Health technologies that will shape the future of healthcare
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Health technologies that will shape the future of healthcare

From startups to global tech giants, new innovations in health are catapulting the industry into an exciting new age of ‘smart’ healthcare. But which innovations do doctors see as having the potential to enable better health outcomes, and which do they see as simply ‘shiny new toys’?

MedicalDirector’s Chief Clinical Advisor and General Practitioner, Dr Charlotte Middleton, reveals some of the latest health tech ideas she sees could transform healthcare and vastly improve the patient experience.

Sensor monitors to support aged care

Healthcare in aged care is about to go through an era of unprecedented digital change. A combination of digital transformation and data-driven technological disruption is reshaping multiple areas of the healthcare ecosystem, including aged care.

One innovation that Dr Middleton came across at the recent Creative Careers in Medicine event that impressed her was brand new sensor technology, which monitored movement behaviour in the home.

“You can place these sensors in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room, for instance, and on appliances that are used regularly, such as the fridge, kettle and microwave,” Dr Middleton explained. “These devices can gather information about the normal movement of someone, within the home like their eating patterns. This data is then fed back into an app which the patient’s doctor and/or family can monitor on their smartphone.

“If there’s any disruption in patterns of behaviour, an alert is released. This type of new, data-driven technology is fantastic because it can really help quicken the response rate to health emergencies in aged care, reduce hospitalisation and have a direct impact on patient health.”

VR and medical training

Virtual reality is set to quickly change the lives of patients and physicians alike. Already, Embodied Labs’ “We Are Alfred” uses VR technology to show young medical students what ageing means. Everyone can be the hypothetical ‘Alfred’ for 7 minutes, and experience how it feels like to live as a 74 year-old man with audio-visual impairments. The technology’ goal is to solve the disconnection between young doctors and elderly patients due to their huge age difference.

Meanwhile giving birth has also been propelled into the virtual space with new innovations in both virtual reality and augmented reality developed by the University of Newcastle (UON). Using the Samsung GearVR and HTC Vive (VR) and HoloLens (AR) headsets, UON students will be among the first in the world to learn key anatomy changes, birthing techniques and real-world emergency scenarios via virtual and augmented simulation

“The real potential I see with virtual reality is how it can facilitate education and learning in General Practice,” Dr Middleton said. “There are some great innovations in this area, that are set to be rolled out and developed even further as fantastic health education tools.

“Personally, I think it will also open up exciting new opportunities to better facilitate patient engagement, and offer a more personalised approach to the patient experience. It’s an innovative way for patients to understand more about their condition, treatment or what to expect in their upcoming procedure.”

Genomic testing and precision medicine

Genomics is becoming increasingly more pervasive in the future of healthcare, as more government bodies and healthcare organisations start preparing for a new era of precision medicine.

A recent report released from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACLA), The Future of Precision Medicine, predicts Australians will be able to have their genomes mapped within the next 25 years, and health systems will be required to offer this high tech test, as healthcare moves more towards a focus on preventing diseases

Precision medicine, the report said, encompasses a broad remit, including genomics and other ‘omics’ (metabolomics, microbiomics, proteomics and transcriptomics), epigenetics, gene editing technologies such as CRISPR and the development of targeted therapies specific to an individual’s disease profile.

And advances in genome sequencing and the associated field of genomics are set to offer us better understanding of how diseases affect different individuals. With the genetic profile of a person’s disease, and knowledge of their response to treatment, it should be possible to find out more about the likely effectiveness of medical interventions such as prescribing drugs to treat a disease (pharmacogenomics).

“I definitely see genomics, precision medicine and personalised medicine as being part of the future of medicine,” Dr Middleton said. “But at the same time, we have to ensure there are evidence-based systems in place to ensure we obtain true results we can trust and act upon.

“The information we obtain is astronomical and can have a profound impact on a patient’s health and psyche – in terms of what you may be revealing to them that they’re pre-disposed to. So we need to give our approach to genomics a lot of thought and develop some fail-safe protocols behind using it.”

