Five Tech Trends Affecting Healthcare IT Today, and Tomorrow

Brad SpannbauerTechnology is evolving faster than ever before, and shows no sign of slowing down. Digital innovation has enhanced the way we operate in almost every aspect of modern life, but in the healthcare industry, technology is not only changing lives, it's saving them too. Outlined below are five technology trends that are taking hold of the healthcare IT industry today, and what developments we can expect to see over the course of 2019 and beyond.

1. The Internet of Things (IoT)

Simply put, the Internet of Things (IoT) includes the internet and everything connected to it. This technology has existed in healthcare IT for many years, from remote monitoring systems, through to automated back-office systems that support administration processes.

Not only are IoT devices vastly improving patient care, but the technology is playing a key role in helping healthcare organizations gain better control over their costs; having access to machinery and computer networks that can share patient data without human intervention means organizations can reduce staff overheads, while sophisticated inventory management systems can help eliminate avoidable expenses associated with stock keeping management and purchasing inefficiencies.

There is a warning implicit in the spread of interconnectedness, however, which is that some of these may open up new and unexpected avenues of attack if they are not thoroughly vetted and locked down.

2. Big Data

With millions of IoT devices constantly reporting and communicating data to hospitals and healthcare networks across the globe, IT systems now receive, store and handle more healthcare data than ever before - this is known as 'big data.' As a result, there is a huge demand for 'big data analytics' solutions that can process, analyze, report and make sense of the copious amounts of health information that organizations' are constantly receiving.

By taking advantage of these analytics tools, healthcare organizations can use big data as part of their business intelligence strategy, allowing them to make quicker, smarter decisions about their patients' care and reducing costs along the way.

Additionally, with access to more comprehensive sets of data, medical researchers will be able to spot hidden correlations or patterns of behavior more efficiently, leading to the faster discovery of more effective solutions and treatments.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

A forecast by Statista estimates that by 2025, the market share for AI in global healthcare will have grown from 1 billion (in 2017) to 28 billion US dollars.

A key AI trend affecting the industry today is the integration of robotics. Examples include the Da Vinci machine which can perform challenging surgical tasks such as micro incisions in difficult-to-reach areas, and the germ-zapping Xenex robots designed to help minimise the risk of hospital acquired infections (HAI).

Deep learning algorithms are being used to train computers to be able to recognize patterns and trends in large data sets or even identify abnormal cells on scans and imaging. AI is also being used in post-discharge care for patients, recording vital signs and relaying the data to their lead physician, so that they are able to monitor their patient's full recovery. This can significantly reduce patient readmission rates.

Along with aiding the reduction of treatment costs and streamlining hospital procedures, AI has the power to ease the strain on clinicians as a result of the rising labor shortage in healthcare, while offering workers the tools to enhance their performance and provide a better service to patients.

4. Blockchain

Blockchain is attracting a lot of interest in the world of healthcare IT, markedly because of the opportunities it presents within data security - an ongoing concern within the healthcare industry.

In theory, blockchain data is secured and protected from data breach threats, offering unparalleled benefits to the healthcare industry, where cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and more advanced. This is because blockchain uses public key cryptography, meaning the data is unreadable, indecipherable and incorruptible - both during transit and at rest - until it reaches the intended recipient.

Another key benefit of blockchain technology is the decentralized nature of its data storage. With blockchain, transaction records are stored and distributed across all network participants, giving patients the power to share - and shield - their own private information as they see fit.

Many healthcare industry leaders are already beginning to recognize the potential in blockchain technology, and this trend looks set to continue, with figures released by Statista predicting that 55% of healthcare applications will have adopted blockchain for commercial deployment by 2025.

5. Telemedicine & mobile health

The demand for US healthcare is at an all time high, therefore the need to increase both capacity and efficiency is great. As a result, telehealth technology, such as devices that can wirelessly transmit patient information to various health entities, are becoming increasingly more advanced.

For patients, this offers greater flexibility to visit doctors at any time, especially for those in remote areas, where the inconvenience of travel could potentially leave serious conditions undiagnosed and untreated. Likewise, patients who require specialist consultancy will no longer need to travel long journeys to receive the level of care they need and can therefore reach out for support on a more regular basis.

Telehealth encompasses everything from email communications with a physician, online health professional consultations, text reminders for booked appointments, online results portals and apps to keep track of exercise or diet.

Mobile health has also impacted the daily routine of physicians, as time previously taken travelling between medical facilities and house calls can be put to better use, for example by increasing the number of patients they are able to consult.

As for the future of telemedicine and mobile health, expect to see developments in app-based technology designed to provide people with near-instant access to medical care through progressive chatbot features.

As is the case with any new technological development, change brings new risks. While the healthcare IT trends discussed here bring many potential benefits, they're not inherently safe; an international study undertaken in 2017 revealed that a staggering 84% of IoT adopters had experienced an IoT related security breach, for example. For the healthcare industry, which is consistently the #1 attacked industry, there's simply no room for such errors. The benefits of new and emerging technologies can be incredibly appealing for forward thinking healthcare providers, but convenience and cost savings should never be at the expense of security or patient privacy.

About Brad Spannbauer: A 20 year industry veteran, Brad Spannbauer currently oversees product strategy and planning, and provides direction and market leadership for j2 Cloud Connect’s worldwide business as their Senior Director of Product Management. His focus in the Healthcare and Legal verticals led to Brad’s involvement with the j2 Cloud Services™ compliance team, where he leads the team as the company’s HIPAA Privacy & Compliance Officer.