Technology is transforming the healthcare sector. Developments in medical treatment have meant that global life expectancy levels have been rising for decades. Unfortunately, an aging population inevitably means more pressure on the health and social care systems. At the same time, lifelong conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity-related illnesses, and forms of cardiovascular disease are increasing. Healthcare providers are being forced to look at ways they can reduce the reliance on in-person medical visits to better allocate their resources for treatment while still providing positive patient outcomes. Technology is often the answer.
When rethinking any traditional way of working, there are always opportunities to streamline existing processes. When it comes to booking appointments or ordering repeat prescriptions, there is simply no reason it has to be done in-person. This traditional approach to administrative processes is time-consuming and inefficient, but when it can be done digitally via a smartphone application, it provides convenience and ease to the patient. The gradual move to electronic patient records has also helped cut back on basic paperwork chores, such as printing, filing, and posting, so that now even the most traditional healthcare practices are being propelled into the digital age.
Online doctor appointments have long been a pipe dream for the healthcare industry. Being able to see patients remotely via virtual assessments and having information provided by photos and questionnaires can make the process of treatment and specialist referrals much quicker and easier. Thanks to developments in national internet infrastructure and more patients having access to technologies capable of video calling, ‘e-consultations’ are now becoming much more commonplace. Busy surgeries are able to see more patients with lower waiting times than before, and patients benefit from a more flexible approach.
In rural areas where public transport links are scarce, having the option to see an online doctor can be an invaluable lifeline for patients who may otherwise ignore their healthcare needs. In the long-term, online consultations could be used to reduce the strain on triage or early diagnosis services as well as admissions at Accident and Emergency departments.
The Role of Mobile Devices and Wearable Technologies
Wearable fitness trackers and smartwatches with health functions are providing patients with the tools to manage their own health. Whether it’s an awareness of their sleep cycles or how many calories they are burning a day, patients who have even a basic understanding of their own health and wellbeing needs may be more likely to develop long-term healthy lifestyles. The healthcare industry is aware of this and is developing more opportunities for patients to provide their own readings. Some examples include people with diabetes providing their glucose levels with smart-enabled reading devices and sleep apnea sufferers logging their own sleep monitoring. With patients able to provide readings accurately from home, face to face appointments with medical professionals can be avoided unless they are absolutely necessary.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
For years virtual reality has been poised to be the next big thing, but it has struggled to prove itself outside of tech demos and novelty prototypes. However, recent developments in the consumer marketplace have renewed interest in both virtual and augmented reality, and cutting-edge technology companies are providing innovative ways to integrate them into patient care. Anatomy models that can be manipulated in a 3D space have been used in planning and rehearsal for complicated neurosurgery procedures, providing more benefits over 2D screens and patient notes.
Virtual simulations have been used to relieve the symptoms of mental disorders and fears as well as help treat chronic pain. The eye-tracking in the headsets have even been used to detect early signs of a concussion in patients who have suffered head trauma. The possibilities of technology in health and medical settings is endless.