Robotics

Would you trust a robot when it comes to your life? Soon, you might just have to as robots are poised to be an integral part of healthcare systems in the near future. From assisting in surgery to dispensing medication, these metallic allies bring certain advantages to the field. Since robots will not require rest or food, will remain impartial, and can carry out monotonous tasks day in and day out without complaint, doctors and nurses will be able to carry out their tasks of caring for patients unencumbered and to the best of their abilities.

Robots are also expected to make a significant impact in surgery. Market analysis shows that the sales of surgical robots is expected to double in 2020 to USD$6.4 billion and reach USD$20 billion by 2023. The most prolific robot in surgery to date is the da Vinci Surgical System, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. Since then, they have been used to facilitate surgery with a minimally invasive approach, and are controlled by a surgeon through a console.

In 2015, Google started working with the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in creating a surgical robot system in the framework of Verb Surgical. In early 2018, Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin used the robot to suture on some synthetic tissue. Since then, J&J bought Auris, which has been developing robotic technologies focused on lung cancer and acquired Orthotaxy, a privately-held developer of software-enabled surgical technologies.

Robotic nurses will help to carry out the tedious tasks of drawing blood, monitoring vitals, and taking care of a person’s hygiene. In this manner, nurses who are often overburdened are able to work 8-hour shifts instead of the usual 12- to 16-hour shifts that are usually required.

Another interesting area that has piqued the interest of the medical community is the ability of robots to contribute to exoskeletons, allowing humans to carry out tasks that they would otherwise not be able to. From lifting heavy weights to mobilizing paralyzed limbs, exoskeletons lend a sense of invincibility and confidence to the user. For example, the use of an exoskeleton allowed Matt Ficarra, paralyzed from the chest down, to walk down the aisle on his wedding day. Other applications will include those involving even soldiers, using exoskeletons to extend their stamina, strength, and hours of active duty.

While these uses of robots barely scratch the surface of their full scale of abilities, the evolving technology surrounding them promises a more efficient medical landscape in the not-too-distant future.

Healthcare Delivery Systems

In today’s world, medical care takes place mostly in the home. The availability of digital communication means that many doctor-patients contacts are virtual and patient care can be delivered directly to the home. Hospital treatment is reserved for trauma and emergency surgery, while chronic and long-term conditions are managed in the community. Care is provided by accountable care organizations for a defined patient population, which take on the population risk.

Web-based portals enable two-way communication between a patient and a clinician without the need to physically be present at the healthcare facility. These interactions allow for regulatory compliant and reimbursable video interactions and are supported by a wide array of monitoring devices. Patient compliance, which is so often a hindrance to effective treatment, can be minimalized via this approach, as patients are more likely to be compliant if they can do it within the confines of their own home.

An area of common concern is the productivity in healthcare facilities. Patients are required to travel far to reach and appropriate hospital, and once they do so, the waiting period to see a relevant healthcare professional can extend to hours. Reducing this burden for the patient is of utmost importance, by provision of routine contacts through telemedicine-enabled clinical e-visits that are supported by digital diagnostic tools. These tools are tailored in such a manner as to facilitate physical examinations at a distance.
By giving patients ownership of their own medical data, there is now a paradigm shift to patient-centered care and outcome-based delivery models. Therefore, the gap between healthcare community and the patient can be significantly reduced.

Genomics

Adenosine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymidine – these four bases are rearranged in vast numbers of different sequences within our DNA, and this genetic information in turn is the very foundation of how our bodies are built. Researchers keep looking to the practical applications of this knowledge to healthcare as our understanding of human genetics progresses. The possibilities are endless, making genomics the future of healthcare. Artificial intelligence and machine learning help advance genomic medicine by determining personalized treatment plans and clinical care for a patient based on their genomic info. The analysis of genes and gene mutations that cause medical conditions are done by computers, speeding up the process. This not only helps the medical community better understand how diseases occur, but also how to treat the condition or even eradicate it.

The understanding of how biology and disease are linked can lead to several crucial discoveries:

  • Personal — each patient has medicines, treatment, and a health care plan tailored to them and their individual needs and risks. For example, in colorectal cancer, some patients with a particular gene mutation have better survival rates when treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin, than those without this mutation.
  • Doctors — genomic information aids in diagnosis, managing treatments, and identifying symptoms across a wider pool of patients. There have been several cases where cerebral palsy diagnosis was re-evaluated because of genetic testing, revealing a new diagnosis, which led to a more effective treatment plan.
  • National level — strategies are being developed based on genomic information to care for rising trends and particular communities and programs like newborn screening in the U.S., which examines for between 29 and 50 severe but treatable conditions.
  • On a world-wide scale — genomic projects such as the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man4, an open-access database of all known human genetic conditions. Approaches such as these ensure that the parents of children with rare syndromes are more likely to get the answers and the support they need.

3D Printing

The global 3D printing healthcare market accounted for USD$579 million in 2014 and is projected to reach USD$2.32 billion in 2020. Just as it’s done for other industries, 3D printing enabled prototyping, customization, research, and manufacturing for healthcare. Surgeons can replicate organs specific to the patient with 3D printing to help prepare for procedures. Furthermore, many medical devices and surgical tools can be 3D printed. 3D printing provides a more cost-effective solution in developing comfortable prosthetic limbs for patients as well as tissues and organs for transplant. Also, 3D printing is used in dentistry and orthodontics.

Wearables and Mobile Health Applications

Wearables as medical technologies are becoming an integral part of personal analytics, measuring physical status, recording physiological parameters, or informing schedule for medication. These continuously evolving technology platforms do not only promise to help people pursue a healthier life style, but also provide continuous medical data for actively tracking metabolic status, diagnosis, and treatment. Advances in the miniaturization of flexible electronics, electrochemical biosensors, microfluidics, and artificial intelligence algorithms have led to wearable devices that can generate real time medical data within the Internet of Things (IoT). These flexible devices can be configured to make conformal contact with epidermal, ocular, intracochlear, and dental interfaces to collect biochemical or electrophysiological signals.

Wearables are now used voluntarily and are recommended as part of prevention and wellness protocols. The next generation of wearables will be interoperable, integrated, engaging and outcome-focused. The technology involved has become cheaper and more sophisticated and the data quality has improved. Patient treatment plans now include wearable as a prescription – monitoring the sickest patients and helping to better control healthcare costs. Quality of life metrics are now standard in clinical trials. While privacy is still a concern, effective regulation and corporate branding have made consumers more willing to share their device data, from activity trackers to medical-oriented data. Consumer engagement with their data has led to better medication adherence and management of chronic disease.
Studies have shown that wearables do not only collect our health data, they also stimulate our bodies through various sensory organs to enhance our body and mind. In one such study, data collected via a wearable device determined if a user had atrial fibrillation (a heart condition that increases your risk of stroke). This crucial data can help the wearer be more conscious of how their diet or health habits can make an impact on their lives and in the long run, enable them to live healthier lives.