AI Tech and medical Healthcare. Wherever we look in the healthcare industry, we can find new technology being used to fight illness, develop new vaccines and medicines, and help people to live healthier lives.
Over the last two years, many tech companies have focused on applying their expertise to solve problems caused by the global pandemic. At the same time, many healthcare companies that would not necessarily have traditionally been considered tech companies have turned their attention to technology and its potential to transform the delivery of their products and services.
It’s clear that the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of the healthcare industry. According to the HIMSS Future of Healthcare Report, 80% of healthcare providers plan to increase investment in technology and digital solutions over the next five years. We will continue to see growth in areas including telemedicine, personalized medicine, genomics, and wearables, with organizers leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, extender reality (XR), and the internet of things (IoT) to develop and deliver new treatments and services.
Remote healthcare and telemedicine
During the first months of the pandemic, the percentage of healthcare consultations that were carried out remotely shot up from 0.1% to 43.5%. Analysts at Deloitte say that most of us are happy with this and will continue to use virtual visits.
The reasons for this increase are obvious – but even when we take communicable diseases out of the equation, there are plenty of good reasons to develop capabilities to examine, diagnose and treat patients remotely. In remote regions and places where there are shortages of doctors (such as China and India) this trend has the potential to save lives by dramatically expanding access to medical treatment.
To deliver this, new generation wearable technologies are equipped with heart rate, stress, and blood oxygen detectors, enabling healthcare professionals to accurately monitor vital signs in real-time. The pandemic has even seen the establishment of “virtual hospital wards” where centralized communication infrastructure is used to oversee the treatment of numerous patients, all in their homes. An advanced form of this idea can be seen in the “Virtual ER” pilot under development at the Pennsylvania Center for Emergency Medicine.
In 2022 it’s likely we will see methods developed during the pandemic to deal with patients safely and remotely expanded into other areas of healthcare, such as mental health and the provision of ongoing follow-up care for patients recovering from operations and major illness. Robots and the IoT are integral to this trend, and smart technology (machine learning) will alert professionals when sensors detect that intervention is needed or cameras spot that an elderly person has had a fall in their home.
Telemedicine has the potential to improve access to healthcare in a world where half the population does not have access to essential services (according to the WHO). But this is dependent on winning the public’s trust – there are some situations where many people still feel an in-person interaction with healthcare professionals is required, so providers will need to consider this when implementing services.
Extended reality for clinical training and treatment
Extended reality (XR) is a catch-all term covering virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). All of these involve lenses or headsets that alter our perception of the world – either placing us in entirely virtual environments (VR) or overlaying virtual elements on real-time images of the world around us (AR/MR). They all have potentially transformative applications in the healthcare sector.
VR headsets are used to train doctors and surgeons, allowing them to get intimately acquainted with the workings of the human body without putting patients at risk, or requiring a supply of medical cadavers.
VR is also used in treatment. This can be a part of therapy, where it has been used to train children with autism in social and coping skills. It’s also been used to facilitate cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to assist with chronic pain, anxiety, and even schizophrenia, where treatments have been developed that aim to allow sufferers to work through their fears and psychosis in safe and non-threatening environments.
The number of applications for AR in healthcare will also continue to grow in 2022. For example, the AccuVein system is designed to make it easier for doctors and nurses to locate veins when they need to give injections by detecting the heat signature of the blood flow and highlighting it on the patient’s arm. Microsoft’s HoloLens system is used in surgical theatres, where it lets the surgeon receive real-time information about what they are seeing, as well as share their view with other professionals or students who may be observing the operation.
AR health applications for people who aren’t medical professionals exist too, such as the AED4EU geo layer, which provides real-time directions to the nearest publicly accessible automated defibrillator unit.
Making sense of medical data with AI and machine learning
The high-level use case for AI in healthcare, as in other sectors, is in helping to make sense of the huge amount of messy, unstructured data that’s available for capture and analysis. In healthcare, this can take the form of medical image data – X-rays, CT and MRI scans, as well as many other sources, including information on the spread of communicable diseases like covid, the distribution of vaccines, genomic data from living cells, and even handwritten doctors’ notes.
