Thomas Edison is noted for saying, "there's a way to do it better…find it." That sentiment is the core of innovation in any industry, but it is especially significant in healthcare. Why? Because even when the most advanced technology is involved, at the heart of innovation is a human.
Fortunately, healthcare administrators who have gone through a comprehensive Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program possess the necessary tools to make those decisions with a clear and informed strategy.
Here are a few of the top trends and innovative expeditions in healthcare technology in 2021 and beyond.
1) Artificial Intelligence (AI)
While many people think of artificial intelligence as more of a "modern" innovation, it was alive as far back as the 1950s — at least in concept. Alan Turing's research focused on building intelligent machines and how to test their intelligence. In 1997, IBM's Deep Blue – a chess-playing computer program — defeated grandmaster player Gary Kasparov.
Since then, AI has made phenomenal leaps. In healthcare, it has become a massive investment. According to Healthcare Weekly, the use of artificial intelligence within the healthcare industry is expected to grow rapidly at an annual rate of 40% through 2021 — representing a spike from approximately $600 million in 2014 to $6.6 billion.
AI works in healthcare field in a number of ways including identifying high-risk patients (like opioid users/abusers); personalized dosage recommendations based on a patient’s unique body chemistry and environmental factors; mapping the pathology, origins, and progress of cancer; and even predicting COVID-19 patient outcomes.
2) Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality (VR) technology has a role beyond the gaming world. In healthcare, VR could be useful in several scenarios. For example, hospitals or surgery centers could utilize VR to allow patients to take a virtual tour of their facility or showcase an "example" of a procedure. This could be especially beneficial for surgical centers that know patients are often anxious to proceed, a condition known as "white coat syndrome." Having full knowledge of what to expect provides a sense of calm.
Some companies have developed VR technology that is designed to mitigate pain, such as with migraines. A study built on previous work led by Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, Director of Cedars-Sinai's Health Service Research, demonstrated the effectiveness of using VR to combat pain for hospitalized patients.
"Virtual reality is a mind-body treatment that is based in real science," Spiegel noted. "It does more than just distract the mind from pain, but also helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management."
In our increasingly digital existence, we have come to expect immediacy. Advancements like 24/7 urgent care facilities and on-call physician hotlines via health insurance have mitigated that expectation in some ways. Yet, patients still want answers when they want them — on their time, and without having to get in the car or pick up the phone.
Chatbots represent a touchpoint that can be incredibly valuable to healthcare organizations — if they are done right. From personal customer service to initial diagnostic services, this technology holds great promise for the future.
4) Electronic Health Records (EHR)/Electronic Medical Records (EMR) & Interoperability
Now, electronic health records (EHRs) and electronic medical records (EMRs) may seem like a standard technology. Introduced in the early 1970s and currently mandated within healthcare institutions around the country, this technology is not necessarily “new.” However, the focus now needs to be on interoperability.
Seamless communication between healthcare organizations and between physicians, specialists and nurses is a critical part of providing optimal care. When interoperability works correctly, it allows access, exchange, integration and cooperative data use in a coordinated manner.
Already widely used by surgical teams, robotic technology continues to improve the healthcare field in various ways. From heightening precision in surgical procedures to improving patients’ quality of life with exoskeletons to ingestible "digital pills," robotics is here to stay. An additional application is to utilize robotic nurses to perform routine tasks (like taking vitals or drawing blood) that often take away from human nurses’ time and energy to truly care for their patients.
With the rise of COVID-19, attention turned to robotic systems used to disinfect hospital rooms —although they were already being used to help prevent hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).
6) Telehealth/Telemedicine Services
The COVID-19 crisis instigated the quest for solutions. While telehealth services were already implemented in many healthcare organizations, the pandemic pushed many to invest in their telehealth offerings. Of course, once the virus is not as prevalent, telemedicine will continue to revolutionize healthcare.
This technology not only benefits patients (by providing greater access to specialists, less waiting time, top-level care for rural residents and reduced travel/childcare costs), but it also serves as an advantage for healthcare providers. Physicians can treat more patients simultaneously, and studies have shown patients are less likely to cancel their telehealth appointments. Both lead to increased income.
Weighing the Cost/Benefit Ratio of Innovation
One thing hospitals and health systems must consider is that technological advancements like these do not come cheap. Leadership must weigh the cost/benefit ratio of investing in healthcare technology based on their individual institution's goals.
Regardless of budget, however, one thing is for sure: These types of breakthrough innovations are the beginning of an extraordinary future in healthcare.
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