2018 was a year where technology further cemented its critical role in healthcare. There are few, if any, tasks within a hospital that are not supported with technology. We have reached a point where it's safe to assume that the coming year will introduce new technologies that improve the clinical, financial, and/or operational performance of healthcare organizations in ways never imagined.
To begin 2019, let's briefly examine three of the most significant emerging technologies in healthcare and some of the ways those technologies are already impacting care.
1. Artificial intelligence (AI)
Few technologies are having — and likely will have — as much of an impact on healthcare as AI. AI can be loosely defined as the use of computers to perform tasks assumed to require human intelligence.
As a Health IT Analytics article notes, "AI offers a number of advantages over traditional analytics and clinical decision-making techniques. Learning algorithms can become more precise and accurate as they interact with training data, allowing humans to gain unprecedented insights into diagnostics, care processes, treatment variability, and patient outcomes."
Recent research from ReportLinker projects that the AI in healthcare market will expand from the current $2.1 billion to $36.1 billion in 2025 — a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 50%. North America is expected to witness the highest CAGR during the forecast period.
Examples of AI applications in healthcare include:
- supporting robotic surgery, going so far as to allow a robot to perform eye surgery and suture blood vessels as small as 0.3 millimeters across to treat lymphedema;
- comparing brain scans and other 3-D images up to 1,000 times faster;
- helping better diagnose a heart attack during a phone call; and
- improving adenoma detection rate during colonoscopies.
Most people associate blockchain with cryptocurrencies and rightfully so, considering the first major application of the technology was bitcoin, which was released in 2009. However, blockchain technology's applications go well beyond online payments.
As a Deloitte report notes, "At its core, blockchain is a distributed system recording and storing transaction records. More specifically, blockchain is a shared, immutable record of peer-to-peer transactions built from linked transaction blocks and stored in a digital ledger."
What does that mean for healthcare? Potentially, a lot. As the same Deloitte report states, "Blockchain technology has the potential to transform healthcare, placing the patient at the center of the healthcare ecosystem and increasing the security, privacy, and interoperability of health data. This technology could provide a new model for health information exchanges by making electronic medical records more efficient, disintermediated, and secure."
Examples of blockchain applications in healthcare include:
- tracking of public health issues, such as the opioid crisis;
- tracking the status of claims submissions and remittances;
- helping ensure current information about providers is available in the directories maintained by health insurers; and
- preventing fraud.
3. Internet of medical things (IoMT)
Familiar with the "Internet of things" (IoT)? A Forbes article describes IoT as follows: "Simply put, this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices, and almost anything else you can think of."
While the term was coined in 1999, Cisco claims IoT was truly "born" in 2008 when there were more connected devices than people. The concept became more mainstream over the past several years, prompting Cisco, General Electric, AT&T, Intel, and IBM to form the Industrial Internet Consortium in 2015 to essentially create IoT standards.
According to a Forbes article, consulting firm Bain predicted that the combined markets of IoT will grow to about $520 billion in 2021, more than double the $235 billion spent in 2017. One such market is IoMT, also sometimes described as the "medical Internet of things." In a recent report, Deloitte notes that the "rise in the numbers of connected medical devices, together with advances in the systems and software that support the capture and transmission of medical grade data, connectivity technologies and services" led to the creation of IoMT.
IoMT, the report states, "… brings together the digital and physical worlds to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and treatments, and monitor and modify patient behavior and health status in real time. It also improves healthcare organizations' operational productivity and effectiveness by streamlining clinical processes, information and workflows."
Examples of IoMT technologies recently making headlines include the following:
- an implantable glucose sensor for continuous glucose monitoring in adults recently received Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval;
- a sensor-carrying version of Abilify that digitally tracks if patients have ingested their medication was approved by the FDA in November 2017.
- remote patient monitoring, with some such services now covered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; and
- a medication history app that helps improve reconciliation and reduce risk recently earning multiple Surescripts certifications.