One of the most interesting aspects of the modern business world is how information technology (IT) is being utilized in different ways in various sectors, with the same technology providing alternative benefits depending on the needs of each industry and business. Turning to the example of healthcare, what are the most important uses for IT, and what factors must be considered to do this right?
Better use of data
Vast quantities of data are generated by hospitals, healthcare centers, and other parts of the industry, but it hasn’t always been used to the best possible effect in the past. So, the challenge has been to find ways to gather and interpret the data more effectively. The importance of data is something that decision-makers in all industries are now aware of, and a solid IT approach is needed for this to work. The volume of data is something that decision-makers in all sectors are now mindful of, and a reliable IT approach is required for this to work. The importance of data is something that decision-makers in all industries are now aware of, and a dedicated IT approach is needed for this to work.
Thankfully, this area of IT has been growing impressively in the last few years, and healthcare is an industry that’s benefitting from it more than most. This is because advances in the field of healthcare analytics have allowed us to understand better and use the information that’s gathered.
Due to its many uses, IT is an area that can be broken down into different subjects, such as prescriptive analytics, which uses machine learning to find the best proposal moving forward. Descriptive analytics, discovery analytics, and predictive analytics are other elements that make up this field. Each area is important, advancing at different rhythms as new research is completed and ideas are implemented in real-life settings.
These types of data analytics are becoming ever-more important in patient care, improving their quality of life by helping the experts make the best decisions at the right time by sharing information smartly and efficiently. However, they can also inform and care for the rest of the population by telling them the risks of certain behaviors and giving them good advice.
In general terms, big data can be used in preventative care in crucial ways, such as gathering and interpreting the details of cancer screenings, the effects of smoking, and so on. This may allow health authorities to pick up on risk factors that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, which everyone can benefit from in the long run.
Artificial Intelligence in the healthcare sector
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most exciting new types of technology that’s been making waves in many different industries globally. Still, you’ve probably seen it mentioned mainly in gaming or content creation. This is still early in terms of medical uses, but it promises to introduce many benefits shortly.
We have already briefly mentioned certain types of healthcare analytics. These areas are where AI is most widely-used just now, as it’s a highly effective way of analyzing vast quantities of data to propose a treatment plan or diagnosis based on numerous data sets from diverse sources.
However, AI is also used in many other ways in healthcare now, and it’s something that we can expect to see growing in popularity before long. For example, AI is currently utilized for areas such as helping us to create better administrative processes.
This might not have such an immediate impact on patients as the other aspects we’ve already looked at, but the potential benefits to the industry as a whole are extremely worthwhile. For example, it could be used to manage documents and finances and to manage medical claims and payments in a less labor-intensive way.
This area is linked to data, meaning people often group them when discussing IT in healthcare. Yet, the huge potential scope for AI in the medical industry means we can expect different parts of AI to become recognized as individual elements that improve the overall sector.
For the moment, it’s already been shown that AI can often diagnose conditions better than humans, spotting tumors and helping researchers to make medical trials more efficient. Over time, expect to see terms such as deep learning, machine learning, rule-based expert systems, and natural language processing be linked to some of the biggest breakthroughs in healthcare.
All of this has led to some questions about the ethical use of AI in medical cases. While many huge companies like IBM and Google have reportedly been working on new uses for this technology, there appear to be some possible issues that need to be overcome before we can get the full range of benefits.
The use of robots and other eye-catching technology
While the areas we’ve looked at offer massive benefits for the healthcare industry, these advancements perhaps aren’t as eye-catching or newsworthy as we would like. This is why the media coverage we see online tends to cover more immediately appealing things, such as robots.
One great example is IBM’s Watson, which you might have seen described as a medical robot. It’s a suite of applications that covers the uses for data and AI that we’ve already looked at, wrapped up in a user-friendly question-answering computer system.
The first commercial use of Watson was as an aid in the processes needed for lung cancer treatment and in areas such as travel, finance, and healthcare. Simply put, it combines data analysis, natural language processing, machine learning, and several other types of technology in one neat package.
