AI, big data and blockchain technology are just a few of the innovations that healthcare leaders must begin to leverage.
Big data is not the only emerging technology that could improve healthcare.
So much is happening in healthcare right now, it is hard to keep track. To get a better understanding of the wave of innovation sweeping through digital health, I would like to share with you five trends that I think are most significant for our future healthcare.
Big data is booming. From 2015 to 2017, 90 percent of all the worlds data at the time was created. The current output of our data is about 2.5 quintillion bytes a day worldwide.
In healthcare, the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) and electronic health records (EHRs) has been increasing over the past 15 years. EMR adoption has risen from 20 percent in 2001 to 82 percent in 2014. As EHRs are a collective view of the individual EMR experience of a patient, the growth in the adoption of EMRs incited an exponential growth in EHRs, providing a 360-degree view of the medical history of a patient. With this, data are plentiful and increasing enormously as the number of electronic devices rises and adoption of, and innovation in, technology increases.
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These massive amounts of generated data demand innovative, cost-effective forms of information processing to enable enhanced insight. Predictive analytics provides such a methodology. Through a variety of statistical techniques encompassing modelling, data mining and machine learning, predictive analytics can tap into the current and historical intelligence from large data sets and make predictions about the future.
For healthcare, the trend of big data and predictive analytics is a blessing. Creating risk scores based on historical data could give care providers the opportunity to provide appropriate interventions before unhealthy conditions and diseases manifest. It could significantly affect treatment plans, as we may predict which treatment would be most suitable for a specific patient. And through predictive analytics, emergency department staffing levels could be improved.
But for the potential of these technologies to be fully realized, we still have some barriers to overcome — privacy and security regulations, for one. Nevertheless, companies are already capitalizing on these innovations and bringing them to the market. In short, it’s a promising trend worth watching and exploring.
The adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) in healthcare is a done deal. In 2017, 60 percent of all healthcare organizations globally had adopted IoT in some form. This number is set to reach 87 percent by 2019.
Currently, we see two main applications of IoT in healthcare. For one, IoT initiatives are driving the improvement of care, typically through remote monitoring and telemonitoring. Second, a significant amount of IoT is employed for tracking, asset monitoring and maintenance. The work IoT is doing in these two fields is very promising, increasing efficiency and optimization of assets, keeping patients safe, improving health and care delivery and promoting engagement.
It is no wonder that we want more. And more advanced and integrated approaches are popping up. Smart devices are entering the human body to help with diagnosis and treatment, and smart homes, tools and devices are collecting data to deliver personalized care. IoT is everywhere, and as the way we manage data improves, it will only become more present.
As scared as some people are by artificial intelligence (AI), the technology is already there. The AI market is expected to reach a value of $6.6 billion, that is with a CAGR of 40 percent. Around 86 percent of healthcare organizations, healthcare technology vendors and life sciences companies are already using AI in some form.
AI connects the dots between the various innovations we already see, building upon them by making them more efficient, faster, smarter and more sophisticated.
The investment in AI is significant, but so are the rewards. Key AI applications can potentially save the U.S. healthcare economy $150 billion in annual costs. With applications such as robot-assisted surgery, virtual nursing assistance, administrative workflow assistance, fraud detection, automated image diagnosis, dosage error reduction and many others, AI is a self-running engine for positive growth in healthcare.
Not many know that 3D printing has been around since 1984. But only since recent advances in the technology has 3D printing become a trend to watch. The healthcare 3D printing market reached $578 million in 2017 and is expected to increase its value with a 21.2 percent CAGR between 2018 and 2024.
But the lack of trained professionals, high software costs and strict regulations are still holding back the technology. Nevertheless, I suspect 3D printing will become an everyday part of healthcare once we have transferred to a more efficient and personalized system.
Besides the growing R&D investments, a major driver is the increased demand for customization. Personalized prosthetics and organ transplants are in the realm of possibilities because of 3D printing. But apart from customization, 3D printing aids healthcare by providing an alternative for human transplants which could, when the technology is further developed, significantly decrease costs. The technology provides burn victims with the possibility to recover their skin. It also opens the door to simplifying the life for patients who are taking multiple drugs by combining those medications layer for layer and before they are released in the body at different times.
In short, with its precision, speed and potential to significantly decrease cost, 3D printing is something to celebrate in the medical world.
Blockchain technology might just be the solution to the privacy and security issues hindering the digital transformation of healthcare. The blockchain healthcare market is currently worth $53.9 million and is expected to reach $829 million in 2023, with a massive CAGR of 72.8 percent.
That is not surprising. The absolute security of a blockchain system —once a piece of information is added to the distributed ledger, it cannot be altered — is the solution that healthcare is waiting for.
The permission-less blockchains are a major opportunity to collect and share public health data. They provide a system where every person can participate in population health studies, increasing the data sets, fostering interoperability and data sharing, all while keeping the data secure and ensuring real-time updates and access. Permissioned blockchains can enhance the security within healthcare organizations, protecting sensitive data from external threats and attacks by using multiple encrypted blocks, rather than having one single database. Beyond privacy and security, the rising number of counterfeit drugs drives blockchain technology support, as it enables drug authentication through secured traceability.
Of course, there are still some obstacles to overcome. There are questions regarding how to best integrate blockchain technology in health systems, and, as with all new innovations, acceptance and cultural adoption are crucial. Nevertheless, I expect blockchain technology to enable healthcare transformation by providing security.
In conclusion, I am certain that these emerging technologies are already making an impact. However, the true maturity in terms of market potential and acceptance has yet to come. But smart healthcare leaders must begin exploring these emerging technologies now if they are to successfully navigate the digital transformation.
A regular Healthcare Analytics News™ columnist, João Bocas is a wearable technology expert, a top 100 global digital health influencer and keynote speaker. He possesses more than 25 years of hands-on experience in professional sport and corporate environments, working with senior management, boards and executive teams. He has worked in healthcare, financial services, media, sporting and third and public-sector organizations.
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