Technology is transforming the way healthcare operates. The impact is not on one level but on many. It is certainly a game-changer for the way communication happens and the way data is stored. Most importantly, it is truly enhancing the patient experience. Technology transforms the way patients are diagnosed and treated. It’s also transforming the way the business side is handled.
The true dynamo behind the great healthcare overhaul is mobile technology. These are the smartphones and tablets carried by doctors and nurses as they move between one location an another. Cloud technology provides on-demand access to any IT resource you can imagine. It also delivers resources previously unavailable. This blog will introduce some of these new resources. Because these resources make use of cloud computing, they can be accessed from any device anywhere on the planet where there’s an Internet connection. The added benefit; again, because it is on the cloud, is the flexibility and versatility of being able to scale up or scale back capacity as needed. Bandwidth is unlimited. Store as much as you want. Gone are the days of being frustrated with your workstation because it is slow.
There are 2 drivers behind this technology. One is to reduce costs. The second is to improve the quality of patient care.
There are more mobile devices than there are people on Earth. Clinicians are connected as never before. This means that medical professionals can immediately tap into, contribute to, and benefit from, a growing pool of global medical knowledge. At the swipe of a finger, a doctor can access the latest research on a given disease, learn about the latest drug, or clinical trial outcomes. They can benefit from the collective experience of colleagues worldwide.
Things are changing from the patient side as well. Patients are becoming increasingly accountable for their own health and well-being. They’re doing their homework on diseases and illnesses. They want access to their own data. In the June 13, 2017, Forbes magazine article How The Cloud is Transforming Healthcare, Khalid Raza writes, “providers must satisfy the demand for instant, top-quality access to healthcare services. Patients – who are accustomed to the 24/7 availability and service from online retailers and financial institutions – expect and even demand such access and services from their healthcare providers. People have become more involved in managing their own healthcare needs, which only complicates matters, and gravitate to the web for diagnosis, information, and treatments.”
Software companies have had the pulse on these industry-wide healthcare trends. These companies have responded with new technologies designed to significantly contribute to the flow of knowledge and the efficiency of future healthcare. There are now multiple secure messaging technologies available to doctors who want to have a quick informal consultation with a colleague. These tools have many of the same features. For example, all communication is tracked and logged automatically.
Here are a few of the new technologies that are changing the face of medicine. And they’re all being facilitated by cloud computing in one way or another.
DIAGNOSIS, PROGNOSIS & TREATMENTS
There are still thick heavy reference books collected throughout doctor’s offices and nursing stations. These mammoth books are collecting a lot of dust now. The reference books have probably been forgotten or left where they were simply for reasons of interior design. Now if a nurse or doctor needs a quick reference, they pull out their smartphone. Mobile apps enable clinicians to quickly dial into any information needed about drug interactions or complications associated with a particular condition.
Med360 is a program that automatically collects every new publication matching your interests. It collects data from thousands of traditional open access journals and funnels it into your personal stream. A doctor has only to call up the app on his or her smartphone, do a quick scan of the screen, and know exactly what’s going on with the patient’s medication history-taking and reconciliation. Pharmacy pickups, dosage changes, and re-fills are presented in a clear interface on the clinician’s mobile device.
VAST AMOUNTS OF DATA
The February 2019 article in Nature Medicine reported on a program that used patient information such as symptoms, history, and lab results to diagnose common childhood diseases. According to the article, the system was given data on nearly 600,000 patients at a pediatric hospital in China. The results produced by the system were highly accurate.
In another February 2019 article, Cade Metz reported that Google is developing and testing systems that analyze electronic health records in an effort to flag medical conditions such as osteoporosis or diabetes. Similar technologies are being developed to detect signs of illness and disease just based on X-rays, M.R.I.s and retina scans. The main thing these innovations have in common is their reliance on neural networks. This is a breed of artificial intelligence that learns tasks largely on its own by analyzing vast amounts of data.
Computers can be programmed to recognize patterns amongst vast amounts of data. These patterns can be linked to specific conditions. These are patterns that would be difficult, if not impossible, for a person to notice. Huge amounts of data from medical imaging are fed into artificial neural networks. The program follows an algorithm. The computer then proceeds to learn on the job so to speak. The more data it receives, the better it becomes at interpreting the data.
This learning process is already being used in many applications. Computers learn to understand speech and identify objects this way. Self-driving cars can recognize stop signs. It can tell the difference between a pedestrian and a telephone pole. Google has created a program to help pathologists read microscope slides to diagnose things like cancer.
ANY DEVICE ANYWHERE
The fact that everything is accessible on any device anywhere means patients can get medical help at the hospital, at the ambulatory center, and in the comfort of their own home. In the past, if you wanted to see the doctor, you’d physically have to travel to where the doctor practiced medicine and visit the doctor’s office or go to the emergency room.
Now, much of that care can appropriately be pushed into the patient’s home.
Hospital at Home, a program at Mount Sinai, enables video visits. You can check-in, access monitoring tools, and input your vital statistics. Patients can do things like check their pulse, blood pressure, or weight. The information can then be sent to the patient’s care team for review and response.
In a May 10, 2019, Harvard Business Review article, Albert Siu and Linda V. DeCherrie report that “research has shown varying but clearly positive impacts on mortality, clinical outcomes, readmission rates, and cost. A 2012 meta-analysis of 61 randomized, controlled trials, for instance, found that the hospital-at-home patients had a 19% lower six-month mortality rate compared to hospitalized patients. Our research finds that patients who receive hospital-at-home care have fewer complications and readmissions; they also rate their health care experience more highly.”
Bruce Darrow, M.D., Ph.D., cardiologist and Chief Medical Information Officer for Mount Sinai Health Systems says, “It’s empowering for the patient and it’s good for the clinicians too. The technology allows doctors to let the patients do the jobs they would want to do themselves. Artificial Intelligence is going to be essential to healthcare. When we think about doing the work with patients at growing population levels effectively, A.I. technology is going to play an important role. If I’m a primary care doctor who is taking care of 2,500 patients, only 20 or 30 of those patients will come into my office on any given day. At the same time, there may be several at home who are at risk. Rather than combing through the entire list of 2,500 patients, if I have tools to look at the prior history of the patient along with their current vital signs, I can determine who I need to see first.”
Medical record systems are notorious for not communicating with one another.
Darrow goes on to say, “Electronic medical records have been challenging to connect to one another because of the way they were born. The original idea was not to generate a national patient identity that would allow the same patient to be identified as such from one system to another. There was no original standard for what the medical records would do and how they would interoperate with each other.
The government and the healthcare industry have recognized the problem. That’s where the work of the next few years will be. We’re making progress. At this point, I have patients who come to see me in the office. I can pull their information from a number of systems throughout the New York area as well as nationwide.”
Telemedicine is the practice of caring for patients remotely when the provider and patient are not physically present with each other. This HIPPA compliant video technology enables clinicians to consult with their patients effectively. Patients can follow-up with their doctor through a video visit instead of making the trip to the hospital or clinician’s office. Patients can get an on-demand video visit with emergency trained doctors. A doctor can have virtual communication with a specialist. Or a stroke specialist can be transported in to participate in the care of an emergency room patient. All of these things are possible today.