Healthcare and technology go hand-in-hand. However, many wonder where exactly they are heading. Telemedicine, IoT devices, and virtual reality surgical training are just a few digital health innovations attracting a lot of attention and research dollars and helping the sector enhance health equity worldwide. In addition, the pandemic caused widespread disruption in the healthcare industry, prompting it to spend more on cutting-edge new technology.
During the pandemic, some of the following digital health trends gained traction and are expected to influence the future of medicine.
Telehealth delivers healthcare services through digital communication technology such as computers, mobile phones, and tablets. Healthcare providers had to shift rapidly when social distancing diminished in-person visits. By April 2020, telehealth services would account for almost 43% of primary care visits. Telehealth appears to be here to stay, even as the COVID-19 vaccines roll out over the world. Fortune Business Insights says the telehealth business will be worth more than $185 billion by 2026.
Telehealth can refer to a variety of different medical services. Teleradiology refers to the practice of a radiologist interpreting medical images while not physically present in the location where the images are generated. Hospitals, mobile imaging companies, urgent care facilities, and even some private practices utilize teleradiology. Tele-pharmacy delivers pharmaceutical care to patients in regions where they may not directly access a pharmacist via telecommunications. It’s an example of the broader telemedicine phenomena in action in the field of pharmacy. Tele-ICU has an off-site command center – a critical care team (intensivists and critical care nurses) is connected with patients in the distance intensive care units (ICUs) through real-time audio, visual and electronic means, and health information is exchanged. Telerehabilitation refers to information and communication technologies to provide rehabilitation services to people remotely in their homes or other environments. This usually has a vital visual element with video conferences and webcams commonly used to communicate symptoms and clinical progress. Tele-neuropsychology is a type of telemedicine that includes neuropsychological consultation and assessment over the phone with patients who have or are suspected of having a cognitive disorder.
Telenursing refers to the utilization of communicative technologies to provide remote nursing services.
In the future, people will demand a smooth digital experience to make appointments, buy medication, and get important health information and advice. Instead of being a transitory fad, telehealth is predicted to become an integral part of a complete healthcare strategy that enhances the patient experience. Clinicians might handle approximately 40% of primary care sessions remotely, and clinicians that offer telehealth services are more likely to see more patients. According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals lost $161.4 billion between March and June 2020 – telehealth services may assist hospitals in recouping some of their losses. According to McKinsey, $250 billion of total US healthcare spending might go virtual in the years following the pandemic.
Rather than treating digital health trends as a testbed, the industry must fully embrace innovation to improve provider agility and efficiency in the future.
2. IoT and Medicine
Medical IoT is a fast-expanding industry in which wearable gadgets, monitoring, and integrated applications are used to meet healthcare demands. Medical IoT can offer better versions of classic medical devices, such as the smart inhaler, which syncs patient usage with a mobile app, thanks to AI and machine learning technology.
Patients now have more control over their diseases and health demands thanks to the emergence of 5G and smart technology in healthcare. Smart insulin pens and glucose monitoring devices, for example, make it easier for people to maintain track of their health needs with minimal disruption to their daily life. Many IoT devices will become more affordable as technology advances, bringing us closer to health fairness. Hospitals can perform predictive maintenance and avoid costly downtime of complex medical equipment with IoT devices that monitor machinery and warn technicians about concerns. In addition, they can employ sensors to track supply inventory, allowing them to manage gas, chemical, and disposable goods like masks, gloves, and syringe usage and costs.
Data storage and security are critical in the healthcare industry. Additionally, IoT devices must be dependable in terms of connections, performance, and real-time data delivery. For example, healthcare workers may overlook important details about a patient’s health if there are any pauses or outages. Healthcare has a lot to gain from the cloud era, but trust in data security and IoT capabilities are still developing. With this in mind, we may anticipate increased investment and funding in IoT technology in the following years.
3. Behavioral and mental health apps
As the brutal reality of lockdown life set in, people worldwide faced untold mental health issues in 2020. Mindfulness applications like Headspace, Liberate, and Calm were no longer solely for the fringe meditation crowd, as general usage boosted the wellness app market’s download figures. According to The New York Times, Calm gained 10 million new members, and venture investors pooled their funds.
Employers increasingly recognize the value of wellness apps for their workers. For decades, corporate wellness trips, office yoga, and team-building events have all been around, but the employer-provided wellness app is a newer notion. According to research by SHRM, 48% of US employees say they would be more confident in digital health tools if their workplace provided them. Furthermore, 26% claimed they would be more likely to stay with their current employer if such apps were available.
According to projections from 2018, health apps might save the US healthcare system $7 billion every year. In addition, employers should see a decline in employee “sick days” as the mobile age continues to entice more people to health apps, which would enhance productivity. Limeade, which helps firms foster a culture of well-being and inclusion, and Vantage Fit, which lets employers develop simple wellness programs and challenges to help their staff stay fit and healthy, are two examples of apps aimed at the corporate workplace.
Wellness is expected to be one of the most important digital health trends in the next 20 years, according to Deloitte’s Future of Health report. We may anticipate a significant shift away from treatment-focused medicine by 2040, with 60% of the investment going toward promoting health and well-being.
4. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology have many practical applications beyond gaming and entertainment – VR aids surgical planning and training in the medical field, making treatments more comfortable for doctors and patients. There have also been numerous publications on the effectiveness of virtual reality in the treatment of chronic pain and mental health.
In a study on the expected growth of AR and VR in healthcare, Markets predicted a 30.7 percent annual growth rate between 2017 and 2025. Health experts are already using the benefits of VR and AR to treat several ailments, including anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, providers can utilize virtual reality and augmented reality to construct simulations of real-life settings in which patients are psychologically challenged, such as dealing with eating disorders, fear of heights, or social anxiety. Although people are aware that the world they are in, whether wearing a VR headset or using an augmented reality application, is artificial, the simulation allows them to face challenges and overcome their fears through practice. According to Oxford VR, this type of immersive therapy can lessen fears and phobias by 68 percent after only two hours of treatment.
On the provider side, VR aids in the development of medical professionals’ skill sets. According to a study on the influence of virtual reality training in healthcare, students who received VR instruction completed medical operations 20 percent faster than those who received only traditional training. In addition, the VR-trained group correctly completed 38 percent more steps.
According to a recent estimate from Verified Market Research, the value of AR/VR in healthcare will climb to $34 billion by 2027. Virtual reality is still a young technology. However, its powers will usher in exciting new advances in preventive healthcare, rehabilitation, and cancer treatment as it develops.
Telemedicine, IoT devices, and healthcare apps aren’t new technologies; they’ve been around for a long time. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, was instrumental in propelling healthcare forward and encourage health institutions, clinicians, and patients to embrace digital health trends and new technologies. Thanks to remote services, IoT devices, and rapid research and development methods, providers and patients now recognize the advantages of digital health services.