Few tech sectors hit home like healthcare tech. Some industries are leaping forward, others stubbornly resist change, but every human being has a body that gets sick, injured, or old. Everyone wants to live longer and healthier so they can travel, flip houses, achieve a perfect Warrior 5, and run marathons well into their golden years.
Even if you don’t keep your finger on the Silicon Valley pulse, there are a few changes coming to the healthcare world you should be aware of, if only to know what to ask your doctor (and perhaps to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor!) Here are five healthcare technology terms everyone should understand.
Up to 60% of consumers prefer digital-forward solutions to the challenges of daily life, as a general rule. As such, it’s amazing how long the notion has held on that you can’t see a doctor or get a prescription without driving to a clinic, filling out a clipboard, and waiting for 45 minutes in a lobby full of coughing toddlers.
Telehealth is the rapidly-evolving digitization of the doctor visit. The face of telehealth includes virtual conferences with providers like GPs, NPs, and psychiatrists for all variety of needs. Patients with chronic conditions like diabetes could find their healthcare providers much easier to access with telehealth follow-ups and quick consults.
Telehealth also includes automated, physician-reviewed applications for prescription of common medications like allergy medications, inhalers, birth control, antibiotics, ED drugs, and more. Once you submit your medical history by app, a doctor reviews it, signs off, and your meds are shipped to you by discreet parcel.
The Internet of Things (IoT) goes far beyond healthcare. Whereas the Internet that we peruse on our web browsers is a collection of digital packets containing everything from Wikipedia articles to cat memes, the Internet of Things consists of objects—tangible things that bring internet functions out of the computer box or smartphone.
Non-healthcare IoT devices include front-door security cameras that can be monitored from your smartphone, “smart home” architecture that allows you to unlock your doors or turn on your lights from afar, and digital data readers that upload records of industrial meat refrigerators to the cloud for compliance reporting.
The IoT is amassing a huge footprint in healthcare. Wearable devices like Fitbits are one of the most ubiquitous IoT devices. Other examples include Bluetooth-enabled smart inhalers, blood-glucose monitors, closed-loop insulin delivery implants, dissolving intracranial brain electricity monitors, and early-detection AI echocardiograms.
Many of these devices amass medical data, often uploading it to the cloud so healthcare providers can get early warnings of deteriorating health conditions and execute rapid-response corrections.
Look for an IoT device to make its way into the treatment plan of almost every chronic or progressive condition.
Many medical devices depend on software, including IoT devices, wearables, and hospital devices like MRI machines and robotic surgeons. The software that runs many of these devices is sometimes referred to as “Software in a Medical Device” (SiMD).
Another class of medical software is moving center stage, however—”Software as a Medical Device” (SaMD). With SiMD, the software is useless outside of the machine. After all, who needs to download the software that guides an MRI magnet onto their smartphone? It has no purpose there.
According to Orthogonal, an app is SaMD when the software function is the medical device, regardless of what device it finds itself in (a smartphone, a smart watch, a desktop computer, etc.)
Examples of SaMD include:
- An app that uses the microphone on a smartphone to detect breathing irregularities in patients with cardiopulmonary disease.
- An app that uses the triaxial accelerometer in a smartphone to monitor motor disorders like Parkinson’s Disease.
- Apps that process data gathered by Bluetooth from wearables and medical IoT devices.
In the future, it may seem ludicrous how often medicine was practiced based on gut hunches. No offense to doctors—they are extremely educated gut hunches, but from ruling out environmental conditions to prescribing the right SSRI to picking the most effective cancer treatment, much of what medical providers do is governed by trial and error.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automated data analytics are changing all of that. “Precision medicine” refers to the use of technology to synthesize large quantities of data into precise medical recommendations. We’re talking comprehensive genetic data, blood plasma analysis, complete medical and family history–more data than a doctor can quickly process with a glance at a chart.
Precision medicine can be used to:
- Choose the cancer treatment best suited to both the patient and the type of cancer.
- Target rheumatoid arthritis at a genetic level for relief far more effective than traditional therapies.
Depending on who you ask, CRISPR is the miracle medicine of the future, or a blasphemous attempt to play God. It’s short for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats,” but at the root of that tongue-twister is a powerful form of gene editing.
CRISPR uses the same biology used by certain viruses to selectively “cut out” and replace targeted genes on a patient’s DNA. Scientists are working feverishly to evolve CRISPR to the point where it can eliminate genetic susceptibility to cancer, or make human bodies inhospitable to the HIV virus—miracle cures that could be mere years away.
Detractors, however, see CRISPR as a slippery slope to eugenics, allowing parents to create “super babies” with no genetic flaws, the hair and eye color of their choice, etc. Consumers should know what CRISPR is, if for no other reason than to form an educated opinion as the controversy ramps up, in step with the sophistication of the technology.
Advances in healthcare technology represent a tech sector that no one can afford to “tune out.” From skipping the waiting room to skipping mortal illness, technology is moving medical science into our smartphones, our watches, and our very genes. Longer lives, cured diseases, greater quality of life … whatever the future holds, it will be thrilling to watch it unfold.