Some robots are being used right now, perhaps closer to the public’s idea of what IT in the medical world is like. These include Xenex disinfecting robots and the da Vinci surgical robot, used to help avoid errors in precision surgery. We can also see the PARO therapeutic robot, which allows patients to receive the benefits of animal therapy without access to a live animal.
The UCSF Medical Center introduced a couple of dozen TUG robots, which are autonomous vehicles that help distribute meals and supplies around the building using sensors and a floor plan map. This type of robot may sound gimmicky initially, but the truth is that it can help hospitals manage their resources more effectively.
The blockchain in healthcare
We’ve heard a lot recently about how the blockchain can disrupt and enhance many different parts of the business world, but could it affect the healthcare sector? Right now, a lot of effort is being put into finding ways to incorporate this technology into different parts of the healthcare system.
For example, the secure and unchangeable nature of the decentralized ledger system at the heart of the blockchain seemingly makes it perfect for storing huge amounts of medical records. The blockchain is completely transparent but can also be private by using codes rather than names to hide sensitive information from the public view.
There’s also a possibility that the blockchain will be used to improve the medical supply chain. In this case, the secure yet transparent nature of the technology means that we can easily track supplies and confirm at a glance where they’re at in the supply chain while also being sure that they haven’t been tampered with at any stage.
Genomes are the study of genes, and it’s part of the medical industry that’s expected to grow enormously in the next few years. In this case, the cost of analyzing and storing vast quantities of information has been an issue that has held back researchers. Still, the blockchain looks perfect for storing and sharing this valuable information.
Blockchain companies are working hard in these areas, creating systems that help us use this technology in different healthcare settings. Since it’s still at a relatively early stage, it’s not yet clear which companies will be the leaders in the future and how exactly this industry will operate.
Virtual reality in healthcare
The virtual reality (VR) market is growing fast as it gets more competitive and widely adopted. The figures in the Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research report suggest that healthcare will be one of the leading industries investing in VR in the next few years.
Virtual reality can be used in various ways, allowing patients or medical professionals to enter a safe, simulated environment for different purposes. For instance, surgeons can carry out simulated training without any risks. This is just one of the types of specialist training that could be carried out in this way.
It’s easy to imagine more training being carried out like this, covering a range of technical skills that are difficult to perfect in a real-life setting, as well as administrative skills that workers can hone in this way whenever it suits them to do so.
However, this kind of cutting-edge training is expected to supplement traditional healthcare training rather than replace it. The likes of an online healthcare management course that teaches students healthcare in a business management setting will remain popular. At the same time, VR lessons could be used as the professional progresses their career further.
As for the patients, one of the first uses for VR technology is helping people suffering from chronic lower back pain. This is a convenient alternative to traditional healthcare. It allows the patient to hook up to a simulated environment, which means they control when they get their treatment and keep the costs as low as possible.
Augmented reality in healthcare
The subject of augmented reality (AR) is something we’ve seen most commonly associated with the entertainment industry. This technology has enhanced games and increased our pleasure when traveling or visiting historical sites. Some uses for it have also been found in the medical sector.
Perhaps the most eye-catching way this can be used is when a surgeon or other expert uses a head-mounted device to review a patient’s details and case history while speaking to them. Since it allows the user to merge virtual data with the real world, AR can be most easily incorporated into wearables and apps.
The real-time data aspect offered by this technology means that it can be used for various purposes, from carrying out surgeries with all the relevant information to supplementing training and improving medical imaging and visualization processes.
This could also form an important part of patient self-care, meaning they could use an AR app to help their recovery or carry out the recommended physiotherapy treatment without needing to go to a hospital or medical center every time. It’s even been used in hospital navigation apps, allowing patients and visitors to navigate huge buildings.
The way forward for IT in healthcare
The examples we’ve looked at here are the clearest examples of how IT in healthcare will progress, but this isn’t the full story. While we should continue to see eye-catching stories about robots and apps, the key advances will be combining data and finding how to utilize AI best to provide useful tools. There’s still a long way to go on this subject, with many disciplines that make it up relatively early and are expected to grow over time.
However, what’s clear is that the use of IT in healthcare is a subject well worth keeping an eye on. We can look forward to seeing some exciting updates in emerging technology.