As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, so does healthcare. Basic patient care, the treatment of diseases and medical research are now so intertwined with technology that seemingly every day brings a new discovery that transforms medicine.
Advances in healthcare technology offer patients the hope, and sometimes the very real promise, of solving medical issues that can be debilitating and life threatening. From addiction to chronic pain, technology is changing healthcare. Here is a look at several areas of medicine and patient care that are benefiting from health technology.
Bringing the Doctor to You
Videoconferencing, emails and text messages are virtually bringing healthcare professionals right into the homes of patients. At the very least, telemedicine is convenient, removing the worry of routine checkup travel for infirm patients. But patients also benefit from a steady flow of communication with health professionals who can quickly answer questions about medication, diet and other quality of life issues that can mount when unchecked.
One study shows that more than 70 percent of healthcare providers use some form of telemedicine tools, according to mHealthIntelligence. These tools primary consist of videoconferencing, but experts predict patients will soon share data such as vital signs, genetic scores and microbiome information in real time with their doctors, The Washington Post reported.
Some contend that telemedicine can’t deliver the same level of care as face-to-face medical appointments, where doctors can more closely examine patients. But with telemedicine expected to only grow (the federal government recently expanded telehealth coverage in Medicare), there’s a larger call for health professionals to be properly trained on how to treat patients remotely. Telemedicine appears to be here to stay.
Treating Addiction and Mental Health
Telemedicine has also become an option for health professionals treating addiction and mental health issues. To battle the opioid epidemic, Congress is working on a bill that would allow health care providers to prescribe anti-addiction controlled substances through telemedicine in limited circumstances, said mHealthIntelligence. This would benefit patients in rural areas who can’t immediately seek help at distant and overbooked treatment centers. Similarly, professionals are using videoconferencing to counsel patients with mental health issues, including those in remote locations or in prisons.
Yet, advanced medical care extends beyond videoconferencing. Virtual reality therapy, for one, exposes patients to triggers and stressors, letting them face fears and trauma in the safe environment of a doctor’s office. A Vanderbilt University researcher believes that the ubiquity of virtual reality devices will even allow patients to use this therapy at home to quickly stop relapses, according to The Fix.
A search of the Android and iTunes app stores reveals scores of mental health applications that promise to improve people’s daily struggles with their mental health. Some apps detect a change in a person’s behavioral patterns and offer a notification to consider seeking help. The apps can also quicken communication between patients and professionals, including opening a direct text to a crisis center. Other applications claim to improve crucial thinking skills and memory.
Managing Chronic Pain
Wearable devices aren’t just for monitoring heart rate, miles exercised and other wellness signs. Some also promise to relieve chronic pain. As health professionals aim to stop prescribing opioids to treat pain, a new breed of wearables holds the allure of stimulating and modulating the body’s pain-regulating mechanisms.
Neuromodulation therapy has existed since at least the 1960s, and patients with pain caused by damaged nerves have long turned to stimulators that have to be implanted via surgery. But, as highlighted by MIT Technology Review, several companies are now offering wearable stimulators to manage chronic pain. These wearables can be used with less invasive, non-surgical procedures. One such wearable was found to relieve shoulder pain more effectively than physical therapy in patients who had suffered a stroke.
The Future of Medicine
This is just the starting point of technology’s promise to revolutionize healthcare and make way for advanced medical care. The tool CRISPR-Cas9 holds the promise of repairing or replacing genes with accuracy and, at little cost, tapping the human genetic code in the never-ending quest to cure diseases. Also, the advanced analytical powers of artificial intelligence offer the possibility of diagnosing diseases faster than the minds of the best medical researchers.
Whether it’s something as simple as a teleconferenced doctor visit or as surreal as a virtual reality treatment to treat mental health, healthcare technology will continue to shape medical care for the foreseeable future.