In the medical field, current trends around the use of AI often involve the augmentation and upskilling of human workers. For example, the surgeons working with the assistance of AR, mentioned in the previous section, are augmented by computer vision – cameras that can recognize what they are seeing and relay the information. Another key use case is automating initial patient contact and triage in order to free up clinicians’ time for more valuable work. Telehealth providers like Babylon Health use AI chatbots, powered by natural language processing, to gather information on symptoms and direct inquiries to the right healthcare professionals.
Another field of healthcare that will be deeply impacted by AI in the coming years is preventative medicine. Rather than reacting to illness by providing treatments after the fact, preventative medicine aims to predict where and when illness will occur and put solutions in place before it even happens. This can include predicting where outbreaks of contagious diseases will occur, hospital readmission rates, as well as where lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and environment are likely to lead to health issues in different populations or geographical areas (for example, predicting opioid addiction in communities, or which patients who self-harm are most likely to attempt suicide.) AI makes it possible to create tools that can spot patterns across huge datasets far more effectively than traditional analytics processes, leading to more accurate predictions and ultimately better patient outcomes.
Digital Twins and Simulations
Digital twins are quickly becoming popular in many industries, in a trend that involves creating models informed by real-world data that can be used to simulate any system or process.
In healthcare, this trend encompasses the idea of the “virtual patient” – digital simulations of people that are used to test drugs and treatments, with the aim of reducing the time it takes to get new medicines from the design stage into general use. Initially, this may be confined to models or simulations of individual organs or systems. However, progress is being made towards useful models that simulate entire bodies. Current research suggests this is still some way from being a realistic possibility, but during 2022 we will continue to see progress towards this goal.
Digital twins of human organs and systems are a closer prospect, and these allow doctors to explore different pathologies and experiment with treatments without risking harm to individual patients while reducing the need for expensive human or animal trials. A great example is the Living Heart Project, launched in 2014 with the aim of leveraging crowdsourcing to create an open-source digital twin of the human heart. Similarly, the Neurotwin project – a European Union Pathfinder project – models the interaction of electrical fields in the brain, which it is hoped will lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
This potential to help the healthcare industry to create treatments more quickly and cost-effectively is why digital twin technology is seen as one of the most important tech trends in healthcare for 2022.
Personalized medicine and genomics
Traditionally, medicines and treatments have been created on a “one-size-fits-all” basis, with trials designed to optimize drugs for efficacy with the highest number of patients with the lowest number of adverse side effects. Modern technology, including genomics, AI, and digital twins, allows a far more personalized approach to be taken, resulting in treatments that can be tailored right down to the individual level.
For example, the Empa healthcare center in Sweden uses AI and modeling software to predict the exact dosage of painkillers, including synthetic opiates like fentanyl, for individual patients. These can be highly effective and life-changing for patients suffering chronic pain but extremely dangerous in excessively high doses.
Drug company Novo Nordisk has teamed up with digital health company Glooko to create personalized diabetes monitoring tools, which provide bespoke recommendations for diet, exercise, and management of their illness, based on their blood sugar readings and other factors specific to them.
Genomics – the study of genes, and, recently, the use of technology to map individual genomes (the DNA structure of an organism, such as a person) – is particularly useful for creating personalized medicine. This is quickly leading to new treatments for serious diseases, including cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrigenomics is a sub-field of genomics where we can also expect to see significant investment and progress during 2022 – this involves designing bespoke health-focused diet plans based on different genetic factors.
AI Tech and medical Healthcare
Artificial intelligence is developing across many industries, among others, healthcare. With several applications, such as examining patient information and other data, and the ability to develop new medications and improve diagnostic procedures’ effectiveness, AI is one of the most important healthcare technologies.
