Every year, biomedical engineers and computer scientists develop new medical technologies. These technologies take many forms, from imaging equipment to medical informatics. Although the cost of researching and developing these new technologies is reflected in the initial cost of the equipment or programs, these breakthroughs can promote more cost-effective care over time—and improve the lives of many patients.
Predictive analytics (PA) is a process that uses technology and statistical methods to search through huge amounts of information, and then analyzes it to predict outcomes. It’s one of the next big ideas in health care, and can be used to improve diagnostics, patient care, and preventive medicine, among many other things. It can also be used to help employers obtain predictions of future medical costs. Predictions can be based on the employer’s own data, or the employer can work with insurance providers to produce the algorithms. Employers, hospitals, and insurance providers can then synchronize databases to build models and health plans. Employers might also use PA to determine which insurance providers can give them the most effective products for their employees’ specific needs.
Data-Driven Diagnoses and Treatments
To help doctors make better diagnoses and recommend treatments, researchers at IBM have developed the supercomputer known as “Watson.” Watson is already in use in many hospitals, making impressive strides in the field—specifically in oncology. The same framework humans use to inform their decisions—observing, interpreting, evaluating, and deciding—is what drives Watson’s process. So just like an expert in a specific field, Watson can master any given subject—but at an astonishing scale. With Watson, oncologists can analyze a patient’s medical information against a vast array of data and expertise to provide evidence-based treatment options. In other words, oncologists can better serve their patients by getting the assistance they need to make more informed decisions.
Imaging Equipment and Diagnostics
Today’s most advanced imaging equipment provides sharper and more detailed images. This has many benefits, from helping physicians make more accurate diagnoses to potentially preventing unnecessary exploratory surgeries. It also makes early detection possible, allowing physicians to develop a course of action faster—a critical necessity when dealing with a life-threatening illness. Advances in DNA technology can also speed the diagnosis, as well as help prevent errors, which can save money by preventing repeat tests.
Connecting Patients with Doctors
Patients that are able to connect with doctors more easily can avoid unnecessary (and expensive) trips to the ER or specialists. That’s the thought behind telemedicine, which provides remote access to a physician via phone or videoconference to address a medical issue. More and more insurance carriers are recognizing the benefits and opting to cover the cost. A new partnership between UnitedHealthcare, the largest health insurer in the U.S., and three leading telemedicine companies will make virtual doctor visits a reality for many patients. The services allow patients to talk with doctors in real time via video, and doctors can diagnose, treat and prescribe certain medications. With telemedicine, quality health care is more accessible to people in rural areas, chronic conditions can be managed before they require costly emergency intervention, and finding the time for an in-person appointment is no longer an issue.
Medical Device Integration
According to the West Health Institute, hospitals can save more than $30 billion a year by connecting medical devices like vital sign monitors, smart pumps, and ventilators with their electronic health records (EHRs). How? By eliminating wasted time and chances for errors. The conventional approach to recording this information involves nurses manually documenting vitals and later keying them into the EHR. Not only does this increase the margin for error—it also delays physicians’ access to online data, which ultimately delays treatment. With medical device integration, real-time patient information is automatically transmitted to the EHR, which means nurses can spend more time focusing on their patients, and physicians can proceed with treatment faster.
The latest breakthroughs in medical informatics have revolutionized the way medical offices operate. New electronic filing systems help streamline appointment booking, and serve as an automatic reminder to office staff and physicians to schedule specific patients for tests and check-ups. These programs also store patient health records, which can help with things like identifying patients that might be good candidates for clinical trials, analyzing demographic data, and evaluating treatment outcomes. Of course, like any other technology, physicians and administrators must consider the legal and ethical implications concerning patient privacy.
There’s no doubt that technology is upgrading the quality of the health care system. Though many things are still in the early and experimental stages, several of these advances in technology are already helping save money in health care costs—and improving patients’ lives. As technology continues to expand the possibilities of medical treatment, it’s clear that we are now in a new age of interactive health care.
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