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Social Innovation

4 trends set to transform healthcare

Will doctor’s appointments one day be conducted by virtual reality? Artificial intelligence and big data are inspiring four trends which will transform healthcare as we know it.

Could it be that, by 2036, doctor’s appointments are conducted by virtual reality? Will robots assist surgeons in operating rooms and smart watches automatically call an ambulance if you are showing signs of a heart attack? As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, and growing pools of big data give us a greater ability to understand patterns in diseases, genetics and lifestyle behaviours, the way society deals with healthcare is being transformed. Here we look at 4 trends changing the face of healthcare:

#1 – Big data predicting and preventing diseases

The days of paper medical records filed away in the local doctor’s surgery or hospital are over. The integration of medical records across health institutions into central systems is not only transforming the way we record diseases, but also unlocks the possibility of predicting and preventing them from spreading, or at least to limit their impact. By pooling medical records together, it is possible to spot trends linked to the development of certain diseases. Once these have been identified, measures can proactively be put in place to prevent or delay people from developing these illnesses. In the UK, Hitachi and NHS Greater Manchester, for example, are working together to analyse patient data as a way of combatting diabetes. The collation of this data allows them to highlight which lifestyle behaviours, such as obesity, are most likely to contribute to the development of diabetes, leading them to set up lifestyle prevention programmes to encourage people to change their habits and by doing so, reduce their chances of having diabetes.

#2 – The power of wearable tech

Wearable technologies are making it easier for people to better understand their own health. While wearable tech may have first been used to monitor fitness activity, it now has the potential to save lives. Soon we’ll see wearable tech which won’t just tell you if your heart is beating too fast, but also call an ambulance on your behalf. This intelligent technology is enabling a form of self-diagnosis which allows people to receive medical attention more quickly, hopefully preventing a more serious medical situation. This sort of preventative tech already exists in the form of a wristband which has been developed to alert family members if the wearer has had too many drinks as a safety precaution.

#3 – The virtual doctor’s surgery

Being able to quickly and easily access healthcare services can be a challenge for patients, be it due to busy schedules, time constraints or mobility issues making it difficult for people to leave their homes. However, technological developments are now enabling people to access these services from the comfort of their living rooms, offices or otherwise. This can be as simple as using FaceTime or Skype to speak to a doctor, or consulting robot health apps which can diagnose symptoms and recommend an appropriate plan of action. The Babylon app, for example, allows people to remotely check and diagnose their symptoms, send medical questions and accompanying pictures to GPs for answering, and if necessary, organise a video consultation with a doctor, significantly reducing waiting times and increasing the convenience of care.

#4 – Artificial intelligence, real impact

Many healthcare systems are overburdened and there are just not enough hours in the day for doctors and nurses to attend to all of their patients’ needs. A report by the Royal College of Physicians in the UK recently revealed that the number of patients forced to remain in hospital due to delays has increased by 80% in the past 5 years. However, artificial intelligence enabled robot surgery will make a real difference as it frees up time for doctors. Robot-assisted surgery is predicted to become routine – one in three surgeries – in the next five years, improving the accuracy of tricky operations and resulting in shorter and more comfortable recovery times for patients. For example, a robot recently carried out a kidney transplant with such accuracy that the two patients were given paracetamol rather than morphine following the operation. Bringing artificial intelligence into healthcare will help to reduce the pressure on staff in hospitals as they begin to share the workload and allow doctors to devote their time to tasks which specifically require human interaction and emotions when treating patients.

A brighter future for our health

These trends are not just set to transform the future of healthcare but are already solving problems currently faced by our over-stretched healthcare services. Remote diagnosis and artificial intelligence will free up the time for doctors and nurses to divert their attention to where care is most needed. The increasing deployment of smart technologies will make healthcare more accurate, affordable and accessible, leading to a healthcare system which benefits everyone.