Every year, new technology is introduced that has the potential to transform the delivery of care in some manner. As a 2017 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society report notes, "Technology's role in healthcare has expanded exponentially over the last 20 years and figures to increase in conjunction with our societal technological advancements. Our ability to store, share and analyze health information is directly tied to improved technology. The use of technology increases provider capabilities and patient access while improving the quality of life for some patients and saving the lives of others."
Here are just three ways technology is used to improve healthcare today.
1. Virtual humans help improve patient conversations
Effective communication with patients is essential for many reasons, including ensuring patients receive safe, appropriate treatments and they achieve higher medication adherence. As an article in The Ochsner Journal notes, "Effective doctor-patient communication is a central clinical function in building a therapeutic doctor-patient relationship, which is the heart and art of medicine. This is important in the delivery of high-quality health care. Much patient dissatisfaction and many complaints are due to breakdown in the doctor-patient relationship. However, many doctors tend to overestimate their ability in communication."
Doctors and students at a growing number of hospitals are relying on technology to help them strengthen how they communicate with patients. Interactive role-playing simulations, developed by New York City-based Kognito, allow health care professionals to "engage in practice conversations with virtual humans that mimic real-life behavior, are coded with personality, medical condition, and specific memory, and adapt their response to user's dialogue decisions," according to a news release.
As a CNET article notes, this isn't the only area in health care where virtual humans are being implemented. Others include helping increase patient honesty with physicians to helping medical students deliver bad news to patients.
2. Artificial intelligence aids in colonoscopy
A Health IT Analytics report states, "As payment structures evolve, patients demand more from their providers, and the volume of available data continues to increase at a staggering rate, artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to be the engine that drives improvements across the care continuum."
One of the many areas AI will likely have a significant impact is colonoscopy. At the University of California Irvine (UCI), research by a team of UCI Health physicians indicates that colonoscopies aided by AI software can greatly improve adenoma detection rate — up to 20% more abnormalities detected than a traditional test.
The hope, said William Karnes, MD, who is leading the UCI Health team, is that the AI software will get to the point where it can identify whether polyps require laboratory analysis. "It's expected that hundreds of millions of dollars of medical dollars could be saved if we could diagnose a polyp by looking at it," he said, in a press release.
3. Smartphone app detects bacteria
A new app can turn a smartphone into a bacteria identifier. Developed by a research team of UC Santa Barbara scientists and colleagues, the app uses a smartphone's camera and accompanying diagnostic kit to measure a chemical reaction and determines a diagnosis. The process only requires a small sample of a patient's urine, the phone's camera, and the kit. The entire process takes only about an hour.
The detection system was initially used to diagnose urinary tract infections. Researchers envision the system helping physicians diagnose diseases and prescribe antibiotics faster, cheaper, and from anywhere in the world.
"The app enables early-stage diagnosis and intervention, which is particularly important in the context of multidrug-resistant pathogens for which treatment options are highly limited," said Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital physician Jeffrey Fried, in a news release. "Such early treatment also reduces the risk of the emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens."
The app is free and available for the Android operating system.