Article covers how health technology is advancing and how it is being used to treat a range of diseases and conditions, greatly improving patient care whilst also allowing patients to stay at home for longer without hospital intervention. On top of this, technology is benefiting us in terms of data and knowledge about certain conditions.
We live in an exciting technological time. Every day, technology accelerates and evolves, changing the way we live and interact. Such advances have affected the way we communicate, work, and travel. Technology is also having a huge impact on the healthcare industry1.
As the years go by, we are faced with more and more breakthroughs in the way of information gathering, treatments and communications, which affect patient experience, reduce costs, and improve quality of care.
Despite the many advantages offered by modern technology, a number of concerns remain. Technology can, in fact, encourage patient-centred care2 and reduce potential medical errors, but it has also been blamed for a rise in obesity, mental health issues, and insomnia.
We will explore the ways in which technology has helped and hindered health, healthcare, and the patient experience in the following paragraphs.
In the first half of 2017 alone, the health technology sector brought in more than US$3.5 billion in ventures3. The health technology market is booming, and a large part of this is due to clinical wearable devices.
Wearable devices allow medical professionals to collect data remotely, which helps them to monitor and assess the health of the wearer without interference. This means doctors can be informed and knowledgeable about an individual’s condition, without seriously changing their way of life. Sufferers of Alzheimer’s are able to continue living at home for much longer4 due to wearable devices and sensors being placed around their homes. Such sensors send out alerts and notifications if meals are missed, or if they fail to get out of bed that day. This gives everyone involved peace of mind, but it also gives doctors a clearer picture of the patient’s health, which influences their medical decisions and recommendations.
Clinical wearables are being used for a range of other diseases and conditions, including anxiety, depression, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and diabetes. They are even being used to predict the onset of strokes. In essence, technology is allowing us to be forewarned, which is allowing us to be forearmed.
Technology and big data have made patient care much more safe and reliable over the years. Doctors and nurses can now use tablets or handheld computers to record a patient’s medical history and ensure they are being given the right treatment. Such electrical equipment and databases also store results of vital signs and lab tests, which means patients have much easier access to their own information. They are also able to develop a greater understanding of their own treatment and care.
Of course, technological advancements aren’t all positive. The rapid growth in the popularity of social media has led to the speculation that such constant connectivity and social sharing has led to problems related to mental health.
According to a recent survey by the Royal Society for Public Health, social media can be linked to high levels of anxiety, depression, and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), with Instagram being the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing5. This is a result of a ‘compare and despair’ response, as young people are able to constantly see their peers having a good time that they, seemingly, aren’t having. Despite the negative feelings brought about by social media, people are unable to stay away; in fact, it has been shown that the draw of such platforms can be as addictive as cigarettes and alcohol6.
While technology might be taking its toll on our mental health, there is evidence to suggest that it is pushing us to be more active. As evidence, we can look to tools such as Fitbit7 and other apps that track our steps and general activity. All these apps encourage us to hit our daily targets, either through walking, running, or various home workouts. This is all designed to increase the amount of exercise we do every day, but some apps even count calories burned, track heart rate, and monitor sleep. This improves the overall lifestyle, giving patients a more fulfilling life.
More and more people are making use of the internet to research upon their medical issues and conditions. Individuals are taking the time to look up symptoms, become educated on treatments, and research medicines. Ultimately, this means that people are more knowledgeable and informed, which gives them greater peace of mind and empowers them to have a say over their own patient care.
Of course, access to information is not necessarily always beneficial. Patients might research symptoms and convince themselves they have a particular condition. They might fight tooth and nail against a doctor’s recommendations based on logic that isn’t entirely sound, or on information from an unreputable medical website. Though this can be frustrating for medical professionals, it is offset by the fact that patients are generally more confident and they are able to get in touch with other people with the same condition, to compare notes, and discuss their patient experiences.
There is one obvious way in which technology has changed the healthcare industry for the better. It has given us new machines, medicines, and treatments that have saved countless lives and improved the quality of life of thousands of patients worldwide. From MRI scanners to X-Ray machines, technology has enhanced the diagnosis of various conditions and, ultimately, treatment.
One condition that has seen remarkable new advances due to health technology is that of haemophilia. Gene therapy has recently been used to treat haemophilia8, an inherited blood disorder. In one trial, researchers studied ten men with haemophilia, who received a single intravenous infusion of a virus carrying a gene for factor IX, a blood-clotting protein. Eighteen months later, nine out of the ten patients had no bleeding episodes, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine9. On top of that, eight out of the ten patients no longer needed a factor IX injection every few days, seriously improving the overall quality of life.
Another study carried out by clinical researchers at the Barts Health NHS Trust and Queen Mary University of London10 found that 12 months on from a single treatment with a gene therapy drug, patients with haemophilia A were showing normal blood protein levels, which effectively means a cure for haemophilia is now a very real possibility.
You can’t mention health and technology in the same vein without addressing how it impacts our quality of sleep. After all, sleep has a huge impact on our overall health11. The lack of sleep can cause memory issues, problems with concentration, mood swings, and high blood pressure. It can also cause weakened immunity and weight gain.
Technology such as tablets, laptops, and smartphones can affect your sleep because they suppress melatonin production12. The blue light emitted by these screens reduces melatonin, making it harder to not only sleep, but to stay asleep. This is a problem, given that many people check their gadgets just before they head to bed.
As with any tool, technology can be a help or a hindrance, depending on the situation. What is clear is that it has a huge impact on the quality of life, the overall care of patients worldwide, and on healthcare in general. This influence is likely to become greater as the years go by and technology continues to evolve. It’s exciting to consider the ways in which technology will change the way we live, how we detect certain conditions, and how we battle disease.