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5 Emerging Technologies Every Hospital Will Have By 2025

Aug 04 2015

Forbes Tech

By Pragati Verma

Wearable fitness devices and smartphone health apps that generate continuous streams of data will be the biggest catalysts for change at your doctor’s office in the coming decades.

Investors seem excited about the potential. Digital health startups attracted investments of $6.5 billion in 2014, a 125 percent increase from the previous year. If the momentum continues, wearables—coupled with social and analytic platforms based in the cloud—are poised to offer a new digitized picture of our health in the next decade.

Here are five trends accelerating this convergence of physiology and technology:

1. Connected Medical Devices

Tiny networked sensors are being added to all kinds of health devices, including fitness bands, insulin pumps and pacemakers. The flurry of innovation led Gartner to conclude that healthcare, by 2020, will be one of the top two markets that will drive the sale of connected devices.

Qualcomm, for instance, is working on creating handheld monitors and diagnostic tools. These devices will be designed to sync up with existing cloud-based platforms—such as Phillips’ Healthsuite and Qualcomm’s 2net—which allow users to store, transfer, display and share their health data.

The devices, apps and wearables of the future might not replace doctors, but they will make it easier for patients to monitor their own health. Some tech optimists excited about the positive implications have gone so far as to coalesce around the concept of a quantified self movement, which sees the creation and analysis of physiological data as a means of personal improvement.

2. Quantified Health Metrics

Connected medical devices are expected to become ubiquitous by the next decade, setting off a race among major tech companies to see which can become the preeminent aggregator of data. The challenge is being able to accommodate data spewing from unrelated platforms, sensors and systems.

Apple has launched Healthkit to act as a repository for blood pressure readings, heart rate stats and weight fluctuations, among other data created by patients. Google has its Fit platform to aggregate health data.

As tech companies analyze patient data, they are beginning to offer many new intervention and treatment options to patients. For instance, PatientsLikeME allows people to connect with others who have the same disease or condition, letting them share health records, symptoms and experiences. These interactions generate data about the real-world nature of conditions, helping researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers and nonprofit groups develop more effective products, services and care.

Diabetes management startup Glooko, meanwhile, uses apps and Bluetooth technology to import blood sugar readings from a range of glucose meters, allowing doctors to remotely monitor patients.

3. Sharable Health Records On The Go

Although many electronic health systems are still composed of PCs tethered to server computers, IT market research company IDC predicts a massive structural shift to web-native technologies that are easier and less expensive to manage.

“The new cloud-based acute care EHR [electronic health record] will re-engineer processes to enable better integration with analytics, big data, mobile and social tools,” explained IDC Research Director Judy Hanover.

These new capabilities could pave the way for doctors to access patients’ entire medical histories, even records created by other healthcare providers, once regulatory and privacy concerns are sorted out.

4. Docs On Call

The concept of telemedicine has been around for decades. But many capabilities, including two-way video, email, mobile apps and the ability to write prescriptions are now catching on.

Here’s why: if everyone covered by an employer-sponsored health plan in the United States used telemedicine instead of visits to doctors offices, emergency rooms and urgent care facilities, employers would save $6 billion annually, according to a Towers Watson study.

While such widespread use of telemedicine is far fetched, the projection suggests that even a significantly lower level of use would still generate substantial savings.

Audio and video conferencing between doctors and consumers is available today from companies such as Doctor on Demand, HealthTap and LiveHealth Online. While some doctors might be hesitant now to diagnose patients virtually, the maturation of networked devices and data analytics may ease these concerns over time.

5. 3-D Bioprinting

Three-dimensional printing—a process by which a machine layers materials, such as plastic or glass, to create an object—is making inroads in healthcare. Some of the most talked-about uses include joint replacement and life-like models of organs to plan surgeries.

The market for 3-D printing in healthcare is expected to exceed $4 billion by 2018. While the increased use of customized prosthesis and other devices will drive the market, there are more ambitious uses on the horizon.

Scientists are now investigating the possibility of “printing” complex organs. Researchers at Princeton University, for instance, have already prototyped an outer ear from hydrogel, human cells and silver nanoparticles.

It might take a decade or longer before all the technology is ready and the regulations are written, but the stage is set for a day when organ replacement will no longer involve volunteers and ice packs.

These massive technological shifts—driven by connected devices, big data and cloud computing — could radically change how doctors and patients interact in the next decade.

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