Healthcare is one of the most technically-advanced sectors of all, and every year, some incredible new innovation comes to the industry. The past few years have accelerated things even further, as COVID-19 has changed the way doctors and patients interact. Furthermore, healthcare across the globe experienced unprecedented disruption and demand.

Technology has been one of the primary ways with which healthcare has managed this disruption, and that will continue to be the case in the years ahead. Here are just some of the ways that technology has allowed healthcare to manage the disruption while also providing better outcomes for patients than ever.

Telehealth will become a permanent part of treatment

Before the pandemic, telehealth was rarely used. It wasn’t encouraged by governments, which meant it often wasn’t available over public healthcare systems, and patients were hesitant about its value.

However the pandemic changed everything. Overnight, telehealth became the safest way to hold a consultation with a doctor, and once patients starting taking advantage of it, they realised that it wasn’t an inferior experience at all. Now, according to McKinsey, telehealth has grown by 38 times and seems set to stay.

Telehealth helps deliver services cheaper to patients, and gives those patients access to a greater range of specialist help – especially if they live in rural areas where their town might not have much more than a GP.

Robots help with everything from recovery to companionship

For people who are mobility compromised, recovering from surgery, or aged but still interested in independent living, developments in robotics is making this easier than ever. Robotic assistants can help with everything from picking up objects off the ground while a patient is recovering from surgery, to monitoring the environment and making sure that it’s a safe to live in and free of potential hazards.

There’s also a lot of work being done on the impact that robots can have on mental health. These “therapy robots” provide companionship to those that need it, without needing the kind of care that a living pet does. This is particularly useful for patients that are experiencing cognitive decline, such as dementia. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Sony’s Aibo robot dog, which the company needed to relaunch after demand remained overwhelming for a full 12 years after it was initially discontinued.

Artificial Intelligence will have a role to play in patient care

Whenever “AI” is mentioned, people have a vision in their head of robots walking around diagnosing patients like they’re doctors. That, of course, is nonsense, but AI will have a major role to play in diagnostics and patient care. AI is very good at a single task – “reading” a lot of data and then responding to that and then taking actions based on what the historical data “tells” it. So, over the course of “reading” a million patient records, an AI program will be able to start to recognise trends.

Examples include a high risk patient that will have X marker in their blood tests, or Y symptoms are regularly the result of Z condition. By applying that “knowledge” to new patients, the AI will be able to flag concerns with the patient’s doctor. This will result in better care (with a lower risk that things are overlooked), and improve the rate in which doctors can screen and provide care for patients. In short, AI won’t replace the need for doctors, but it will significantly enhance the ability for doctors to maximise their productivity and efficiency in giving care.

Remote surgery will better balance regional and urban care

Across most of the world there is a disconnect between the care available to those in major cities, and the care available to those in regional areas, or the poorer nations. To a degree it makes sense – specialists will go where they contribute the most to the most people (and make good careers for themselves), but it has resulted in a crisis of uneven care around the world.

Powered by super-fine robotics and 5G, remote surgery isn’t as far away as you might think. The main inhibitors that had prevented it were latency from the Internet connection, and having precision control driven by massive amounts of real-time data flow. 5G solves both – latency is effectively zero, meaning that the robotics would respond with no delay to controls from the doctor. Meanwhile, the volume of data that 5G can handle would allow for nearly infinitesimally-fine control in operation.

With this technology, surgeons will be able to provide services to remote clinics and regional hospitals, giving more people access to advanced care, regardless of where they live. The future is bright when it comes to medical technology. Innovation is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and while there are residual concerns around how critical data privacy is to the medical sector (which technology is also helping to solve), the traditional barriers to the role of technology in healthcare are being broken down rapidly. From a sector that was struggling under regulation and minimal budgets for technology, the medical sector is on track to be one of the leading advocates for tech-driven innovation.

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