Technology is revolutionizing every industry, but health care is especially seeing major transformations that boost quality of care, provider efficiency, and patient convenience. The impact of these four health care technology advances is staggering.
1. Mobile Apps Keep Track of Health
“More and more people are using their phones to stay abreast of their health,” says Kristyn Rodvill, Bachelor of Science Health Information Management program chair at Purdue Global. “MyFitnessPal, Fooducate, Lifesum, the Symple Symptom Tracker—these apps and many others make it easy to manage your health and make healthy decisions on the go.”
Another reality of these new mobile apps is the gathering and sharing of health information. Now, your health details can be shared with doctors, health care facilities, and other providers.
“Traditionally, we did not share that data with anyone except ourselves. Now there are apps that focus on actual connectivity of health care,” Rodvill says.
Examples of mobile health apps include:
- BlueStar by WellDoc tracks all the information that diabetics need to monitor their health. The app says it can teach patients the cause-and-effect relationship between lifestyle choices and blood glucose. “An app like this replaces the long pieces of paper where you spent the time writing your levels throughout the day,” Rodvill says.
- Strava is a fitness tracker for all types of exercise. It can monitor your activity and give you updates on progress. Strava records heart rate and other data and displays it in interactive graphs.
- Mobile MIM is used by medical professionals to display and diagnose medical images. That allows wider use of these images and encourages consultation with other experts. “Big, bulky X-rays and their storage is an issue,” Rodvill says, “but now, the provider can actually look on his or her device at medical images right then and there.”
2. Wearable Tech Is Growing in Its Uses
Wearable technology has grown up since the first FitBit was introduced in 2009 to watch your heart and count steps. More specialized health monitoring is available from the current generation of wearable tech.
“Most people today have some kind of smartwatch or wristband that can track your steps, measure your heart rate, and measure your BMI,” says Rodvill. “But there are also ECG monitors that detect atrial fibrillation and blood pressure monitors that can record your data and send reports to your doctor.”
Other examples include:
- iTBra — Cyrcadia’s iTBra is a smart wearable bra insert that provides accurate early breast cancer detection. It consists of patches that identify circadian temperature changes over time within breast tissue. “The patches sense metabolic changes in heat that correlate with the breast tumor,” says Rodvill. This system currently is only available in Asia.
- MUSE — This is a brain-sensing headband that combats stress with music. You wear it around your head and insert it into your ears. Once connected to an app, it gives real-time readings of an EEG-based neuro-feedback. It then plays meditation music—relaxing and soft sounds if you’re calm, and louder sounds to counteract stress.
- Owlet Smart Sock — This high-tech wearable wraps around a baby’s foot to monitor sleep using pulse oximetry. “The sock actually tracks oxygen levels, the heart rate, and the sleep of the child,” says Rodvill.
- Upright Pro — This is a monitor intended to correct your posture and fight back pain. It sticks to your back and tracks your spine’s movements. It vibrates when it detects slouching, reminding you to correct your posture. An associated app can give you a detailed report of your posture habits.
3. Telehealth Helps More People Access Care
Probably the greatest technological advancement that has improved access to care for people in rural areas is telehealth.
Telehealth takes advantage of electronic information and telecommunications tech like videoconferencing, streaming media, remote imaging, and others. They are used for long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, education, and more.
>> Find Out More About Telemedicine, Nursing, and the Future of Health Care
The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of many that uses telehealth to deliver service to patients.
“The VA is using telehealth on a pretty regular basis,” Rodvill says. She offers her father as an example of a telehealth beneficiary.
“My father weighs himself every single day,” she says. “They want blood pressure readings every single day—twice a day, actually—and they want glucose monitoring. And my father is able to do this via telehealth.”
The VA provides her father with an internet-connected scale to weigh himself. “He steps on this scale, and he doesn't even have to write down his weight. It automatically goes into his record at the VA.
“So the scale does everything for him without errors. There are no diagnostic errors, documentation errors, medication errors. Obviously, errors in health care are a big issue and they have been for many years. But that’s eliminated with connected devices like this scale.”
4. Electronic Health Records Streamline Care
Medical records used to be all about stacks of paper in overstrained manila folders. Everything needed to find its way into that file, or there could be severe consequences. Switching doctors also meant carrying files to your new provider.
Without complete medical records, patients faced a disruption of a continuity of care. They would risk overmedication, undermedication, missing diagnoses, or serious effects from pharmaceutical allergies. Consequences could span from unexpected hospital stays all the way to death. Now, electronic health records (EHRs) are decreasing that danger.
“EHRs mean patient records can be stored and managed online, which speeds up recordkeeping and transferring, streamlines everyday processes, and maximizes work efficiency,” says Rodvill. “The electronic health record enables a level of continuity of care that was unprecedented in the days of paper charts.’
Underpinning this system is internet-connected devices and apps. “It is the nucleus to all of this actually working,” Rodvill says. “The platforms, apps, and wearable devices are wonderful, but if they're not connected, then it really doesn't work.
“Interoperability is the capability of different EHRs and/or health care information systems to communicate and exchange information, ultimately resulting in effective continuity of care,” she says.
These four trends in health care tech point to better outcomes for patients in the future. Health care professionals could benefit, too, by being able to provide a higher level of care based on more and better patient information.
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