Machine learning, which is a type of AI, has a huge impact on the healthcare sector. Recently, this technology is helping, for example, to analyses CT scans in order to treat the effects of coronavirus. But there are several other uses for artificial intelligence that go beyond pandemic treatment. For example, AI improves cancer diagnostics. For decades, the main way to diagnose cancer disease was biopsy, but it did not provide the full picture of the organ tissue. Now digital scans of a particular region that cell mutations may impact are a key component of contemporary histopathology techniques. Pathologists can look at considerably bigger portions of the human body at once using entire slide pictures or WSI (whole-slide imaging).
“The promise of artificial intelligence in medicine is to provide composite, panoramic views of individuals’ medical data; to improve decision making; to avoid errors such as misdiagnosis and unnecessary procedures; to help in the ordering and interpretation of appropriate tests; and to recommend treatment.”
Eric Topol, Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again
Another example is Microsoft which created a radiation AI technology called Project InnerEye. The project demonstrates how AI can improve clinicians’ capacity to arrange radiotherapy 13 times more quickly.
Integrating Data and Predictive Analysis
Connected with AI and other technologies, data integration and predictive analysis help extract relevant insights about patients’ conditions. Thanks to AI-devices, such as robots that enable integrated data and predictive analysis, medical staff have insights into the patient’s medical record, can generate more accurate diagnosis and decide what treatment will work best for them.
Robots collect the data and predict (sometimes before doctors) what will be required for a patient. However, it creates concern about robots’ presence, for example if they can really replace people in their jobs. Such visions are already common in science fiction movies; for example robot ‘Baymax’, known from Big Hero 6, can measure the intensity of a patient’s pain, inform and act when the patient is in danger and point out what medication is required.
Nevertheless, the reality is not exactly the same as movies. AI might not replace doctors but rather help them receive suggested diagnoses, drugs, and treatment plans based on a patient’s specific medical records, history, and present symptoms. Healthcare staff will be able to use the results of this thorough and thorough analysis of healthcare data to improve patient outcomes, lower costs, and increase staff job satisfaction.
Technology in Mental Health
According to the World Health Organization, mental health issues are increasing worldwide. In the past ten years, there has been a 13% increase in mental health illnesses and substance use disorders, primarily due to demographic shifts (2017). In the present day, 1 in 5 people live with a disability due to mental health issues. The recent impact has been mainly due to the use of social media and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past year, a number of new technologies have developed that can assist in meeting a patient’s continuing mental health demands. As many things went online, a lot of psychologists and psychotherapeutics provide their help via video communicators. There are also digital therapeutics (DTx), and certain applications are becoming able to complete patient intakes and offer an initial diagnosis. Therefore, medical personnel are trying to find solutions to help as many people as possible.
AI in mental health is not only common in apps, but it can also be used to identify diseases with symptoms including a variety of mental symptoms brought on by chemical changes in our brains, for example, dementia. There are many distinct types of dementia, but Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most prevalent types and is characterized by issues with reasoning, memory, and communication. One of the best strategies to treat dementia is early identification.
Remote Patient Monitoring & Virtual Care
Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the overall network of interconnected devices as well as the technology that enables inter-device and inter-cloud communication. The medical industry, often referred to as the Internet of Medical Things, includes cutting-edge medical technology like wearable sensors, 5G-enabled devices, and remote patient monitoring.
One of the IoT developments is a smart pill that gives medical carriers and doctors information from inside of the patients’ bodies (called the Internet of Bodies). According to Gartner, smart pills are ingestible sensors that may record various physiological measurements. They can also be used to measure the medication’s effects and verify that a patient has taken it as directed. The first FDA-approved smart pill was released in 2017.
Other features of virtual care include security, location services, teleconferencing, appointment management, secure messaging, healthcare provider evaluations, visit history and wearable connectivity. Furthermore, primary care facilities and clinics can now serve as remote hospitals, for example, conducting basic ultrasound examinations on pregnant women and remote data sharing for virtual cooperation.
Digital therapeutics, mentioned above, are solutions for patients with chronic illnesses who need ongoing care. The care can cover symptom monitoring, medication alterations, and behavioral modifications. Such digital therapeutics can be prescribed to a patient by their doctor, giving them access via computer or app on their smartphone.
Another example of remote care can be serial-based bedside monitoring devices that enable medical personnel to monitor their patients’ condition electronically.
