Nearly a half of all Americans are not satisfied with their country’s national health system. European respondents are a bit more optimistic: about a quarter of the respondents from Germany and the UK are not fond of the current state of healthcare. However, now is the time for a change, and technology is fueling that change and introducing a new set of possibilities to the healthcare sector. Modern technologies have paved the way for Health 4.0: a tech-driven concept disrupting the traditional healthcare industry right before our eyes. Diana Kocheva, Head of Digitalization Services at Intellectsoft, the technology partner driving digital transformation in the healthcare sector and beyond, explains the possibilities that Health 4.0 unlocks.
Modern advances in computer storage and processing capacity have enabled the development and progress of innumerable technologies that directly influence everyday activities. As a result, technology has enabled completely new experiences across industries and has laid the foundation for Industry 4.0, the fourth manufacturing revolution. It utilizes cloud computing, Big Data, the Internet of Things, 5G, and other technologies to introduce automation into the manufacturing processes by feeding vast volumes of data into smart computers and allowing them to make decisions without human input.
Adopting the Industry 4.0 concept across industries has gained momentum and has accelerated even further during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the healthcare sector was no exception. The pandemic has put a strain on healthcare systems worldwide. Due to worries about the transmission of the virus, practitioners were forced to limit in-person interaction with their patients. Additionally, understaffed medical facilities had to allocate all of their resources to treat COVID-19 patients, leaving the rest often neglected. As a result, non-urgent patients have frequently been denied access to medical care, potentially leading to long-term consequences. In less than a year, the United States has seen nearly a quarter more deaths than predicted, amounting to approximately 500,000 more fatalities, with a fifth of those unrelated to COVID-19. By the end of 2020, the number kept growing.
As a result, the pandemic became a catalyzer of the dramatic changes that were already about to happen – the start of a new Health 4.0 era.
Role of Technology in the Healthcare Industry
The idea of Health 4.0 covers the broad possibilities of utilizing Industry 4.0 technologies to enhance healthcare. Each technology has a learning curve. Developing and deploying healthcare solutions that adhere to the Health 4.0 paradigm could be challenging, requiring massive research, niche expertise, and lots of testing. However, with the right approach, the possibilities that modern technologies unlock in healthcare are endless.
Healthcare 4.0 increases the quality, adaptability, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and reliability of healthcare services through improving the healthcare environment. Artificial Intelligence, for example, already helps make better decisions on patients’ treatment. Just think of the ability to aggregate and analyze large volumes of data, including the latest studies, to identify trends and opportunities in minutes – this is something that would have never been possible without technology. In addition, blockchain helps maintain data security while removing bureaucracy – a well-known downside of the whole healthcare sector. Physical advancements apply, too: think of 3D-printed tissues, implants, or even organs.
One of the key pillars of Health 4.0 is telemedicine – the practice of offering healthcare services remotely without compromising the quality and accuracy of the diagnosis and chosen treatment method. The concept of telemedicine is not new – in fact, it appeared back in the 19th century and implied the usage of telegraphs and even radios. However, these days modern technologies enable new remote treatment possibilities – advanced, effective, and automated.
Telehealth and the Opportunities it Unlocks.
Basically, telehealth allows healthcare workers to provide medical services virtually. It allows patients to receive treatment if they can’t visit the doctor for any reason or if the physical visits are completely off-limits due to such factors as the pandemic. Healthcare facilities utilize special software to remotely connect with patients and automate operations, allowing doctors to devote more time to clinical work that requires in-person engagement without abandoning non-urgent patients.
Although virtual consultations are not always as efficient as in-person medical appointments and are not suited for all medical problems, they have proven to be effective and efficient in various cases. Telemedicine can simplify or automate procedures, enable more precise diagnosis, surveillance, and treatment of many illnesses. Because of massive research projects and technological developments, it won’t be long before new medical procedures acquire widespread use and enhance the lives of their users.
Here are some use cases of leveraging new technologies spurring health innovation and deliver great care:
- Virtual Patients’ Monitoring
Telehealth technologies for remote patient monitoring enable clinicians to examine a person’s condition from a distance. With wearable technology and mobile medical devices, telehealth operators are starting to deliver software and services that connect patients and doctors and collect patients’ medical information.
A private medical company teamed up with Intellectsoft to create a solution that would virtualize doctor-patient communication and enable them to treat their patients remotely. Intellectsoft developed a mobile app that allows users to schedule a time slot, initiate a video chat in real-time, or exchange video messages on the go via a built-in messenger to obtain comprehensive online consultations or quick assessments and pay for them with a few easy clicks. Not only it allowed the clinic to provide a safe experience for their patients and continue to treat them as they would have before, but it also allowed them to scale, since they were not tied to the physical location of their patients, and treat the ones that we’re unable to schedule in-person visits for reasons other than COVID.
- Mobile health solutions
Mobile health often referred to as mHealth, is a subset of the “telehealth” term. It utilizes mobile technology, as opposed to a broader range of software solutions that telehealth implies. Some of the common applications for mHealth include apps with diagnostic or treatment support, health, and disease trackers, apps that collect a patient’s data remotely, and so on. Virtual patients’ monitoring mentioned above, in fact, can be a type of mHealth solution as well if it is used on a mobile device.
- Assistance in diagnostics and treatment forecasting
Telehealth doesn’t stop at remote treatment – in fact, it can assist with more complicated tasks, such as forecasting and diagnostics.
A dental clinic turned to Intellectsoft to work on a solution that completely revolutionizes the orthodontic experience. The solution uses photos of the patient’s oral cavity. It provides the doctor with a full set of tools to choose the best treatment, and most importantly, to forecast and simulate how each treatment would work and what results could be achieved. It enables more accurate diagnostics and allows the patient to see exactly what result they’d get in months or even years.
In this particular case, the solution processes the patient’s photos, which means that the whole diagnostics process can be done remotely. Thus, it actually saves time and reduces in-person visits to the dentist while boosting the accuracy of diagnostics. This may not exactly be a lifesaver for the ones of us with odontophobia (fear of dentists, in case you were wondering), but it’s a good start!
The Future Prospects of Healthcare
Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing, robotics, and nanotechnology are transforming the healthcare industry as we speak. We are quite far away from replacing doctors with machines, but algorithms tend to outperform humans on tasks that involve massive amounts of data even now. For example, a recently introduced AI algorithm for breast cancer analysis has shown better results identifying the disease on average by 11.5%, and this is just the beginning. It’s only a matter of time until such technologies and tech-enabled solutions will gain mass adoption, but those early adopters are the ones that will reap the results faster than anyone else. So why not lead the change now, rather than try to catch up with it later?