This year has seen a tremendous amount of growth in healthcare technology. From blockchain technology to drone-delivered medical supplies, medical professionals are experimenting with various ways to make healthcare more effective, efficient and affordable. While many applications are extensions of well-established technology, several pathways are as new and exciting as they are innovative and inspiring.
How Healthcare is Using Virtual Reality
Immersive Rehab is a London-based startup that leverages VR’s unique access to neurological pathways to speed healing. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to form synaptic connections, particularly in response to new experiences. Virtual reality drastically increases a therapist’s ability to expand the type and variety of exercises patients can try. It’s highly beneficial for home health situations — particularly in a COVID- and post-COVID world where social distancing is critical.
VR is expected to become a four-billion-dollar industry by the end of this year, and physical therapy is hardly the extent of it. Patients often experience anxiety when interacting with healthcare providers in foreign or unfamiliar settings. Virtual reality offers a way for doctors to work with patients in the comfort of their own homes. Providers aren’t limited in the data and models they can share in this environment; instead, their ability to explain someone’s diagnosis can be amplified with interactive, three-dimensional models.
Scientists are experimenting with using VR to amplify a patient’s ability to deal with pain, tour hospital facilities or walk through a demonstration of a procedure before it happens. The applications of this technology are “virtually” endless.
Artificial Intelligence is Improving Healthcare Research
More than two million peer-reviewed research papers are published annually. Although search engines have increased researchers’ ability to find targeted results they’re specifically looking for, making those connections in the first place is still limited by the human mind. Researchers must notice that there’s some correlation between genes, drugs, diseases, treatments and lifestyle choices before they can begin looking for answers. Artificial intelligence is slowly changing that.
BenevolentAI is a company that prioritizes developing algorithms to scour clinical trials, scientific papers and other forms of research, then note possible connections that haven’t yet been explored. Imagine all medical research across the planet being fed into a single brain that can absorb, process and disseminate it all in a useful manner. Because conducting research is so expensive and time-consuming, scientists often prioritize diseases and conditions that affect the highest number of people or are the most financially lucrative. This leaves thousands of rarer conditions at the bottom of the barrel, and the people who suffer from them to deal with treatments cobbled together from research focused on other diseases.
AI holds the promise of harnessing the sum total of all healthcare studies and applying that information to all medical conditions simultaneously. With the vast amount of medical research that has already been done, it’s entirely possible that the cures for dozens of diseases have already been discovered — we just need to put the pieces together.
Big Data Can Revolutionize Treatment Recommendations
Tens of millions of people across the world are already casually engaged in medical research without knowing it. Smartwatches, home blood-pressure monitors and cell phone apps that track diets and detect breathing patterns are just a few pieces of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) sensors available today. Imagine if all of that data was available to medical researchers to parse and explore. Millions of dollars would be saved on conducting medical research that had already been handed to them, and the size of the data pool would be orders of magnitude than previous data sets.
The most significant concern would be patient privacy, but innovators are working to resolve this concern by integrating aspects of blockchain technology with big data. A successful pairing would eliminate all personally identifiable information (PII), leaving only raw scientific data. This could then be made public, permitting researchers from across the globe to dig into it and begin to establish previously unimagined connections between lifestyle choices like diet, sleep and exercise with disease risk and treatment factors.
Imagine What Technology Could do for Healthcare
The technology of today is building a fascinating and exciting foundation for healthcare tomorrow. Advances in research, diagnostics, prevention and treatment are proceeding at orders of magnitude faster than previous generations saw. The potential innovations that virtual reality, artificial intelligence and big data could introduce in our lifetimes is nothing short of amazing.