Advances in technology are sometimes difficult to keep up with, but these changes continue to shift our expectations and lifestyles. To see the latest movie that has captured our interest, we can go to a theater. Or we can rent it from a streaming service app. We can earn fully accredited degrees from home and control our appliances from our smartphones when we’re away.
Tech improvements are also shifting the control we have in our relationships with service providers, including doctors. We have more access to information about our health and new ways to get it. STI testing and hormone deficiency screenings that once required an office visit can now be done from home.
At-home testing for diseases is only one of the ways tech capabilities are revolutionizing the health industry. A Deloitte survey of health care consumers found that online doctor visits are rising in popularity. The number of patients using televisits increased four percentage points just prior to the pandemic and jumped to 28% in April 2020. Employers are likewise embracing the trend, with 53% intending to offer more telehealth options in their benefits offerings.
With the ability to deliver online care comes the exchange of data. The information collected via everything from wearables to hospital surveys is enabling predictions about our health care needs.
Medical providers are using data to gain insights into what we expect when we seek care. AI chatbots and robotics, website experiences, personalized medicine, and contact tracing are additional advancements all being driven by data.
1. At-Home Health Testing
Few people actually like going to the doctor. It’s often difficult to make and keep appointments that work with your schedule. Explaining your symptoms and concerns can be uncomfortable. That’s especially true if you’re seeing a new care provider or don’t know whether you can trust them.
Some people have trouble talking about more sensitive subjects. They may want to know whether their suspicions are correct without having to schedule more appointments for lab tests. They’d rather have the information they need to make a decision without having to explain things to several people.
This could explain the rise in at-home health tests. You can screen for common diseases and conditions like leaky gut, and even do STI testing from the comfort of your own bathroom. Insurance isn’t always necessary, but if you do have coverage, testing companies can usually work with your plan. Out-of-pocket costs will vary depending on the test and the lab.
Once your kit arrives, you can follow the instructions and collect samples in private at home. After you return the samples, your results will be reported to the web-based account you created to order the kit. You don’t have to wait for the doctor’s office to call you back so you can learn what the tests found out.
Depending on the test and outcome, you might want to follow up with your care provider. Either way, you’ll have the information you need to move forward.
2. Telehealth Services
Telehealth isn’t just convenient; it has the power to reach those who can’t easily get to a medical center. This includes people in small towns that don’t have the same number of doctors and hospitals as urban areas.
McKinsey & Company analysts predict the healthcare industry’s spending on telehealth services will reach $250 billion if current trends continue. And the increase in virtual care visits isn’t happening only in remote areas. Since COVID-19 struck, 46% of health care consumers are now using them.
Insurance plans, public and private, are expanding the services available through online appointments. The industry is also ramping up the availability of these options, mostly because patients have demanded it.
It’s unlikely that the doctor’s office will go away anytime soon. For instance, the McKinsey research shows a 30% gap between those who say they want virtual visits and those who use them. Still, this gap is bound to close as the industry finds better ways to educate patients about their options and protect their personal data.
3. Data Analytics
Today, the details patients share when seeking treatment are increasingly being combined and analyzed with other patients’ information. The insights that collective data reveals can enable predictions about the amounts and types of resources providers need.
In the case of COVID-19, care facilities are using local data that monitors virus transmission rates. They can estimate how many ICU beds, ventilators, and medications must be available to meet community demand. Contact tracing apps have become widespread to alert people about exposure risks to the coronavirus. They would not be possible without smartphones, Bluetooth, and wireless networks.
With individual information, the industry’s specialists can make risk projections for patients. Software tools, sometimes in combination with genetic testing, can tell whether an individual is at risk for developing cancer, say, or Alzheimer’s disease. Health and treatment histories, age, location, family histories, gender, and ethnicity are some of the variables that enter into these analyses.
Analytics are helping facilities and providers give patients personalized care, sometimes in collaboration with local governments during public health emergencies. Data about the use of hospitals and independent offices help optimize supplies and staffing. As with other industries, data is driving how health care operates and delivers services.
4. AI and Robotics
Some of the more exciting tech developments include AI and robotics. In health care, AI is helping providers diagnose patients with greater accuracy. Doctors can be more precise with algorithms that confirm symptoms and behaviors as signs of a disease or condition.
Chatbots are another way AI is improving consumer interactions with providers. There are times when speaking to a person is necessary. However, a bot can answer patient questions and give information about the basics. Chatbots are not just communicators; they can also assist with triage by identifying patients who fit specific criteria.
Meanwhile, robots are filling the care gaps left by staffing and safety challenges. They can deliver food to a hospital patient’s room. Robots can also clean, stock personal protective equipment, and help medical staff communicate with patients who need to stay isolated.
The industry is also leveraging additional advancements beyond virtual and home-based care, data analytics, and AI. Remote monitoring and 3D printers that create personal protective equipment are two further examples of how tech is revolutionizing health care.
As various tech advances continue to emerge and get integrated, the result will be better and more innovative health care options. Both providers and patients will benefit from the increased access, efficiency, and effectiveness these innovations will provide.