How technology has changed healthcare

Wearables, laser and robotic surgery and augmented and virtual reality are just a few of the more dramatic recent advances in healthcare technology. While we haven’t cured everything yet, better tools and access to information is helping us learn more, faster, and develop tools and treatments more rapidly than healthcare providers can keep up with. While few would question the benefits of technology for healthcare and human outcomes, continued development will be closely watched for its effects on the industry and system of healthcare and the wide-ranging human impacts that come with any change. Read on for five examples of how technology has changed and is continuing to transform healthcare:

Access to information

Patients were once limited to seeking the advice of a professional or tracking down and reading a book to learn about their condition. Now free information about diagnoses, conditions, treatments and first-hand experiences is in their pockets. At the same time, where medical professionals once relied on a formal education and experience alone, they now have access to databases and curated resources. This unprecedented access to information can be empowering, but also dangerous when used irresponsibly, but for better or worse it’s a technology that’s only going to become more prevalent as fresh resources come online daily.

Communication and collaboration

Also linked to the power of the internet, computers and mobile devices have changed what’s possible in the realms of communication and collaboration. Video and messaging apps, as well as photo and sensor diagnostics are being developed to extend the range of solutions available remotely. Healthcare professionals can get in touch with specialists around the world to bring their expertise to bear, while patients in remote areas can gain access to or enjoy superior treatment, whether they’re in rural America or on the edge of a desert on the other side of the world.

Wearables and data

Smartwatches, phone apps and add-ons and other wearable, or at least mobile, technology is a growing trend that empowers patients and their care providers with detailed real-time data. This trend tends to blur the lines between medical care and lifestyle wellness, and may be oriented toward improvements such as fitness or sleep tracking, as well as more critical conditions. Healthcare providers can have automated alerts for critical health events, or simply benefit from the aggregate data to be reviewed during regular check-ups, while patients can use the data to monitor and shift their own behavior and outcomes, and be informed to make more considered choices.

Customer and price-oriented services

Technology is also increasing customer empowerment and access while cutting costs. This can come back around to wearables and tracking apps that help to adjust behavior that will eventually require costly interventions, new services with consumer-oriented on-demand packages for things ranging from gene sequencing to STD testing, or data and information-based solutions. Better understanding of the drug and treatment options and potential customer base, for instance, can allow groups to negotiate more favorable pricing.

Tools and treatments

Current and in-development tools and treatments push the boundaries of the best science fiction, offering futuristic interventions that range from augmented reality to nanobots that swim through your bloodstream. While diagnostic technology such as MRI and CT scans have been around for some time, small and portable diagnostics are becoming more and more accurate, accessible and cost-effective, while robotics technology offers solutions for everything from senior care to exoskeletal solutions for the paralyzed. 3D printing is taking off as a way to create inexpensive, customized treatment supports ranging from blood vessels to prosthesis. Elon Musk is funding work on brain-machine interfaces and mechanized implants, while not entirely widespread, are already here. The development of future solutions, tools, drugs and treatments is on the verge of being revolutionized even further by the development of artificial intelligence in computing, with a theorized exponential jump in the ability to analyze information and craft responses once that shift takes place.

While our current healthcare has already been impacted by these technological shifts in what is possible for patients, there are much greater changes on the horizon. Systematic shifts are ahead as diagnostic technologies improve, handheld and app-based solutions are developed, brain-machine interfaces and implants become commonplace, and robotics and AI are honed. The nature of insurance and regional or national systems, specializations and care providers, funding and research are all open to disruption, and the impassive nature of progress will need to be tempered with human compassion and understanding to ensure technological development continues to work to the great benefit of humankind.