Focus on healthcare tech

Potential: The one word that can (arguably) be most readily applied to the application of technology to healthcare. Potential benefits range across the spectrum from speed and accuracy of diagnosis, increasing accessibility to health professionals, empowering individuals to control their own health, and reducing the costs of providing healthcare. This note looks at some of the key developments which have taken place and those which look to further impact healthcare in coming years.

Technology that enables individuals to monitor their health already exists. Smartwatches monitor heart rates and devices exist for diabetics which automatically measure the insulin levels in the individual’s blood and release insulin in very small doses on a more regular basis than traditional manual injections.

Anyone who has been to a large hospital will know that every corridor looks the same. So, even something as basic as a hospital app with a map of the hospital would help patients navigate to where they need to be therein saving time and reducing numbers of missed appointments.


Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR)

The application of VR and AR to healthcare is already happening. The main difference between VR and AR is that VR immerses the user into a new world whereas AR alters the current reality and adds to it. The application of each is quite different.


Virtual Reality

VR is being used in healthcare to treat symptoms and used as part of recovery programs. VR has been shown to help patients with phantom pain (the pain experienced by amputees which feels like it is originating from their missing limb) by creating an image of the missing limb. The brain sees the limb and this helps the brain reduce the pain.

In addition, VR is being used for training purposes. Watching a surgeon remove a cancer but seeing it through the surgeon’s eyes provides a unique perspective and one that can be viewed by many people at once, rather than 1 or 2 trainee surgeons from behind the surgeon’s shoulders in the room.


Augmented Reality

AR is used in medicine in a number of ways. For example, surgeons are using a product called HoloLens which has been created by Microsoft to take CT scans of patients which have been taken before surgery and then overlay them on the patient during surgery to spot key blood vessels, bones and muscles. This has the benefit of making procedures less risky and faster.


Artificial Intelligence (AI)

It is not always easy to know how much of AI’s potential in healthcare is attainable or just wishful thinking. But there are enough organisations and individuals who believe, given enough time, AI (especially when combined with robotics) will be able to do anything a doctor currently does. For now, the short-term intention is for AI to be used as a tool by doctors to assist with diagnosis (such as reading the results of a heart echo) or to crunch through large amounts of data collected for research purposes.


Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT is an area that could eventually see considerable growth in healthcare technology. Adoption of IoT devices is rising across the globe. The global IoT in healthcare market is expected to reach US$ 534.3 billion by 2025 according to Grand View Research. IoT devices allow real-time data monitoring of symptoms so allowing better disease management and to catch problems before the individual even knows something is wrong.

Healthcare Tech also includes apps which individuals have on their smartphones (which are the main IoT device that people will use). The NHS has released apps ranging from meal suggestions, alcoholic drinks trackers and a “Couch to 5k” training program which sets out how people can progress from walking to running 5km in 9 weeks.

A key factor which will help IoT devices (including their apps) communicate with each other will be the 5G network. Super-fast mobile broadband will create an IoT ecosystem where data can be shared almost instantly across the 5G network to allow faster diagnosis and real-time treatments.

Health information is traditionally something to which individuals attribute high degrees of privacy. However, technology usually needs large amounts of data to become genuinely useful and the best way to treat patients may be to release this data and cross reference between patients. This will need a change in mind set, and assurance that the data will be secure.


The Risks

The WannaCry attack in 2018 affected 47 NHS organisations. The effect of the attack severely disrupted services and resulted in thousand of cancelled appointments. The more reliance that is placed on technology, the greater the need to ensure that there is security to match.

Healthcare truly is one of the most exciting opportunities for technology companies to become involved with. Everyone has a vested interest in healthcare and as the Wachter Review notes; the UK’s healthcare system simply must modernise and transform to be able to continue to provide a high level of healthcare at an affordable cost. The only way it can achieve this is through the application of technology.