The Convergence in Healthcare movement is rooted in the integration of skilled professionals from a collection of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors, including life sciences, physical sciences, chemistry and computing. Academic leaders and other pundits in the medical field believe the best opportunity for innovation in medicine is the reinvention of the traditional model of medical research by encouraging in-depth collaboration between scientists from these different backgrounds.
Global health needs are multiplying as the world’s population grows. However, the current medical research model is struggling to provide adequate solutions for the increasingly large number of complicated medical issues. Though the support of scientists from all disciplines is vital in addressing this problem, one of the most universally applicable sectors making a difference in the Convergence in Healthcare movement is the computing industry. The technology originating from this industry has been responsible for the creation of many groundbreaking medical tools that are changing the way healthcare professionals around the world practice medicine.
The following are some key examples of the way tech is converging with healthcare to radically change how people diagnose, treat and prevent illness.
AI and Imaging analysis
Imaging is a crucial diagnostic tool for physicians. As researchers have started to apply artificial intelligence (AI) programs to medical imaging in recent years, scientists have witnessed radical new improvements to address some of the area’s weaknesses.
For example, according to research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, nearly 25 percent of patients who received radiographic screening tests for lung cancer received false positive results. Not only can a false positive inflict emotional distress on a patient, but in many cases these incorrect results are the impetus for the patient to undergo costly follow-up scans and even invasive procedures that may cause a significant degree of emotional and financial stress.
Fortunately, with the help of AI technology, branches of medicine such as radiology are seeing a boost in efficacy and a reduction in the time and degree of effort to accurately assess a patient’s condition. AI in this instance relies on deep learning and analytics programs to scan and interpret images taken of an affected area in a patient and provide accurate feedback about the presence of tumors or lesions. With the help of the computer programs, medical personnel might see a decrease in false negatives by as much as 45 percent.
Another tool leveraging computing and IT to spur innovation in the medical sector is the smart device. As the Internet of Things continues to grow — with revenues for the smart machine market projected to reach $29 billion in the next three years — there are few industries in which this technology has yet to make an impact. For the healthcare industry, however, smart devices present a valuable solution to some of medicine’s most pervasive issues.
Overall, the most promising, widely applicable aspect of the smart device for healthcare is its use in the sustained, long-term monitoring of health data. Devices designed to be worn by or implanted into patients could provide doctors with a steady stream of moment-to-moment information about a person’s internal conditions. The amount and quality of this data would then provide physicians with a more comprehensive picture of patient health.
In addition to using smart sensors to gather long-term data for a more accurate diagnosis and treatment of an illness, these devices could also aid patients in the management of chronic conditions. For example, a modern, wearable smart device known as ADAMM Intelligent Asthma Monitoring is already making a difference in the lives of asthma patients. Most patients do not realize they are in the throes of an asthma attack until it has reached an advanced stage. This technology alerts patients to the fact they are experiencing an asthma attack while it is still in its earliest stages, when intervention is easiest and most effective.
Patient empowerment through smartphones
The growth of the Internet has vastly expanded the accessibility of general knowledge about medical conditions, but has done little to empower patients to take control of their own health. However, the rise of the smartphone and the popularity of smartphone apps have given people more agency regarding their healthcare.
To understand the power of healthcare apps, one need only examine the way WellDoc’s FDA-approved diabetes manager tool is improving the lives of the 29.1 million Americans living with diabetes. Named BlueStar, the app provides individually tailored insights into patient health through smart learning, and it improves in accuracy and helpfulness the more a person uses it. Not only does BlueStar allow people to monitor single blood-glucose readings and total averages at different meals and times throughout the day, but an in-app educational function also provides useful advice for patients based on their individual health data. The app also offers coaching and weekly challenges to encourage diabetes patients to engage in healthy behavior.
While the app is useful for patient self-care in the home, BlueStar is also an excellent tool for healthcare providers. Data from the app can be easily shared in the form of BlueStar reports, which can be e-mail to doctors’ offices. This gives physicians more information as they assess a patient’s condition and reduces the amount of time spent looking over data during office visits, which in turn makes appointments more personal and impactful.