In 2020, our healthcare industry is facing unprecedented challenges. On top of the usual struggles to treat people suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, addiction, mental health problems, and more, this year has seen a global pandemic, the like of which we have not seen for over a century. While all of this is certainly scary, there is good news. That is the fact that healthcare technology is rising to meet the challenges that the industry is facing in 2020. Advancements in things like wearable tech, smart machines, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are all helping to contribute to improving not only healthcare but the overall health of the population. Here are 3 of the biggest health tech trends to watch in 2020.
Software as a Medical Device
It seems like nowadays everything in technology is getting smaller, faster, more portable, and more personal. This is as true in the healthcare industry as it is anywhere else. The best example of how this type of personal, portable tech is revolutionizing healthcare is software as a medical device (SaMD). SaMD refers to any type of software that functions as a standalone medical device. This is not to be confused with software IN a medical device (SiMD), which is software that aid in the functioning of a piece of medical device hardware. A mobile app that operates a medical device, software that helps a medical device connect to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, or software that operates an MRI machine are all examples of SiMD.
According to Orthogonal, “SaMD’s defining feature is that it performs these medical functions, without a need for actual hardware. It is typically used alongside non-medical computing platforms, which may be connected to virtual networks, traditional medical devices, or other general-use hardware.” This means that you will not find SaMD as part of an X-ray machine or electronic health record (EHR) system, but on apps that can be found on smartphones, tablets, laptops, or smartwatches.
There are numerous applications for SaMD with more on the way in the coming months and years. You will see SaMD used both in healthcare facilities and at home for personal use. In a medical setting, you may see a program that uses an algorithm to diagnose illnesses based on symptoms or a system that gives out precise pharmaceutical dosage information based on personal patient data.
On the at-home side, there is any number of apps that connect to smart device microphones, cameras, or sensors, to help people with any number of chronic conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, or heart ailments, monitor their conditions. And, while it is still in the early days, many experts believe that SaMD may play a big role in identifying COVID-19 patients before they unknowingly spread the virus to others.
Another huge healthcare trend to keep an eye on this year is artificial intelligence (AI). Healthcare Weekly defines the use of AI in healthcare as anything that uses “complex algorithms designed to perform certain tasks in an automated fashion. When researchers, doctors, and scientists inject data into computers, the newly built algorithms can review, interpret, and even suggest solutions to complex medical problems.” AI in healthcare can streamline processes, improve the patient experience, help doctors get to diagnoses quicker and more accurately, and help the pharmaceutical industry develop better drugs faster and safer.
There are a lot of examples of AI in healthcare that is amazing and futuristic like they came out of a sci-fi novel. These complex medical AI-powered devices include things like robotic surgical assistants, supercomputers running algorithms to create drugs that may one day cure some of the world’s most vexing diseases, and AI machines that can detect the tiniest signs that someone may have a disease like cancer.
Many of the AI breakthroughs though are simpler and help make patient’s lives easier just as much as healthcare professionals’. AI is currently being used in healthcare portals to help prioritize patients and make simple diagnoses without having to visit a doctor’s office. It is also helping streamline check-in and payment processes for a smoother experience and even helping keep everything from patient records to physical pills more secure.
Telemedicine may have been on this list at the beginning of 2020 regardless but the global coronavirus pandemic ensured its spot in the top 3 health tech trends of 2020. With widespread stay-at-home orders in place across the globe, COVID-19 accelerated the need for and the adoption of telemedicine to an incredible degree. Faced with no other option, doctors, nurses, administrators, patients, and healthcare IT professionals have come together to force telemedicine into the mainstream this year.
Before COVID-19 accelerated this trend, telemedicine was already being implemented in many areas around the country and the world. In the U.S., there are still too many rural and urban areas without access to proper, or in some cases any, healthcare. In other areas, access to healthcare is still less than ideal and comes with long wait times and short face-to-face interactions with doctors. For these reasons, telemedicine has been a hot topic.
Luckily, technology is getting to a place that gives more people access to telemedicine, and that allows doctors to offer more effective medical services with it. Several technological elements are driving this adoption of telemedicine. The faster high-speed internet gets, the better and clearer telemedicine sessions can be. The same can be said for the ever-improving video conferencing services such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and other similar services.
Telemedicine also brings together in the 2 tech trends above. Wearable tech (with SaMD) can give doctors better and even real-time data on a patient’s vitals and other health-related information. Also, interacting with AI systems on a telemedicine call can free doctors up and determine if a video telemedicine call or in-person visit is even necessary.
Technology has always been a major factor in the healthcare world but in 2020, it is more important than ever. As bleak as the global pandemic and other things affecting our health these days seems, knowing that technology is rapidly developing to make healthcare better, easier, and more effective should give you some peace of mind.