Digital healthcare: the future of modern medicine
As new variants of the COVID-19 virus continue to pile pressure on already strained health services around the world, what hope is there for the future of medicine? With an ageing global population and a growing shortage of medical professionals, how can the healthcare industry get on top of the burgeoning workload to create breathing space for medical practitioners and better outcomes for all patients?
Hope lies with digital technology. While front line medicine and cutting-edge technology have always gone hand in hand, there remains considerable capacity for healthcare in general to reap the benefits of digital. The technology exists to greatly increase the capacity, inclusivity, accuracy, speed, efficiency, personalization and ultimately the outcomes of healthcare. The question is, how quickly can we bring it to bear?
Increasing healthcare capacity and inclusion
To date, the focus of technology in healthcare has been on the sharp end – the surgical suite. Extraordinary advances in tools and techniques have brought lifesaving cardio and neurosurgical procedures into the realms of the everyday. But it’s at the broader end of the healthcare spectrum that the greatest opportunity for improvement lies.
Wider use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring can bring essential services within the reach of a broader population, especially those in remote areas, as well as enabling clinicians to manage much greater patient numbers without having to increase their hours. This in turn helps to bring down the cost of healthcare, thus reducing the number of people priced out of essential care.
Increasing efficiency in chronic care
As well as expanding the reach of healthcare services, the remote digital approach offers valuable added benefits in the management of chronic conditions. The current norm of regular face-to-face consultations, tests, paperwork and outpatient visits all take up time and money, as well as being demanding for patients and posing an extra level of infection risk.
The use of video consultations and remote monitoring enables chronic patients to be monitored and managed at home, vastly reducing the number of visits required (and missed), as well as increasing patients’ engagement in their own treatment plan – a factor that has been shown to greatly improve outcomes. Again, it also enables individual clinicians to handle multiple patients in the time it would normally take to manage one.
Increasing accuracy and minimizing errors
A common criticism of health services is the lack of communication between different providers and even different departments within the same hospital. Health records may be stored electronically but they are still gathered manually, typically by nurses conducting four-to-six daily observations and keying in the results. This methodology is susceptible to human error and is evidently mistrusted from one department to another, as well as missing hours during which a patient’s vital signs may fluctuate catastrophically without any record at all.
The use of wearable, wireless, beat-by-beat patient monitors like VitalStream™ presents the opportunity to keep large numbers of patients under constant observation, both in hospital and at home, using artificial intelligence (AI) to spot anomalies and provide early warning scores. By using a system that sends patient data directly from sensor to database, the burden on doctors and nurses is reduced, human error is taken out of the equation and doctors can base their decisions on 100 per cent reliable and comprehensive measurements.
Advancing medical knowledge
Data is the fuel that drives the advance of medical knowhow. The future of medicine will be based on a vast database of precise patient information that feeds in to diagnoses, prescriptions, interventions and research. And digital technology will play an essential role in gathering and distributing that data, as well as keeping it secure and analyzing it quickly and in great depth, to identify new patterns and share knowledge across the medical world.
At the delivery end, digital technology will enable clinicians to provide a more personalized level of treatment, with medication prescribed in doses calculated to precisely meet the needs of each individual patient. This in turn paves the way for intelligent machines to join the medical front line, be that a 3D printer turning out bespoke prescriptions at the local pharmacy or a robot surgeon carrying out your hip replacement operation.
But we don’t need to wait for that futuristic scenario to unfold before we bring the benefits of digital technology to bear. Right now, health services are creaking under the combined strain of the pandemic and staffing shortages, landing on top of an already onerous level of demand. Digital healthcare can help address today’s challenges, by improving awareness, streamlining workflows, and reducing clinician burden while expanding the site of care to the home and lower acuity centers.
To learn more about how VitalStream is helping to drive digital healthcare, please contact +1 434-978-7000