Since the first urgent care centers started opening up in the 1970s, it’s become a booming industry, with nearly 9,000 urgent care centers across the United States today. While many people appreciate the convenience of having an urgent care nearby, it’s easy to overlook the importance of technology in health, from digital marketing services for hospitals to the latest medical tech.
For all but the youngest of clinicians, the way of providing medicine and healthcare has changed considerably since they started practicing. Not long ago, patients’ medical records were stored on paper charts, consisting of Manila folders with color coded stickers on one side to indicate the patient’s identifying information. These records would be filed alphabetically in a physical chart room, and any doctor or nurse who needed to see a patient’s medical record would need to obtain it directly from that room. There was no easy backup, no way to view your health records at home, and no way for several people to look at the same record at a time. Today, not only is printing documents much simpler with modern inkjet printers and printer products, but often, we can skip the paper storage solutions altogether.
Some people feel like the world was better when things were simpler: no tech products to keep up with and no nonsense. And some healthcare practitioners may feel the same way sometimes. But even though the routine of referencing paper files seems appealingly simple, it came with a number of significant drawbacks. A paper chart could only be used by one person at a time, and in only one place; clinical data reporting was complex and expensive; and there was no way to track a patient’s condition once they left the exam room.
This is just one example of how modern technology makes healthcare better, and that doesn’t begin to do justice to the host of inventions that make life comfortable and safe, from air conditioner installation to overnight shipping. If we set aside our sense of nostalgia and any frustration with current technology limitations, we have to acknowledge the critical importance of technology in health, as in much of life. Overall, technology has improved the quality, availability, and efficiency of patient care.
The Importance of Technology in Health: 5 Examples
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the emerging technologies and the promising effect they’re going to have on healthcare. But first, let’s look at a few ways that fairly recent technology has already revolutionized the health industry, everywhere from addiction treatment centers to your local doctor.
Efficient, Accessible Medical Records
Anyone searching for the importance of technology in health need look no further than their own medical records. Almost all medical records are now electronically available in the cloud, shared on a secure network between the devices of all your trusted healthcare practitioners. Thanks to comprehensive, real-time information in online platforms like EHRs, doctors and nurses are empowered to take action on important patient data without losing precious time or risking a costly mistake. Doctors-only communication systems, automatic safety alerts, and remote access capabilities have taken patient records from filling a critical but passive role to being on the front lines of improving people’s health.
Significant Clinical Data for Treatment and Analysis
The importance of technology in health is especially clear in data-gathering fields. Medical products with built-in electronics produce enormous amounts of data that doctors can use to monitor and better understand their patients’ health. Stents and pacemakers deliver automatic updates through the internet. Digital home health products help patients report on their own weight, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Wearable devices organize information on people’s physical activity and sleep habits in ways that are visual and easy to understand.
The importance of technology in health goes beyond individual patients and their doctors, however. As patients respond to certain treatments, anonymous information about their recovery is sent to large databases to help other doctors and healthcare companies improve treatments for other people. Computer-assisted analytics have given healthcare providers the ability to compare and uncover best practices for improving patient outcomes, both clinical and financial.
While these reporting and data management systems have some creases that need ironing out, such as reimbursement and liability, there’s no doubt that it’s contributing greatly to the development of better, more personalized care.
Enhanced Medication Safety
Most people know that medications can be a double-edged sword: the right one at the right time can literally be life-saving, but the wrong one or the wrong combination can cause serious problems. Thankfully, modern technology has introduced countless checks and balances that automatically alert clinicians who are about to prescribe medications that might interact, or that their patients would be allergic to. Some of these solutions include computerized physician order entry systems, or CPOEs, and alerting systems in EHRs. While no one would argue that these technologies are perfect, they’re dramatically safer and more effective than relying on books and human memory to avoid prescriptions that would harm the patient.
Improved Medication Reconciliation
Similar to our last point, new technology tools help patients and their caregivers avoid problems from mismanaging medications. Before medication reconciliation systems expanded and went online, doctors largely relied on the memories of their patients to make sure they were getting the right medications in the right doses. Now, software programs work between doctors and pharmacies to help ensure patients get the prescriptions they need, when they need them, without accidentally combining prescriptions that interact.
Higher Quality of Communication
This is one of the more obvious examples of the important of technology in health. Thanks to online video chat and messaging technologies, doctors and caregivers can more easily communicate with their patients between visits and after hospital discharge. Besides this, apps can now be used to send users direct notifications and reminders that are relevant to their healthcare. Apps and online forms can also be used to let patients conveniently answer questions about their condition while they recover from surgery. Algorithm-driven alerts can also be used to recognize and notify patients at risk of reinfection or re-hospitalization.
Besides these easy avenues for communication, patient portals can now give anybody access to their own medical records and medication histories, with features like registration, scheduling, and bill payment all taken online.
Perhaps most exciting of all are new telehealth systems that some caregivers are now using to conduct “virtual appointments” with their patients using web conferencing, while their patients are still comfortable at home. These particular services are especially useful for patients who aren’t able to leave home for some reason or another, or who live too far away from a clinic to make the trip.
