Healthcare technology finds its legs in 2018

May 16, 20186 minute read

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The last few years of healthcare technology have introduced a number of emerging advancements and concepts. From big data to 3D printing and wearables, it’s the age of nonstop breakthroughs. As with most healthcare technology, though, no matter how bright and shiny the start, everything evolves at its own speed once it comes face-to-face with the very real challenges the industry presents.

That’s exactly what sets up 2018 as a promising gateway into the future of healthcare tech. You’ll likely see a number of new technologies grow into practical healthcare applications over the next few months, and four of the most exciting to keep an eye on are blockchain, electronic health record (EHR) upgrades, AI, and digital health.

Blockchain gains momentum

Let’s kick things off with the new kid on the healthcare block. While blockchain technology is far from young and already enjoys the spotlight in the cryptocurrency world, its potential in healthcare is new, massive, and broader than you might think. To understand what that potential looks like, it’s important to expand your thinking beyond the technology’s transaction-based fame and back to its fundamental existence as a type of distributed database. Its status as a database opens up many possibilities in healthcare, including:

  • Managing medical data: As the industry careens toward over 2,300 exabytes of data, how to manage that data efficiently and flexibly is a question that needs answering. With projects like MIT’s MedRec (a decentralized record management system for EHRs) popping up, expect to see blockchain doing more work by giving patients more power and options regarding who can access their data, as well as streamlining often-confusing and inefficient provider access.
  • Beefing up security: Of course, blockchain is secure by design, so it can accomplish some heavy lifting in the world of healthcare security. Healthcare sits at the top of cybersecurity’s most vulnerable list, and with the boom of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), healthcare organizations are already in the process of vetting and testing how they can use blockchain to meet their security goals.
  • Managing claims and billing: With all the financial transactions flying around in healthcare, you can’t overlook the benefits here. Not only can it streamline a lot of claims and billing management—it even holds the potential to put a dent in the millions of losses seen every year from Medicare fraud.

While you can expect to see a lot of these technologies start to come together in 2018, brace yourself for some bumps. Jim Cunha, SVP Treasury and Financial Services at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, believes healthcare has blockchain potential that will only be realized quickly if it learns lessons from industries, like financial services, that have gone before.

EHRs break free

Electronic health records are far from new tech in the healthcare world, but you can anticipate some interesting developments over this year and into the next decade as they evolve past their origins. For instance, you should expect to see EHR improvements that include better integration with telemedicine and even fitness trackers that auto-feed into EHRs.

Along that same vein, electronic records are set to become a bigger player in the patient experience, possibly even helping patients find answers to questions before they arrive at appointments. While EHRs are now heavily code-based (making them unfriendly when trying to get any type of high-level insight), developments are leading toward a more comprehensive look at a patient’s situation, enabling more collaboration and the ability to take a holistic view of the patient journey.

As EHRs become more useful across the board, it’s likely the printing commonly associated with them will see a bump, too. It will become increasingly important for healthcare leaders to stay on top of cutting-edge print management software to ensure productivity doesn’t stagnate and that organizations get the most out of any EHR enhancements they implement.

AI does the dirty work

AI isn’t all population health drama and miracle cures for cancer. It actually offers solutions for the future of healthcare that could be considered pretty mundane. For instance, healthcare burns a ton of cash on inefficient administration—waste to the tune of $91 billion. While an AI-powered physician might seem amazing, a much more practical and attainable application for machine learning is actually picking up some of the slack around the less glamorous work in the industry.

AI also has the potential to amplify people’s natural abilities, as demonstrated by a team of Harvard-based pathologists who were able to increase the identification accuracy of breast cancer cells from 96 percent to 99.5 percent. There’s also potential for robots to help relieve overworked caregivers in elder care spaces by providing medication reminders, leading patients through exercises, and providing general companionship.

If that’s still too exciting for you, smaller forms of automation are also being considered to cut back on excessive paperwork through actions like reviewing junk faxes, importing data into patient records, and scanning lab results for urgent findings. Getting the jump on security issues by monitoring connectivity patterns or scanning printers for intrusions is yet another way automation could help healthcare institutions run smoothly.

With AI being such a hit at HIMSS18, you can reasonably expect to see more healthcare organizations jumping to use this technology in practical ways.

Healthcare goes digital

Reimbursement is in the digital health driver’s seat, meaning you can get ready for some interesting developments in the near future. As of this year, Medicare and Medicaid added a new reimbursable improvement activity to the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, breaking down one of the primary challenges to normalizing the use of digital health solutions in terms of monitoring patients outside the hospital.

On top of that, at the end of last year, United Healthcare and Qualcomm announced that their national wellness programs would incorporate wearables, enabling plan participants to earn over $1,000 annually through daily walking goals. With the FDA also issuing new draft guidance on the coverage of low-risk general wellness and mobile medical apps, digital health is bound to see some interesting developments as 2018 pans out.

The most publicized advancements this year, though, are likely to come from Apple. The company’s been going hard after medical records through its Health Records section on the iPhone, and between that, its partnership with Stanford to monitor irregular heart rhythms through the Apple Watch, and its HealthKit offering, it’s clear 2018 will be a big year for more than just Face ID.

Ultimately, the short-term future of healthcare technology is going to be one revolving around ensuring patient engagement and well-being while protecting their data. Whether you’re talking easy-to-read medical records or more secure printers, a focus on the tech, businesses, and people who can make that connection will shape tech trends—in turn, shaping the future of healthcare.

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