Health tech can be considered as an ever evolving and most significant field for mankind. More than, $21.6 Billion have been invested in digital healthcare companies in the year 2020. Along with the destruction it brought, Covid-19 also shed light on the deficiencies in the current healthcare practices.
Any problem is an opportunity for an innovator. The pandemic was a goldmine of such opportunities, the number of healthcare and health tech startups skyrocketed in the past year. Using technology to wrestle with these problems, many startups have come up with innovative solutions. Technology has been making its mark on the healthcare industry for a few years but most of it was held up at the research and testing phase. However, one can certainly agree that the pandemic has triggered rapid advancement and development for the health sector at large.
The involvement of technology in healthcare started with Health Information Management in the 1970s with the introduction of Electronic Health Records (EHR). From recording data to analyzing the data and detecting a medical health condition using computers, technology has evolved exponentially. Technology has developed to a point where people are discussing whether humans will be replaced by technology soon! This fear has also led to a decreased acceptance of technology in the medical field, but we should keep in mind that change is inevitable. The future of healthcare and how it can benefit from technology is unclouded. Let’s look at some of the emerging trends in Health Tech.
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) – With humongous data being collected, monitored and processed at any given minute in today’s world, AI can be used to perform any task that a human can do with an enhanced efficiency. Many research papers have been published proving the superiority of AI models over humans. When it comes to healthcare, there is a trust factor and a doctor-patient relationship is a must, due to which the application of AI has been limited in practical use. Voice recognition, Natural Language Processing and AI can be used to reduce the amount of clerical work like finding records, filing records, etc. giving the doctors more time to spend with the patient. Image processing tasks like reading X-rays or other image-based reports can be performed faster and more accurately using a well-trained AI model.
2. Virtual Reality (VR)– Virtual Reality has tremendous scope for applications like experiencing a trip to Hawaii from your couch to practicing surgery! Many students and professionals use VR to practice operations. Training on a VR software is a modern and technically advanced version of the board game “Operation” by Hasbro. Like the board game, a user can see and perform tasks on a human body in a virtual environment with real-time feedback. Studies show that individuals trained using VR are likely to perform better in real practice than individuals trained using conventional methods.
3. Augmented Reality (AR)– Augmented Reality is like VR but has completely different applications. AR means adding to the actual environment, in other words providing more information about what is seen by the user. For example, an AR set can project the exact location of nerves, organs, etc. on a patient’s body for assisting the surgeon in the operation.
4. Tele Health – Demand for Telehealth is growing immensely in the post Covid-19 era. A trip to the doctor is not always necessary, a voice call or a video chat often suffices. The pandemic highlighted the importance and need for telehealth as patients were afraid to visit clinics. Telehealth helps in saving the doctor’s time, the patient’s time, it also helps in cutting costs. Most importantly, telehealth increases the reach of proper medical care to places where setting up a clinic is not possible. A surgeon may also instruct another medical practitioner to perform surgery over a videocall in case of emergencies.
5. Health/Fitness trackers and Smart wearables – Smart wearables and fitness trackers are a great way to keep a track of your own body. These trackers and wearables also store data about a user’s medical history to monitor specific parameters closely and alert the user in case of abnormalities. For instance, if the user is diabetic, the smart wearable can be configured to monitor the blood sugar level at regular intervals and alert the user in case the sugar levels drop or rise suddenly. These wearables can help users monitor their health regularly and reduce the chances of severe medical conditions. Recently, a watch helped in saving the user’s life. The watch detected that the user had no pulse and alerted the medical authorities.
6. Internet of Things (IoT)– IOT helps in the connectivity of all kinds of medical sensors or medical equipment. Everyone uses a smartphone, transmission of data from various such sensors to your smartphone, sending commands from a smartphone to other electronics wirelessly is very helpful. For example, controlling lights, fans, air conditioners or any such equipment using a smart home device like Google home or Alexa. This was made possible by IoT.
7. Robotics – For quite some time now, robots are being used to assist surgeons in surgeries. The precision and stability of a robot is expected to be much higher than a human. A surgery was successfully performed using a robotic exoskeleton controlled by a human brain. There are many more applications of robots in healthcare: assisting patients in infected areas, providing nursing aid like lifting patients, etc.
8. Nano-Technology – Nanotechnology is soon deemed to be used in every domain of health tech from diagnosis to surgeries. Nano particles, nano devices can easily enter a human body and reach the narrowest regions. A movie “Bloodshot” has demonstrated the applications of nanotech very well. Procedures like colonoscopy and endoscopy that require probing can be performed using nanotechnology easily. Researchers at MIT developed a remote-control pill that could perform diagnostics and even eject drugs on command from a smartphone. Once perfected, nanotechnology will change healthcare completely..
Patents in Healthcare
The pandemic highlighted several challenges in the existing healthcare infrastructure. This led to a rise in innovation in the healthcare sector. Billions of dollars were spent to improve the existing facilities and find solutions for the flaws. Any innovative idea that could possibly improve an existing system or solve a problem is eligible for a patent.