These are our top five ways that existing technology is already being used to revolutionize the health industry. Next, we’ll talk about some new and emerging technologies that are bound to demonstrate even more the importance of technology in health.
The Impact of Emerging Technology on Healthcare
While countless forces are changing the face of modern healthcare, from new regulations to consulting for urgent care centers, nothing will change it more than current advances in technology. Everywhere you look, technology seems to be evolving and changing all aspects of life at warp speed. If you had a job working for commercial movers, you would no doubt notice these changes in technology in the form of thinner TVs, lighter electronics, and recently home automation technology. As obvious as the rate of progress seems in your day to day life, it’s even more clear when you’re working in healthcare. The following are some of the most significant emerging technologies that are expected to have an impact on healthcare.
When you think about the importance of technology in health, mental health probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But issues like depression, chronic anxiety, and addictions are just as likely to plague people’s lives as physical ailments. In 2008, the FDA cleared a new system involving electromagnets to be used for treating major depression. These small magnets are placed against the scalp, behind the left forehead, and are used to deliver a very small electric current to the part of the brain that’s linked to depression. Although scientists still don’t fully understand why it works, it’s been shown to be three times as effective as a placebo. Most importantly, they create no significant side effects.
Three-dimensional printing, or additive manufacturing, is a method of manufacturing that involves laying down microscopic layers of material until a full, three-dimensional object is formed. Although 3D printing promises to revolutionize the overall manufacturing industry, the effect it’s having on medical technology is even more fascinating. Using a 3D digital image file, bioprinters “print out” physical objects by laying down layer after layer of plastic, glass, metal, or ceramic, which can then be used as implants or medical devices.
This application of 3D printing technology literally makes the human body a system of interchangeable parts. As of right now, 3D printing has been used to create super-customized prosthetics, including a prosthetic lower jaw and a human ear made of actual collagen and cartilage.
Even more incredible than the potential for prosthetics is 3D printing’s ability to “print” living tissue, to create organs that perfectly match the patient’s biology. Using an organ recipient’s own genetic material, it is already possible to create simple tissues like skin and blood vessels. Soon we should be able to synthetically manufacture entire solid organs, such as hearts, livers, and kidneys, using the same process. 3D printing perfectly demonstrates the importance of technology in health.
Robotics and artificial intelligence are one of the first things people point to when the conversation turns toward futuristic technologies. AI is becoming so advanced that, although you’ll probably always need a human being to be your premises liability injury attorney, automated systems will be able to perform many accounting and advisory tasks.
As an emerging field in healthcare, robotics is guaranteed to have a dramatic impact on how nursing, surgery, and more are practiced in the future. The growth of robotics in the medical field is a result of workforce shortages, increasing elder populations, and a need for higher quality care that isn’t subject to human limitations. There are three main branches of robotics that are expected to see the most growth in the healthcare industry: nanomedicine, biomechatronics, and robots as caregivers.
Nanomedicine is the application of nanotechnology to disease treatment and prevention, using tiny (often microscopic) machines that operate discreetly on the inside of the body. These robots can circulate in the bloodstream, where they help identify and repair the body from the inside. They can be used to repair damage on individual cells that naturally accumulate over time. Before long, molecular manufacturing should enable the first nanobots to be produced for use in medicine. Within two or three decades, it’s thought that they will be used widely across the healthcare industry. By targeting and repairing any cells in the body, nanomedicine could theoretically end aging, and be capable of reversing one’s biological age to any new age desired.
Through biomechatronics, many futurists and scientists expect that humans will essentially merge with machines, at least to some level. While we may be a long way from seeing real-life cyborgs, we’re not too far away from having individual machines that replicate the body’s biological processes to replace organs with. Though brain implants, it should be possible to create microphones that allow the deaf to hear, cameras to allow the blind to see, and electronic muscle stimulators that will allow stroke and accident survivors to move their bodies normally. Electroencephalograph, or EEG, machines already exist that can read and interpret brainwaves, giving individuals the ability to move wheelchairs or control video games using thought alone.
Finally, service robots are in development to provide human-like aid to the elderly and disabled. Robotics and machinery have been used in manufacturing and construction for years — even electric material lifts are an example of this — but machines gentle and precise enough to work with humans is another level completely. Other advanced robots are being developed and used to assist doctors in performing surgeries with a level of precision not humanly possible. Robots will also be used more and more to provide direct patient care in homes and hospitals. Meanwhile, it’s extremely likely that humanoid robots will be used in simulation scenarios to help medical students learn to care for human patients. Some advanced robots may even be able to perform administrative jobs in medical field. Overall, robotics is a dramatic and far-reaching example of the increasing importance of technology in health.
As you can see, advancements in technology impact far more than the gadgets you see at the mall, or the office computers that seem to keep you constantly on the phone with business computer support services. From digital record-keeping systems to futuristic micro-robots, these are just a handful of examples that illustrate the importance of technology in health. While the extensive information and complex systems may seem overwhelming, they paint a profoundly positive image of what medicine will be capable of in the decades and centuries to come.