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What You Need to Know About the Latest in Medical Tech

Published on: March 15, 2022

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The healthcare sector looks little like it did just a few years ago. Today, healthcare professionals face a myriad of challenges ranging from staffing shortages to a full-on pandemic. Opportunities are also abundant, however, with technological developments that promise to forever change how care is delivered. As a result, conditions that previously seemed all but untreatable can now be addressed through a combination of medical skill and technological ingenuity.

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Aspiring medical professionals — including both clinical practitioners and healthcare administrators — should understand both the existing technological landscape and the promise for an even better tomorrow. To provide an overview of the scope of technological change, we've highlighted the challenges driving the latest developments, plus a few of the most exciting opportunities linking technology and healthcare.

What is Driving Technological Changes in Healthcare?

Technological shifts do not occur in a vacuum. They are inspired by a variety of societal trends. Often, new technology is developed in response to crises. Such was the case for many of the innovations that occurred during and in the immediate aftermath of the World Wars.

Increasingly, new tech is driven by social media trends plus the rapidly growing niche of fitness tracking. The global pandemic has already delivered major changes but some of these will likely last far into the future. We highlight a few of the most noteworthy occurrences linking technology and healthcare below:

Pandemic

No discussion about the future of healthcare would be complete without addressing the pandemic's indelible impact on this sector. Unfortunately, COVID has revealed many weaknesses inherent in the U.S. healthcare system. However, the pandemic has also taught us that, with proper training and support, hardworking professionals can rise to the occasion and provide extraordinary care. We've also learned that the pace of medical development can be shockingly swift, delivering life-saving solutions where and when they're needed most.

Later in this guide, we will highlight many of the trends that have influenced care during the pandemic — along with COVID takeaways that could help move the sector in a new direction. For now, it's important to understand that COVID — in some capacity — plays into nearly every healthcare-oriented tech development imaginable.

Fitness and Health Monitoring

Wearable technology provides a world of opportunity for the modern fitness buff, but it's by no means limited to athletic types. These days, wearables are used for a wide range of medical functions, including those that take place within facilities and those relied upon for continued patient monitoring at home.

What is one of the main benefits of wearables as they're currently used in the healthcare sector? They help pinpoint problematic conditions early on. Aggressive interventions in the early stages of a disease can promote far better outcomes down the road. For example, by integrating wearables and machine learning, it's possible to "predict near-term blood sugar control," thereby providing a powerful form of risk management for prediabetes patients.

In addition to assisting with diagnosis and early treatment, wearables can be valuable for limiting the side effects of aggressive procedures. Patients who are diagnosed with cancer, for example, may be evaluated via wearables to determine how their activity level plays into treatment efficacy or side effects.

Social Media

Social media has altered every aspect of our lives — and healthcare is no different. At the public health level, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok play a crucial role in disseminating important medical information, although they have also increased the dangers of spreading medical misinformation.

Providers also rely on social media platforms to build trust and goodwill among otherwise reluctant patients. Through social media exposure, prospective patients can get a better sense of a given healthcare organization's underlying culture — and how that plays into treatment protocol and bedside care.

Current Healthcare Technology Advances

The current medical landscape is far more advanced than many patients realize. Often, however, we fail to consider just how dramatically healthcare has changed in such a brief span of time. Many previously out-of-reach initiatives are now common practice:

Telemedicine

Telemedicine has come a long way in the past few years. While often relied upon prior to the pandemic for reaching patients in rural settings, digital solutions have become an increasingly preferred option for enhancing convenience and during COVID, mitigating the spread of the virus.

Patients who were once reluctant to discuss health concerns online or over the phone are now far more receptive to this approach. In fact, a growing body of research indicates that patient satisfaction for telemedicine services is downright impressive. A study published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health, for example, reveals that 88 percent of patients deem their experience with telemedicine as good as — or better than — in-person appointments.

Electronic Health Records

Technically, electronic health records (EHR) are far from new. These have been an integral component of the healthcare system for decades. The famed Mayo Clinic was an early adopter in the 1960s, but this technology was nearly ubiquitous by the 90s, when HIPAA helped shape EHR protocol as we know it today.

In the past few decades, the digitization of health records has produced huge benefits for patients and practitioners alike. Thus far, patients are largely pleased, as evidenced by a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation poll. In this study, the vast majority of respondents claimed that quality of care had either remained the same or improved as a result of EHR.

Digital records still present considerable challenges, such as security concerns and, among many healthcare professionals, administrative overload. Thankfully, many of the healthcare technology advances discussed below (such as artificial intelligence and blockchain technology) promise to mitigate these issues.

Technology Challenges in Healthcare

While most experts would agree the aforementioned technological advancements produce a net positive for the healthcare industry, the very developments that help in some areas can prove disastrous in others. Unfortunately, security and privacy issues abound.

Security

Far too many healthcare organizations have proven vulnerable to a myriad of cybersecurity threats. These can take many forms and have unfortunately grown far more sophisticated in recent years.

DDoS

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks cause serious issues for everything from appointment scheduling to data privacy. These attacks have been known to harm vital healthcare networks for multiple weeks at a time, as was the case when hostile traffic targeted Boston Children's Hospital and Wayside Youth and Family Support Network. This massive "hacktivist" attack was launched in 2014 to protest the handling of a custody dispute involving a teenage patient. Unfortunately, hackers have become far more sophisticated since then, so DDoS continues to represent a huge threat.

