There’s been a lot of talk about AI, Big data and the Internet of things – and how all this ‘techy’ stuff is transforming the way we live, from everyday virtual assistants like Alexa to the complex algorithms used to crunch through massive amounts of data. So it’s not surprising that new technology is set to have an exciting impact on healthcare, which is perhaps one of areas that can benefit the most from its capabilities. With NHS resources under growing strain, new technology could help to alleviate the pressures on staff with time saving procedures that can also help to raise productivity and efficiency.
The idea of integrating new technology into healthcare doesn’t mean robot nurses or self-steering wheelchairs – not yet anyway. Changes have been incremental since the computerising of medical records became common place. Now all that data exists in digital form, the potential for applying AI to this information to identify patterns, calculate probabilities and predict solutions is huge. The more information you have feeding into a system, the more accurate and illuminating the analysis will be.
As disruptive technologies appear on the stage of healthcare, it’s becoming possible to dig more deeply into the roots of diseases and treatments. When this technology is applied to hundreds of years of accumulated medical knowledge, the results are transformative. We know that individuals can react very differently to treatments according to their genetics. Instead of the “one-size-fits-all” approach, precision medicine for individuals will become the way of the future.
Although there are significant implications for the use of new technology on medical research, we’ll begin to see faster processing times from laboratory to practical applications, such as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, surgical techniques and medical diagnoses. Last month, Google unveiled an artificial intelligence system that demonstrates a remarkable talent for seeing through lung cancer’s disguises.
Still in its early testing stages, the algorithm was trained on 42,000 patient CT scans taken during a National Institutes of Health clinical trial to determine whether patients had cancer. It detected 5% more cancers and cut false positives — when cancer is suspected though a nodule is harmless — by 11% from reviewing a single scan.
Google engineers who developed the AI system have emphasised that it’s not designed to replace radiologists, but to improve their ability to detect nodules and determine if they’re dangerous. The system uses ‘convolutional neural networks,’ a type of AI architecture, to learn the features of malignancy and point out the problematic areas by analysing three-dimensional CT scans. This task is difficult and time-consuming for radiologists because they must review hundreds of individual slices of the scan to hone in on problems. The computer, however, can review all the dimensions at once.
If all this brings to mind people in surgical coats looking down microscopes, there are plenty of tangible ways that new technologies are making an impact in care homes and hospitals on a day-to-day level: From the capability of smartphones and wearables to monitor patient information, to the inputting of that information into integrated systems that allow for instant communication between all medical professionals involved with the care of that patient.
If existing wearable technologies were commonly used as a medical device in the social care sector, we could see care for long-term conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure revolutionised on a national scale. Not only this, but new technology could radically change the way these conditions are treated.
Many nurses report that medication rounds often don’t have enough staff, meaning nurses are forced to rush around to meet medication schedules, increasing the likelihood of errors. There have been studies on the potential of a ‘long-term drug delivery system’ from a team of researchers from MIT. This drug delivery system is ingested by the patient and stays in the stomach where it delivers doses of medication with a consistent schedule for days, weeks or even years.
The automation of long-term medication may sound futuristic, but the fundamental impact of these new technologies will mean that medical professionals have the time to provide their patients with a more person-centered experience. This will allow them to take into account the patient’s overall situation and deliver a holistic treatment plan. In effect, new technology will help to humanise the healthcare experience by placing the individual back at its centre.
With technology able to perform more of the mundane daily tasks associated with working life, it’s our unique human skills that will act as a differentiator among candidates. To read more about the soft skills that are fast becoming the hottest commodity across all industries, read our article here.
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