How Is Technology Changing the Healthcare Industry?

Advances in computer technology, high-speed internet, and artificial intelligence are impacting how healthcare is delivered. Many medical support staff work from home or at remote sites. This article will explore how some of the recent advances in cyber technology has affected healthcare.

Artificial Intelligence

Applying complex algorithms to patient data, developing new medications, assisting with medication management, and even assisting with surgery are ways artificial intelligence is changing healthcare. Some key aspects of AI in healthcare are medical diagnostics, particularly cancer screening (expert systems able to review pathology and radiographic results), medication discovery (using virtual reality to screen chemicals for receptor site activity), and improving the outcomes of clinical trials (data management). Another helpful aspect of AI is using VR (virtual reality). VR can help with pain management by engaging patients in distraction and relaxation activities. Training such as clinical simulations can also be accomplished using VR.

Robotic Assisted Surgery has been available for more than 15 years, and AI is being used to improve the design of the robots as well as the surgeon interface. High-resolution 3-D images and translation of surgeon hand movements into small scale motions by the robot have allowed increasingly complex procedures to be performed. Surgery can also be planned using AI-generated VR images of a patient’s anatomy. This results in improved outcomes with fewer complications.

More speculative uses of AI are for prosthetics and biological/mechanical interfaces to restore mobility and functionality. Biofeedback from prosthetic limbs, controlled by AI, enables a patient to regain kinesthetic sensation (touch, improving fine motor skills. Nerve impulse detectors combined with signal translation software deployed on ‘bionic’ suits are being used to allow paraplegic patients to walk. Early trials of artificial eyes with AI signal interpretation have allowed a few patients to regain limited sight.

Helping Remotely

Intensive care units (ICU) are stressful both for patients and staff. Frequent physiologic and equipment alarms occur, and sometimes important events are missed because the staff is busy with other patients. To reduce medical errors many hospitals have begun using AI-supported remote ICU monitoring. Data from each patient in the network is reviewed by computer software and critical events are highlighted for the staff in the monitoring center. The staff can then contact nurses and doctors in the ICU to check whether they are aware of the situation and are intervening.

Obtaining second opinions is a time-intensive process that may delay urgently needed care. Telehealth technology is being used to allow a medical provider to request a second opinion by e-consult if they or their patient is in doubt as to the best approach to their case. Another doctor can review the patient’s chart and offer their advice on how to proceed.

Medical coding involves analyzing a patient’s chart to determine which illnesses/conditions a patient has. There is a set of recognized codes, currently the ICD-10 set (“International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems”), used for billing. Coding is a labor-intensive field and no bills are paid until the case is correctly coded.

Traditionally medical coders worked in a hospital or clinic setting. Medical coders working from home have become more common in recent years. Software used by coders can scan electronic charts rapidly using natural language analysis to find statements supporting various diagnoses. This helps generate accurate coding for insurance reimbursement and, combined with offsite medical coding, reduces the time and expense of coding.

Patient Monitoring and Wearable Tech

Until recently day-to-day health monitoring required a download of data from a simple device such as a blood glucose monitor or even handwritten records maintained by a patient. AI has been employed in the design of wearable tech such as continuous glucose monitors for diabetics and EKG monitors for high-risk cardiac patients. Data is uploaded directly to the patient’s electronic health record. Alerts of changes to a patient’s condition are emailed or texted to the provider in real-time. Emergency services can be notified in life-threatening situations. In less urgent circumstances the patient can begin following detailed pre-planned actions for their condition.

A recent development in continuous monitoring is a wireless electroencephalogram that allows long-term EEG data to be collected in the home. It is thought this will improve the diagnosis of epilepsy, mood disorders, ADHD, and dementia. Advanced CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) systems include remote monitoring. This is used to optimize device settings and improve patient compliance with e-communication to the patient about their progress.

Technology has changed how healthcare is delivered. Impacts range from AI-assisted medical care to remote monitoring of a patient’s medical conditions. Improved patient outcomes and quality of care is the goal of guiding how technology is utilized. With all of these improvements to the technology used in healthcare, only time will tell how much more it will improve.

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