With 2021 well behind us, COVID-19’s presence still continues to linger around the world. Of all the industries that have been forever changed by the impacts of the global pandemic, healthcare arguably has changed the most. With significant advances in technology and methods necessary to support the high demand of access to healthcare and growing digitization of protected health information, the healthcare industry has evolved in novel ways to continue to deliver the same exceptional quality of service.
As we press on into the future, it’s critical to remain mindful of the trends driving healthcare technology in 2022. Although legacy software and infrastructure is critical to the success of modern hospitals and care centers, it’s important that we consider how those systems can integrate with newer technologies or how they may eventually be replaced with more reliable systems. The focus should be on improving performance, productivity, efficiency, and security without sacrificing reliability or accessibility.
If you’re ready to explore the tech innovations driving the healthcare industry towards digital transformation this year, let’s take a look at the most important technologies that have the potential to transform your organization.
Trend #1: Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Healthcare
Across multiple industries, artificial intelligence has made great waves as a useful technology in 2022, especially for healthcare.
AI’s Role Against COVID-19
The global pandemic has had a profound impact on our society, but cutting-edge technology has helped us stay ahead of the curve. In fact, a company from Toronto, Canada was able to predict that COVID-19 would spread worldwide. By scanning 100,000 media sources in over 65 different languages daily, their application called BlueDot can ascertain dangerous outbreaks in what is nearly real time.
A great deal of progress was also made with machine learning advances in the development of vaccines. By using machine learning to help identify protein fragments, the vaccines for COVID-19 have been developed in much shorter periods of time than ever before.
AI has also been helpful in analyzing crowd temperature data. This makes thermal screening a much more viable option for identifying potentially symptomatic individuals. Advances in AI-powered facial recognition have also made it viable toward identifying individuals even if they are wearing a face mask. It can also detect if the user is wearing a mask in the areas where it’s mandatory.
AI in Diagnosis & Drug Development
Artificial intelligence has plenty of applications outside of treating and responding to the pandemic. AI is incredibly helpful for improving efficiency with information processing and decision making. In the healthcare industry, machine learning is extremely helpful for the development of new pharmaceuticals and the efficiency of diagnosis processes.
For those being treated for the effects of COVID-19, AI is helping analyze CT scans to detect pneumonia. Microsoft developed Project InnerEye, a radiotherapy AI tool. This dramatically speeds up the process of 3D contouring of the patient, bringing time to completion down to minutes instead of hours. The project is open source on GitHub. Project Hanover is another Microsoft AI system meant to catalog biomedical research papers from PubMed. This helps reduce time for cancer diagnosis and assists with deciding on which drugs should be used for each patient.
AI in Mental Health
Artificial intelligence innovations don’t just apply to physical health. MIT and Harvard University researchers have utilized machine learning to track trends and mental health in correlation to the COVID-19 pandemic. By using an AI model, they were able to analyze thousands of online Reddit messages to find that topics of suicidality and loneliness had nearly doubled over a period of time. This has the potential to transform our understanding of the mental health of larger populations.
Natural Language Processing
Chatbots have the potential to improve the efficiency of telehealth. Researchers at UCLA combined chatbot technologies with AI systems to create a Virtual Interventional Radiologist (VIR). This was intended to help patients self-diagnose themselves and for assisting doctors in diagnosing those patients. Chatbots powered by Natural Language Processing aren’t ready to provide primary diagnosis, but they can be used to assist in the process. They are also well equipped to help obtain information from patients before proper treatment can begin.
The Key to AI in Healthcare: Data
The most important element that powers artificial intelligence’s success in healthcare is data. More specifically, training data. Software powered by machine learning will never outperform the quality of its training dataset. The higher the quality and breadth of the data we give to the model, the better it will perform. It’s essential that your AI team is composed of experienced software developers and data scientists that can work together to produce the best results.
Trend #2: Telemedicine and the Evolution of Remote Care
Telehealth has come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. In 2022, care providers regularly have video conference meetings with patients over the Internet to discuss concerns and give advice. The infrastructure to support this has vastly improved. Telehealth is expected to grow to $185.6 billion by 2026. With that in mind, what lies in store for the future?
Complying with Regulations
Before we consider that possibility, one of the most important issues with telehealth is HIPAA compliance. Although some restrictions were relaxed during the height of the pandemic in 2020, it’s important for care providers to consider the applications that they are using to communicate with their patients. Are they secure and certified to handle private health information?
WebRTC for Video Conferencing
In many instances, a more dedicated solution is required that can more specifically adhere to legal privacy requirements. If you need a dedicated telemedicine app, one of the most important technologies that will be needed is WebRTC, an open-source API-based system that connects web browsers and mobile applications and allows for transmitting audio, video, and data. This is especially helpful for teleconferencing features.
