Friday, July 15, 2016

How Technology Is Changing the Face of Healthcare

When we think about medical tech, big things like MRIs come to mind. Biotech like automatic insulin injectors might also make the list. Then, there is the more fanciful sci-fi solutions like medical tricorders, Emergency Medical Holograms, and pills that can grow back kidneys.

While these technologies capture the headlines, and our imaginations, the healthcare tech that most affects your outlook is likely much smaller, less expensive, more common, and something you might already have. These less ambitious technologies have the benefit of being available now, and are already being implemented.

In many parts of the world, a health app like Epocrates can do more to prevent deaths than an MRI machine. Here is how current medical tech is saving the lives of people closer to home, perhaps even yours:

Healthcare Management Software

Electronic health record (EHR) software has got to be tied with payroll software for the most boring technology to a consumer. But that boring software distinguishes itself by helping doctors save lives.

The top EHR software does this by:

•    Allowing doctors to share notes
•    Facilitating the sharing of test results in an accurate and timely manner
•    Providing patient care via chat

These are just a few of the things being enabled with software in more healthcare systems across the US and around the world.

But when it comes to EHR, we still have a long ways to go. As the world becomes more mobile, it has to get easier to share and transfer records across various systems. The EHR silos still have to be broken.

Medical records also need to travel across borders. This can be especially useful in tracking, or even preventing the spread of disease from one part of the world to another. Finally, EHR has to become a lot more portable so that it can benefit people in developing nations and remote villages.

None of these changes will happen overnight. And they will require more than technology. Certain geopolitical realities have to be addressed. But once fully implemented globally, EHR might be the biggest advance to healthcare in the 21st century.

Fitness Tracking and the Quantified Self

Apple Watches and Fitbits have done a lot more than give the tech press another meaningless fan war to cover. They have given people a reason to care about their health. Once people have a simple and compelling way to track certain health metrics, they do.

Among others, one of the benefits of this sort of tracking is that people can have a better idea of when they need to visit a doctor. One instance of elevated blood pressure after a big fried chicken dinner is not overly concerning. But a pattern of high blood pressure is reason enough to make an appointment.

People who think they are getting enough exercise are often surprised by how little they stand, have productive movement, or get their heart rate up to the level of exercise. Equally, people are often unaware of how poorly they sleep. This is the sort of data fitness trackers can provide.

But until the average fitness tracker can provide things like blood pressure and glucose monitoring, they will have limited appeal. Right now, the people interested in such devices tend to be some of the fittest people in the world. Progress will have taken a leap forward when less healthy people get more benefit from these devices.

A Call for Help

At WWDC 2016, Apple introduced a feature to the Apple Watch via watchOS 3 that is sure to see uptake from all other competitors in the space. It turns the device into an emergency call button. Press and hold the side button, and the watch will make an emergency call wherever you happen to be in the world. Because it knows your location, it also knows the proper number to dial.

Simultaneously, it sends a message to a predefined contact list and a map location letting them know where you are. There are plenty of ways for this kind of feature to go wrong but even more ways for it to go very right.

We needn't look to science fiction to find lifesaving technology. Look no further than your computer, smartphone, and wrist.

This is a blog post by Nancy Evans.

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