Wearables in Healthcare
Just mentioned within IoT innovation – wearables or wearable technology is a group of electronic devices that can be worn as an accessory, implanted in the user’s body, incorporated in clothing or even tattooed on the skin. But we will not talk about wearables as a gadget but as important innovation in the healthcare industry. For example, smartwatches allow to remotely check on a patient’s condition by providing information about heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and blood vitals. Wearables such as pedometers and various sensors can also measure patient’s physical health.
However, smartwatches are not the only wearables improving the medical diagnosis of a patient’s condition, so are biopatch technology and smart hearing aids. Biopatches can give a better insight into a person’s vitals. Hearing aid noise isolation can also be enhanced with artificial intelligence.
Organ Care Technology & Bioprinting
3D printing, which we wrote about in the article Learn about Industrial Applications of 3D Printing, is the technology behind bioprinting. 3D printing has its application in the healthcare industry through producing such things as external prostheses, cranial or orthopedic implants, and personalized airway stents. However, it has also demonstrated value in surgical planning and has been applied to challenging open-heart procedures, even the entire face transplant performed at Cleveland Clinic.
Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center is working on a system that they believe would allow living cells, bones, and eventually even organs to be printed within patients’ bodies by robotic surgery equipment. Something that could save the lives of people that fight cancers. This way, we’ve reached something that refers to bioprinting, so 3D printed organs. Although it might sound unreal, the idea has already entered clinical trials. Organs being tested in clinical settings for 3D bioprinting include the ears, corneas, bones, and skin.
We already mentioned cancer within this article but did not refer to immunotherapy (also called immuno-oncology), which is a type of cancer treatment, has also advanced and can now prolong a patient’s life considerably. Immunotherapy is based on the idea that cancer can be treated by genetically modifying a patient’s cells, so they cooperate with their immune system. It boosts the immune system’s activity to aid in cancer removal. Immunotherapy does not cause collateral damage to healthy cells as chemotherapy does. It uses the body’s own immune system to identify and eliminate particular cancer cells while slowing the growth of tumors.
Augmented & Virtual Reality in Healthcare
There are several uses for augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) in healthcare. These technologies allow for connecting the digital and physical environments in a multidimensional way. The development of augmented reality is mainly reliant on artificial intelligence. As already mentioned, cancer can be detected through image recognition. VR can be used in physical therapy in areas like mental trauma, where it can cure phobias. Doctors using AR glasses can overlay CAT scans and 3D scan data to view into the bodies of patients. One of the designers of glasses that provide mixed reality experience is Microsoft, which designed HoloLens.
As technology advances and combines augmented and virtual reality, its utilization may advance beyond straightforward virtual check-ups to a variety of medical treatments carried out remotely, such as full-fledged surgical operations with the help of robotics.
For example, in Japan, there are healthcare robots that care about elderly people. How successful are they? Find out in the document prepared by the Telegraph that points, for instance, Honda’ Hoko Assist’, a replacement for sticks or wheelchairs for disabled people that supports part of the body.
Sustainability and decarbonization
As the world strives toward a more sustainable future, healthcare is also trying to contribute to a better environment, for instance, by providing ecolabelling. Ecolabeling worldwide is a voluntary technique of environmental performance certification and labelling. Within a certain category, an ecolabel highlights goods or services that have been shown to be more environmentally friendly.
Therefore, companies invest in eco-friendly label printer systems for labs, hospitals, clinics, and healthcare. Also, medical professionals benefit from such printers and print expert pressure-sensitive labels that can label account/patient information, medication, medical alerts, cage cards, and more.
The other method that the healthcare industry focuses on is decarbonization. With the European Union’s increasingly ambitious decarbonization goals there is a necessity to take action across all sectors to track and lessen carbon footprints. One is healthcare that contributes to 5% of total emissions.
Concluding, measuring the social impact and implementing green solutions, like green hospitals, new models of care, improving patients diet and choosing more ecological medical equipment are key to creating a better medical environment. Discover our Top 10 Innovative Technologies in Sustainable Energy Sector.