Cloud Hosting and Data Storage
Storing data in most cloud storage services is relatively secure, but not necessarily compliant with government regulations on protected health information. HIPAA compliant cloud hosting solutions are critical for maintaining functionality and efficiency for any healthcare operation needing electronic health records (EVR).
However, teleconferencing and data hosting aren’t the only features that may be useful for your organization. Other features like security, location services, appointment management, secure messaging, healthcare provider reviews, visit history, and wearable integration are all potentially useful features.
Some applications may need to store fitness data from consumer devices such as Google Fit and Apple HealthKit. Being able to maintain these integrations in a secure and efficient manner can benefit the patient and caregiver greatly.
Trend #3: Extended Reality in Healthcare Settings
Extended reality, a blanket term including augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, has a great deal of potential in the healthcare industry. From assisting surgery to aiding telehealth applications, AR and VR technologies can improve the healthcare industry substantially.
Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality in Healthcare
Augmented reality and mixed reality are useful in a variety of healthcare settings. One of the most popular and useful forms of this technology is the use of mixed reality headsets like Microsoft Hololens 2 by surgeons. The headset can provide heads up information to the surgeon while allowing them to use both of their hands during the procedure.
Not only can these surgeries be enriched by this heads up information, but it can be a collaborative and remote effort and assist in training purposes. The head-mounted camera view of the headset can enable other doctors to observe the surgery and offer advice. The ‘holographic’ nature of the device can be used to enrich training as well. Similar applications are possible with on the rise AR headsets. More specialized software solutions will also be necessary to expand its use to different types of surgeries into the future.
AR isn’t just restricted to headsets and operating rooms. The technology can also be used to help nurses find veins to draw blood from.
Augmented reality development relies heavily upon artificial intelligence and specialized sensors to function. Whether you’re developing for mobile devices or other kinds of hardware, appropriate data and software expertise will be required. AR developers focus heavily upon leveraging AI with the software frameworks of target hardware to make these products successful.
Metaverse: Future or Hype?
There is a big debate about whether Facebook’s rebrand to Meta and the focus on social virtual reality experiences is justified. Ultimately whether or not this is something that you are willing to invest in is up to you. Even if the metaverse is vastly overblown, there is some potential for virtual reality in healthcare settings.
One of the most useful applications of VR in healthcare that is in use right now is training. Creating virtual training situations for doctors can help them improve their skills and prepare for operations. VR can also be used in some contexts for treatment. For example, The Virtual Reality Medical Center uses VR therapy to help those suffering from phobias like fear of heights and PTSD.
Maplewood Senior Living in Connecticut also has a VR therapy program for the elderly that can help them unlock past memories and improve emotional wellbeing.
Meta’s shift toward cartoon-style meetings might become useful for VR therapy, but the effectiveness of this in place of traditional teleconferencing remains to be seen. However, some technologies in this space such as spatial audio have potential to improve the effectiveness of telehealth systems by providing a more immersive digital experience.
Trend #4: IoT and Wearables in Healthcare
With wearables and IoT technologies becoming more popular, their potential in the healthcare industry has grown significantly. For applications in telemedicine and telehealth technologies many have come to call this trend in micro processing the Internet of Medical Things.
There were 11.3 billion IoT devices connected at the start of 2021. The global IoT medical devices market is projected to reach USD 94.2 billion by 2026 from USD 26.5 billion in 2021. With the healthcare industry becoming increasingly more connected through these technologies, IoT cannot be ignored.
One of the most important innovations in the healthcare industry is the advancement of wearable technology. The ability to monitor the status of a patient throughout the day remotely or for an individual to monitor their own status is incredibly valuable. A survey conducted by Deloitte found that 39% of users had a smartwatch. With consumer smartwatches becoming more widely available, their potential to be used for healthcare applications should be noted.
One of the most basic things that a smartwatch can provide that can be useful for monitoring a person’s health is heart rate. However, this is not the only thing that a smartwatch can measure. These devices can also monitor physical health with pedometers and blood oxygen saturation. Low blood oxygen saturation is difficult to detect without specialized sensors. Since this can be a life-threatening condition, smartwatches with this sensor can save lives.
Smartwatches are also improving in their ability to measure blood vitals in their users. Photoplethysmography (PPG) is an optical technology that can measure variations in blood volume and composition. Since it has been miniaturized for use on smartwatches, it can provide users with more data than ever about their blood vitals. Healthcare providers can use this data to help advise patients and complete diagnoses.
Smartwatches aren’t the only wearable that has potential for the healthcare industry. Bio patches and smart hearing aids have similar levels of impact. Bio patches can provide a better understanding of a person’s vitals without the use of a smartwatch. Artificial intelligence can also be used to improve noise isolation of hearing aids.