Ransomware

Healthcare-oriented ransomware can prove devastating, as evidenced by a headline-hitting attack on the University of Vermont Medical Center in 2020. This prevented hospital employees from accessing payroll programs, EHRs and many other crucial digital resources for nearly a month.

While UVM was able to avoid paying a ransom, the attack led to an estimated $50 million in damage, largely attributed to lost revenue. From rescheduled surgeries to relocations among individuals scheduled for radiation, the fallout from this attack may have also caused significant harm to vulnerable patients.

Spearphishing

Phishing campaigns became far more prevalent in the early days of the pandemic. According a publication by the American Medical Association (AMA), malicious emails were sent "cloaked under the guise of important information related to COVID-19." Hospitals have since tightened email security by boosting encryption and mandating multifactor authentication.

Privacy

When EHR was implemented on a wide scale, proponents hoped that this technology could be used to simultaneously enhance patient convenience and improve their privacy. This optimism was further boosted by HIPAA. Unfortunately, privacy remains a key issue in healthcare, with EHR not quite serving as the all-encompassing solution early proponents desired.

The rapid integration of technology in the healthcare sector poses new threats for patient privacy. Mobile apps and wearable devices are key areas of concern.

In 2020, cybercriminals exposed nearly two million Fitbit accounts, granting unauthorized access to detailed health statistics such as blood pressure, heart rate, and sleeping patterns. This leak also included GPS details. The implications of this are alarming, as such information could be used to track or ultimately harm victims based on patterns identified via wearable devices.

Future of Technology in Healthcare

As swift as the pace of change has seemed in recent years, all signs point to an even bigger shift in the near future. Innovations such as artificial intelligence and bionics are already used in healthcare to some degree, but experts anticipate that these will soon be commonplace.

Artificial Intelligence

When skeptics think of AI's integration within healthcare, they tend to recall science fiction films in which robots are tasked with healing humans all on their own. In reality, human employees will remain crucial for complex medical procedures; they will simply be assisted by AI solutions that optimize previously difficult or dangerous endeavors.

What is an example of an exciting use case that is already making waves? Predicting acute kidney injuries up to 48 hours in advance. These injuries are notoriously difficult for clinicians to detect on their own, so this advancement is already saving lives. The next step is to install user-friendly predictive platforms in a greater variety of medical settings. Experts also anticipate that AI will improve outcomes in radiation therapy.

Genetic Editing

Genetic editing allows scientists to change the DNA sequence for a wide array of organisms. While this practice has attracted some controversy, proponents believe that it will revolutionize healthcare.

As a press kit resource from the National Institutes of Health points out, a method known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) holds great promise for diagnosing viruses (such as dengue or Zika).

CRISPR could also play a vital role in cancer research. As the National Cancer Institute's Jerry Li explains, "CRISPR is becoming a mainstream methodology used in many cancer biology studies because of the convenience of the technique."

Bionics

Also known as biologically-inspired engineering, bionics seems, at first glance, like something straight out of science fiction. As with many advanced tech solutions, however, what once seemed like the stuff of stories is now not only possible, but easily integrated into the healthcare sector. With bionics, this largely takes the form of high-end prosthetics, which draw on the powers of vibration. This, in turn, gives amputees a better approximation of the sense of touch.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain has transformed everything from banking to eCommerce, but its potential impact on the healthcare industry is just now becoming evident. This distributed system consists of a digital ledger with blocks of information that can be accessed via a peer-to-peer network.

The open and secure nature of the modern blockchain makes it a great fit for numerous healthcare applications, such as:

  • EHR. Solutions like Ever Medical Technologies demonstrate how blockchain could be used to form a more patient-centric system. The goal is to improve interoperability and enable "trustable exchanges of data across multiple stakeholders." This approach has brought huge benefits to the healthcare sector in Thailand, where decentralized systems are credited with boosting clinical trials and drug traceability.
  • Credential verification for healthcare employees. Hiring backlogs are common throughout the medical profession and have proven especially concerning during COVID. Blockchain solutions can optimize credentialing by producing a digital record of each candidate's background. This should also improve transparency, making it a great option when working with contracting services.
  • Increased security for IoT monitoring. As mentioned previously, wearables encourage early diagnosis and effective long-term management — but they're accompanied by considerable security risks. The blockchain addresses this by adding cryptography to the mix, ensuring that only permitted patients and healthcare professionals receive access to data generated by wearable devices.

Projections from BIS Research suggest that blockchain applications such as those highlighted above could deliver $100 billion in annual savings by 2025.

Prepare Yourself for the Healthcare Sector of Tomorrow

Ready to make your mark in the swiftly changing field of healthcare? High-quality training is essential. Husson University offers a variety of programs designed to prepare you for all the challenges and opportunities this thriving sector will send your way. Whether you hope to eventually enter public health administration or work in a clinical capacity, you will be pleased with the range of offerings you encounter at this respected institution.

Husson's Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration and Public Health provides an excellent starting point. Reach out today to learn more about our healthcare-oriented academic programs.

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Sources

https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=5287

https://bisresearch.com/industry-report/global-blockchain-in-healthcare-market-2025.html

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/gene-editing-digital-press-kit

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/10/25/the-future-of-blockchain-in-healthcare/?sh=34baa78c541f

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41571-020-0417-8

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/tmj.2021.0111

https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2020-10/ama-aha-technology-considerations.pdf

https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/crispr-cancer-research-treatment

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