Our world is very different than it was just a few weeks ago. That includes, in particular, the way that we understand, value, and pursue our healthcare. As doctors show themselves to be the true rock star/superheroes they are, we are all beginning to understand the healthcare system a bit differently. That means recognizing the tremendous power of technology to save lives.
This article explores the role of IT in the healthcare system, both during this pandemic and in the “new normal” we will build after this wave has passed.
AI is awesome
If the current pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how imperative it is, not only to get the numbers but to get the numbers right. Artificial intelligence systems are increasingly being used in healthcare, not only to diagnose disease but to also track the spread of infectious diseases including the spread of viruses.
This provides accurate information, often in real-time, to ensure that patients receive the care they need when they need it. At the same time, it allows public health officials to more rapidly identify current danger zones and potential hotspots.
Big Data is everything
It’s not just evolving AI systems that are being used to speed diagnosis, ensure the accuracy of the diagnosis, and facilitate the tracking of the spread. The power of AI comes, foremost, from the power of Big Data, the enormous data sets that these systems convert into information.
This data helps to ensure that those who need care get it based on an accurate diagnosis of their illness. It also enables clinicians, epidemiologists, and public health officials to understand how diseases, both infectious and non-infectious, behave, who they strike, and what they do to their hosts. Big Data, in fact, is proving to be promising in the fight against viruses that it’s caught the attention of our governments, which is currently exploring both its uses and the necessary best practices to ensure personal privacy
Rockin’ the Wearables
It’s not just Big Data and massive AI systems that are transforming healthcare. The advent of wearable health technologies is also revolutionizing medical care. Consumer wearables, as well as the more advanced technologies prescribed by healthcare providers, can monitor almost every vital function, from the quality of your sleep to your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.
Best of all, these wearables can securely transmit essential health data in real-time to your care provider. That’s the key to prevention: wearables help you and your medical team identify your health risk factors and come up with an intervention strategy.
Even more important in the face of a global pandemic, these wearables can detect important changes such as a drop in blood oxygen levels or the development of a fever. These signs can alert you and your team to a possible infection early, enabling you to get the care you need quickly before the illness spirals out of control.
Yes, there is a doctor in the house
One of the most significant impacts of IT in healthcare today probably won’t come as a surprise. It’s telemedicine. In the midst of the pandemic, it’s becoming the standard for the provision of healthcare from the safety of the patients’ own homes.
Telemedicine is being used to identify and triage potential COVID patients while preventing the potential exposure of other patients crowded into hospital and clinic waiting rooms. It’s also ensuring that patients with acute or chronic medical needs can receive essential healthcare without leaving the relative safety and security of home.
Best of all, telemedicine even allows patients, families, and care providers to share essential medical records, to sign legal releases and related documents, and to collect data needed for public and community health purposes. The same systems that allow for secure video conferencing between doctors and patients also allow for sharing of sensitive documents in real-time.
The fine print
In addition to wearables and telemedicine, there’s something that might just trump them all: 3D health printing! It sounds a lot like something you would see on Star Trek, but it’s very real, and the technology is advancing every day.
With 3D medical printing, amputees can receive a customized prosthetic limb that perfectly matches the patient’s body, making the new hand or arm, leg, or foot, as good as the “real” ones. In addition, surgeons and healthcare providers can feed highly detailed scans and radiographs into the machine to print exact replicas of large segments of the patient’s body. These models can then be used by a surgeon or specialist to practice complicated procedures before performing them on the real thing. The technology is even being studied today for its capacity to print living organs, from fully-vascularized skin segments to liver cells and functional heart valves.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives from the ways we work and learn to the ways that we interact with one another, but technology has also changed our lives, mostly for the better. The power of technology has perhaps never been more evident than it is today as we fight to protect our health and the health of those we love. With Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, health wearables, telemedicine, and 3D printing, IT is proving to be a life-saving resource as we retreat to the safety of our homes to wait out the pandemic.
About the author: Luke Smith
Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger focusing on IT topics. Reach out to him on Twiter.