One of the most profound applications for IoT technology in healthcare is the concept of a smart pill, which transforms The Internet of Things into The Internet of Bodies. Smart pills are edible electronics that not only serve as pharmaceuticals, but can provide care providers with valuable information about patients. The first smart pill approved by the FDA was released in 2017.
Creating IoMT Solutions
With the industry trending toward using numerous microcontrollers in unison, getting all of these computers to communicate with each other can be challenging. Another obstacle that needs to be overcome is that almost every manufacturer uses their own proprietary protocol to get their devices to talk to each other. This can make integration difficult.
Connectivity can also be an issue, as many environmental factors can disrupt communications. In order to overcome this, buffering methods on local microcontrollers need to become more robust. Security is always a concern as well.
Trend #5: Healthcare Privacy and Security in 2022
Beyond the scope of efficiency and quality of care, privacy and security take critical priority in the healthcare industry. In February of 2021, Kroger pharmacy data was exposed in a data breach through Accellion’s FTA secure file-transfer service. They’re not the only ones. According to HealthITSecurity.com, over 550 organizations suffered data breaches last year that affected over 40 million people.
Ensuring your organization is HIPAA compliant is an essential first step toward avoiding costly data breaches. If you are serving patients internationally, it may be a good idea to consider the regulations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.
The HIPAA regulation covers a great range of activities and it even covers some that are not mentioned in the act directly. Electronic signatures that are used in online forms quite often are a great example of that. They are not mentioned in the regulation but covered entities have to ensure that they are using HIPAA compliant e-signature services as these services will store data that is considered PHI for authorization and authentication purposes.
Erman Ergun, Healthcare Content Manager, JotForm
Some healthcare providers are able to use software like Facetime and Skype to communicate with patients that may not be fully compliant with government regulations. Although the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the United States has previously announced relaxed enforcement policies for organizations during the public health emergency, it’s important not to rely on that discretion. Eventually as the pandemic continues to subside, enforcement will go back to normal. Getting ahead of the curve can help avoid steep fines in the future.
Although compliant video conferencing software already exists, sometimes a more customized solution needs to be created. This is especially the case if existing data infrastructure does not integrate well with available options. More importantly, if a healthcare provider wants to use an existing system to exchange ePHI with patients through third party software, they will have to obtain a business associate exception with the vendor which can be tedious and difficult.
There still is no guarantee that the third-party program can fully protect patient data. In addition, keeping information secure through remote doctor calls is difficult. ePHI data must be transmitted in structured formats, and these calls can make the process complicated.
Trend #6: Organ Care Technology & Bioprinting
With the world’s transplantation market size predicted to reach $26.5 billion by 2028, organ transplants are certainly an important part of the healthcare industry. According to Matthew J Everly, about 2,000 heart transplants take place in the United States every year. However, it’s estimated that over 50,000 people need a heart transplant. What can be done to help all of these people suffering from heart disease?
Improving Organ Care Technology: Extending Time for Organ Evaluation and Transport
One of the approaches to this issue is to improve organ care technology. This means taking care of the organ while it’s outside of the body. The Organ Care System developed by Transmedics is a great example which is in use by the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. This device can keep a heart, lung, or liver outside of the body for several hours through proper care, heat, and provision of important nutrients.
It’s possible that the future of this technology may depend on artificial intelligence to automatically take action without a doctor’s intervention to preserve the organ for longer periods of time.
Perhaps more importantly, machine learning may be able to better determine if an organ being preserved is suitable for transplantation or not. The faster that this can be determined, the more quickly a life could be saved.
Bioprinting: Creating New Organs
In addition to keeping organs alive outside of the body, other options should also be explored. Although it may sound like science fiction, 3D printed organs are a very real, although developing, technology that has already made its way into clinical testing. Ears, corneas, bones, and skin are all organs in clinical testing for 3D bioprinting.
The process is not too different from traditional 3D printing. First a digital model of the tissue must be created. Careful attention needs to be paid to the resolution and matrix structure, as the materials used in the printing process are quite literally living cells called bioink. They then need to test the organ’s functionality with stimulation.
One of the ways that rejection of an organ can be prevented is by using the cells of the patient requiring transplantation. These cells can be grown in a culture and then cultivated into the bioink necessary for printing.
Bioprinting has been done in the past but has not yet hit the mainstream. It’s possible that through AI analysis of organs and of recipient patient characteristics, organs can be better engineered to be compatible with their new hosts.
Future of Healthcare Technology
As 2022 rolls forward, healthcare technology will continue to improve in every area. Although security will improve across the industry, threats are always evolving that must be dealt with through prevention rather than response. Quality and efficiency of care will continue to improve due to groundbreaking and evolving technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and extended reality.
When deciding how to modernize your healthcare organization, time and funding are both on the line. It’s important that you team up with the right team of software engineers who understand your needs and objectives.
Reach out to start with a conversation followed by a plan for action!