Disruption Off the Charts: Five Healthcare Technology Predictions

by Karen Bannan

posted on 09-03-2018

If money talks, as the old adage says, the healthcare technology market is screaming at the top of its lungs.

According to a November 2017 Accenture report, $7 billion was invested in healthcare technology startups over the last year alone. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration in December released three new guidance documents written to advance the agency’s development and oversight of innovative digital health tools. It capped a year of big announcements and improvements in healthcare technology.

“We’re seeing a moment of creative destruction in healthcare the way we saw it in every other industry — banking, entertainment, retail, telecom,” explains Unity Stoakes, the co-founder and president of StartUp Health, a global healthcare development company based in New York. “Health reform is impacting the business models of healthcare and creating chaos, change, and additional opportunities.”

And since the technologies are gaining more traction in the clinical setting with impressive research and results, the trend should continue this year, changing the way the business of healthcare gets done.

“More peer reviewed papers are coming out analyzing its impact on healthcare, and people are getting a sense of what it [can] do,” explains Dr. Bertalan Mesko, director of the Medical Futurist Institute, a digital medical technology consultancy, who, along with Unity, points to the following trends that should pop in 2018.

Trackers go mainstream

One in five Americans uses a wearable device, according to the research firm eMarketer. The market may explode this year as more insurance companies integrate the now-ubiquitous trackers, according to Bertalan. “Qualcomm and UnitedHealthcare announced that they have integrated fitness wearables into their healthcare package. More and more companies will follow their lead and will add sensors to their programs to reward healthy behavior.”

Virtual reality gets schooled

The physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers on staff today learned skills in practical clinics or on computers using 2-D software. This year, augmented and virtual reality offerings have the capacity to reform medical education, according to Bertalan, who says 2018 will be the year that universities start using the technologies to teach medical skills. “More and more apps and programs appear to help medical students learn anatomy or practice surgical procedures,” he explains.

Sensors take over the home

The promise of faster, less-expensive care has been out of reach for most healthcare providers. However, the introduction of sensors is poised to improve provider productivity and patient satisfaction. For instance, physicians can now make sure patients are taking their medication on time, thanks to sensors built-in to medicine bottles, and dentists can remotely view the inside of a patient’s mouth with a connected toothbrush. “By connecting providers and patients together seamlessly, you can better control the communication process and proactively identify healthcare problems before they get out of hand,” says Unity, who points to a new service that tracks high-risk pregnancies with a connected blood pressure cuff as an example.

Big data and analytics explode

Big data can now be used to predict buying behavior, understand which employees are most likely to quit, and provide better customer service, among many other uses. This year, big data will help medical professionals understand more about human health and help predict when people may get sick or even die.

Bertalan points to Verily’s Project Baseline, in which the Alphabet Inc. subsidiary will enroll 10,000 healthy people in 2018 to get a baseline of good health. “Over the course of four years, researchers will collect genetic data, blood samples, medical images, and other information from the study participants,” he says.

Robots take the operating room

Medical personnel are in short supply. One study from the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 104,000 physicians by 2030. Robots equipped with artificial intelligence can help pick up the slack as well as improve patient outcomes, according to experts. Verily Life Sciences, for example, is working with Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon in developing robots that can be used to assist with minimally invasive surgeries. Another company, Virtual Incision, announced a miniaturized robot designed to perform abdominal surgery.

These technologies and others will help transform the medical field, says Unity. “It’s an opportunity to transform an industry that’s been broken for a while.”

Topics: Industry, Healthcare

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