Smart health monitors and wellness wearables

recent report released by KPMG, Healthcare reimagined: Innovation trends, predictions and actions for healthcare leaders, found that technology innovations are spearheading change, both in terms of consumer expectations and healthcare service offerings.

According to the report, new healthcare ecosystem is data-driven, connected and highly digitised, with the patient at the heart of its operations. We will also continue to see a ‘healthcare on demand’ culture’ with patients that see healthcare as a service, and who expect a more personalised and digitised experience.

At the same time, IoT will play a more significant role in enabling flexible, outcome-based care, including wearables, digestible and implantables.

Already, there are new innovative devices including ultrasounds, ECG monitors, microscopes and dermatoscopes that can view skin cancers and blood pressure monitors that can be plugged into a smartphone. A picture of an inner ear or throat taken on a smart phone can help a doctor diagnose and infection. There are even smart health devices and wearables to track and monitor lung health and medication usage for asthma patients.

On top of this, mobile devices can perform ECGs, DIY blood tests, or serve as a thermometer, all without even leaving the house. And with help from automation, patients can even be prompted to check their weight, pulse, or oxygen levels, and enter results into mobile patient portals. They can transmit the results to my doctor in real time.

Those details, when entered regularly, can help predict one’s risk for heart disease and other illnesses, ultimately saving lives. One app even allows you to scan your vital signs just by placing the phone on your forehead to measure heart rate, and body temperature.

“The age of wellness wearables is definitely here,” Dr Middleton said. “Whether it is the middle ear devices that monitor your heart rate, the wearables on your wrist that tell you how you’re sleeping, or the ECG monitors that go around your chest – there are so many exciting technology concepts that can really enhance the care we provide as doctors.”

Therapeutic apps to improve health outcomes

‘Digiceuticals’ are set to have a profound impact on the future of health and patient outcomes. Unlike mainstream ‘wellness apps’, digiceuticals have been tested for efficacy, approved by regulatory agencies such as the FDA and are prescribed by medical practitioners.

Most digiceuticals gather specific health data, either by asking patients for information or by using sensors, and provide real-time guidance. For instance, diabetes apps can work with connected monitors and use the information to manage symptoms.

“I really can see the benefits of ‘prescribing’ these therapeutic apps to our patients,” Dr Middleton said. “It’s these sort of patient-centric innovations that will help to improve patient engagement and health outcomes moving forward.”

Virtual care and the future of health

Virtual care, otherwise known as telehealth, is the delivery of health-related services and information via technology outside the physical ‘walls of the ‘consulting room’, and is increasingly becoming a critical enabler of more personalised, patient-centric care.

Forrester’s recent study, Virtual Care Enables The Digital Health Imperative, predicts virtual care is set to disrupt today’s outpatient visit and chronic disease management program models. It stresses digital business strategy professionals must start implementing and integrating virtual care technologies to survive as healthcare moves from analog to digital business processes.

Innovations in virtual care can enable patients in any location, urban, suburban and rural, the ability to access healthcare in more flexible ways than ever before. Patients can minimise travel time, effort and expense, while receiving personalised care in their own home. This convenience can help alleviate a lot of patient and caregiver burdens, opening up more time to focus on rest and recovery

“There are so many ways now to practice medicine ‘outside of the consulting room’, which is particularly useful for to support rural and mental health patients, who are either physically or psychologically unable to reach a face-to-face consultation,” Dr Middleton said. “Plus technological innovations are popping up every day to complement virtual care in Australia. For instance, there are technologies that can match patients with clinical trials or to psychologists. Technology is becoming more accepted as an effective way health professionals can connect with patients to enable better health outcomes.”

 

Dr Charlotte Middleton is presenting her topic, ‘Meeting Patient Expectations: Now and In the Future’ at the GPCE Event in Brisbane from 15-16th of September 2018 and in Melbourne 16-17th of November 2018.