaner, and represents a terrible challenge that the whole health care industry must face every day.
Newer tech may help facilitate this exchange, improve transparency, and reduce potential data exposures whenever electronic health records (EHRs) are shared in a timely manner. Blockchain is one of the technologies that may provide the answer needed to tackle the many “data privacy” issues by redefining the ownership and security of digital assets. Able to save the health care industry up to $100-$150 billion per year by 2025, blockchain tech will return data ownership to people who generate it (i.e., the patients), facilitate the exchange through decentralized databases, and even level the disparity of data in the pharmaceutical industry.
Patients are people in need of help, and the help they need is not just physical – they have emotional and psychological needs that should be addressed as well. Chatbots and companion robots are becoming more and more intelligent every day thanks to their newest AI-powered features, and even if they lack the empathy of their human counterparts, they can go a long way toward assisting those in need in a very “humane” way.
Interestingly enough, these companion robots can also reduce the excess workload that other human professionals such as nurses have to endure, saving precious money in the meanwhile. They can also become part of telemedicine projects for people living in remote or rural areas, who often represent an exceptionally vulnerable population. Making health care inherently more accessible, these technologies “can bridge the gap between what you can do remotely and what you can’t do remotely,” as the chief product officer and co-founder at Avizia, Cory Costley, explained.
Still somewhat related to the idea of “preventive medicine” in general, predictive analytics can analyze patient data, identify genetic factors associated with some dangerous conditions (such as cancer), and spot individuals with elevated risks of developing chronic conditions as early as possible. Once again, this technology is key for any preventive medicine program since providing appropriate treatment as early in the disease’s progression as possible means minimizing the chances that the patient will suffer any costly long-term health problem. (For more on the technological fight against cancer, see Cancer Vaccines and Artificial Intelligence: Winning the War Against Cancer?)
Other than being population health management at its best, predictive analytics can be used to identify all those risk factors which may lead to 30-day hospital readmissions. Understanding these risk factors may help organizations take adequate measures to improve health outcomes, reduce readmission costs and get ahead of patient deterioration for conditions such as chronic kidney disease.
Today, digital health companies are leading the current health care market transformation. Even the “Big Four” (Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft) are investing a lot and harnessing their full strength to reinvent health care as we know it today. And the greatest news for everyone out there who needs medical attention is that what we’ve seen so far is nothing but the tip of the iceberg of this mind-blowing digital health revolution.