For a long time, it seemed as if healthcare would evade the digital revolution. But no longer. Healthcare is finally going the way of other sectors in the economy and admitting that technology can, in fact, save lives.
Whereas a lot of the technologies are still way out there in the future, there are a few that are already making an impact in 2016. Here’s a rundown.
Halfway through the human genome project back in the 1990s, scientists had only managed to map 1 percent of the genome. Sceptics said that this was a sign that the project was foolish and would never be completed on time. In fact, if 1 percent had taken seven years, then 100 percent would take 700. What they didn’t bank on was how fast digital technology would improve. Each year that went by, scientists working on the genome project could map double the genes as the year before for the same price. This doubling trend continued so that by 2001, the whole sequence was mapped.
But it didn’t stop there. Gene sequencing continued to fall in price. Now it has dropped in price to such a degree that anybody can have their genome mapped. Rather than costing billions of dollars, as it did in the 1990s, it now costs a couple of thousand at the most. Gene sequencing is now being used to tell patients what diseases they’re at risk of getting. And furthermore, it’s giving the information about what lifestyle changes they should make today.
Digital Process Tracking
In the old days, GP appointments, radiology sessions and consultations all had to be organised and tracked on paper. But now that process has been digitised. As a result, enormous cost savings are now possible. Imagine a radiology information system that tracks the progress of patients in real time. It’s not part of our future; such systems are right here today. Things like scheduling and billing are organized from one central hub.
Self-service kiosks that have turned up in all our supermarkets are also finding their way into hospitals. It’s a way to expedite admission and registration processes, as well as payments. Clerical staff don’t come cheap, so the hope is that this new technology will drive down patient care costs in the long term. It’s also hoped that the new technology will allow staff to dedicate more time to more important tasks.
The developers of the technology stress that person-to-person interactions should still be available. Just that it shouldn’t be relied upon exclusively.
One longstanding problem in rural areas is that they are not as well served by health care as urban areas. Hospitals are a long way away typically, and often expensive to get to.
But telemedicine aims to change all that. Telemedicine allows doctors to talk to their patients over the internet and offer consultations. This has already happened in Indianapolis. Doctors there rolled out a programme where patients could have a full health assessment. Again, it’s stressed that this is not a replacement for a traditional assessment. It’s just another tool to improve access and reduce costs.