Science fiction flicks and shows have painted numerous pictures of what a future with robots looks like. While there are some differences, many of these movies suggest a world dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) and other machines. But are we really doomed to a world where technology takes the place of humans?
Some people think the way health care is adopting tech is a sign we’re headed toward an AI takeover, but many doctors disagree. Instead, they’re welcoming advancing health care technology as a way to streamline processes and provide better patient care.
Join us as we take a closer look at how providers are already leveraging technology. We’ll also explore what we might see in the future.
5 Recent health care technology advances physicians are using
Radiology was one of the first medical fields to use telemedicine, but the methods were far less sophisticated than what we see today. Teleradiology actually dates back to 1947, when images were successfully transmitted from one Pennsylvania location to another using phone lines.
The internet has changed the game substantially. Telemedicine isn’t just used to connect doctors anymore. Now, providers can offer remote clinical care to their patients.
“Telehealth solutions for home diagnostics are leading the way for patients to receive top-quality care from their physicians in the comfort and privacy of their own homes,” explains Tomer Gofer, CEO of Vaica.
"You no longer need to search the internet for a diagnosis, then wait for a doctor’s appointment."
Telemedicine visits can also streamline the referral process for certain patients. Virtual Physical Therapists CEO Aideen Turner explains the power in connecting patients directly with musculoskeletal specialists. “You no longer need to search the internet for a diagnosis, then wait for a doctor’s appointment,” she says. Furthermore, a trained specialist will be able to recognize if a patient truly does need to schedule an appointment with their physician.
Doctors and other providers are also using telemedicine to monitor their patients’ blood pressure, body temperature, and other important health indicators through wearable devices.
2. Mobile health solutions
There’s admittedly some crossover between telemedicine and mobile solutions, including the physical therapy option we mentioned above, but this isn’t always true. Smartphone apps can benefit both patients and doctors even if they’re not used to bridge a distance gap.
“Mobile apps will exponentially empower both laypeople and medical providers in making better decisions about personal health as well as in diagnosing and treating patients,” suggests Dr. Jeff Dunn, CEO of Redivus Health.
"Mobile apps will exponentially empower both laypeople and medical providers in making better decisions about personal health."
Need an example? Redivus Health technologies guide providers during four different time-critical medical events: cardiac arrest, heart attack, stroke, and sepsis. This clinical decision-support technology simplifies the diagnosis and treatment process and also aggregates that data, which makes it well-suited for future AI application (keep reading for more on that).
Also consider that some mobile solutions aim to improve the patient experience by streamlining and simplifying communication. “What has been surprisingly useful for me, as a patient, is the ability to schedule doctor appointments, get prescriptions, and receive lab results on my mobile device,” Gofer offers.
3. Minimally invasive robotic surgery
Today’s robotic surgical systems allow doctors to perform operations that were once extremely difficult, or even impossible. There are instruments that can perform precise procedures using very small incisions. In many cases, this equates to quicker recovery times, less scarring, and reduced likelihood of complications.
Johns Hopkins Medicine highlights some of the conditions they treat with minimally invasive robotic-assisted techniques: pancreatic cancer, endometriosis, kidney disorders, and heart valve abnormalities.
4. Medication adherence products
Pill organizers have been used for decades as a way to make sorting and taking medication easier. Think of today’s medication adherence products like much more sophisticated versions of those organizers. Vaica’s technology uses audio and visual reminders for the patient and provides real-time alerts for providers.
Not only does this allow doctors to know if patients are sticking to their treatment plan, but it also allows them to find out immediately instead weeks later. Providers can respond at once to help secure better patient outcomes.
"Having the medical team act upon relevant interventions immensely elevates the medication adherence of patients."
“We see that monitoring the patient in real time and having the medical team act upon relevant interventions immensely elevates the medication adherence of patients,” Gofer says.
5. Microfluidic devices
Even though most doctors have not been able to use this type of health care technology yet, it’s so close to commercialization that we couldn’t leave it out. Sometimes called lab-on-a-chip, microfluidic diagnostic devices are able to perform lab analyses on a minute scale using extremely small volumes of liquid.
To help you better understand the implications, here are a few examples. Some researchers are working on a wearable sweat analytics system that can help athletes, military personnel, and other highly active individuals understand their hydration and electrolyte needs. There’s also a device in development that may be able to more effectively monitor how certain cancer patients are responding to treatment.
"Microfluidic devices decrease detection times to minutes or hours instead of days or weeks."
These devices have the potential to transform the way doctors perform tests and make diagnoses. “Microfluidic devices decrease detection times to minutes or hours instead of days or weeks,” explains Sarah Boisvert, Chief 3D Printing Officer at Potomac Photonics, Inc. “Costs are low, and only small samples are required.”
What does advancing health care technology mean for the future?
We certainly can’t predict the future, but experts have some ideas on what we are likely to see down the road. A few advances that get a lot of attention for their potential use in health care are 3D printing and, of course, AI. There’s still progress that needs to be made with both.
"3D-printed, fully functioning organs are decades away in my opinion."
“3D-printed, fully functioning organs are decades away in my opinion,” Boisvert says. “But when they do become viable for widespread use, the impact will be revolutionary.”
On the AI front, there are actually some early examples of it in action today. One notable success comes from El Camino Hospital in California, where they’ve adopted a technology that reviews vast amounts of data and alerts staff when a patient is at risk for a dangerous fall. And we’ve set the stage for future use, including the clinical decision-support system we touched on earlier.
“Particularly in the next five to 10 years, artificial intelligence is going to have a big impact on the health care industry by analyzing the massive amounts of digitized data and making predictive insights from that,” Dr. Dunn hypothesizes.
While Dr. Dunn believes AI can make a huge impact, he believes it will play a supporting role. “Tech should never replace doctors and nurses,” he asserts. “But it can make them more effective and happier on the job as it decreases medical error and cognitive burden on providers.”
"Tech should never replace doctors and nurses."
Though it’s unlikely that advancing technology will render any health care position obsolete, the education and training programs will need to adjust accordingly. “Our schooling will need to incorporate new ways of assessing patients when they are not in front of you,” Turner says. More than ever, health care providers will need to prioritize continuing education.
Embrace a new age of health care
It’s easy to see that there are far more advantages to welcoming health care technology advances into the exam room than there are disadvantages. We could see improvements we’ve never dreamed of in the years and decades to come. After all, doctors are already starting to see better patient outcomes by embracing technology.
But will new advances really help all doctors? Gaining a better understanding of what different types of physicians do might further clarify how emerging technologies could improve the future of health care. Learn more about the various medical fields by reading our article, “Anesthesiology to Urology: Your Ultimate List of Medical Specialties.”
Want to work in the medical field?Learn More