In an industry that develops as quickly as healthcare, it’s difficult to know which innovations will lead to lasting change and which will be promptly replaced by the next exciting piece of technology.
The news is filled with promising advances in health and medicine, but we’ve been especially excited about these three developments that are likely to have an enduring impact on the industry.
Wearable Tech and Biomonitoring Devices
The popular perception of medical devices as ungainly or invasive accessories is changing rapidly. The advent of new materials, improved electronics, and wireless syncing are shifting the way that patients and physicians view medical devices.
Dramatic developments in wearable and implantable technologies are perhaps most evident in biomonitoring, an area which has received significant attention with the commercial success of Fitbits. Although Fitbits are useful for casually monitoring health and activity metrics, they are also used widely in clinical trials.
Beyond counting steps, many patients who face daunting diagnoses have to track and record physiological processes like heart rate or blood sugar levels as a vital component of their long-term care. Traditional metal and plastic monitoring devices often pose challenges to tracking and logging this kind of data. Significant discrepancies between the hardness of devices and soft tissues of the body often cause inaccuracies in measurements and elicit an inflammatory response, resulting in patient discomfort.
New silicon-and-carbon-based monitoring devices called ultrasoft microelectronics (UMEs) mimic the texture of skin and other tissues, decreasing inflammation and providing more accurate measurements. Small electronics can be integrated directly into these devices and wirelessly sync to both the patient and their medical team, eliminating the need for bulky wires and computers.
Devices used for short-term internal monitoring, such as those used in epilepsy, can be manufactured to degrade naturally, eliminating the need for expensive, invasive follow-up surgeries to remove or repair devices.
Smaller electronics have led to increased interest in long-lasting batteries and charging solutions. Skin and motion-powered batteries and lithium-ion batteries are becoming more common in medical devices and revitalizing a long-neglected component of medical device research and development.
Why are they game-changers?
Developments in medical device materials and size provide patients and clinicians with an unprecedented amount of high-quality, wirelessly-sharable data to monitor existing conditions and general health metrics in real-time.
New materials lead to greater patient comfort and result in more accurate data.
Big Data and Cloud Computing
Enormous amounts of data from electronic health records (EHRs) can be harnessed to inform diagnoses and treatments for future patients. Raw data can provide many answers to pressing clinical questions, but flexibility, powerful analytics, and streamlined user interfaces maximize its impact.
Although clinical decision systems (CDS) have been a part of clinical care since the early 2000s, improvements in machine learning are allowing these systems to become a more powerful diagnostic and predictive tool for clinicians.
Data from large numbers of patients allow algorithms to recognize patterns and produce predictive analytics from EHRs. These can provide diagnoses and recommended courses of action, sometimes even earlier than physicians.
In addition to aiding in clinical decisions for individual patients, predictive analytics allow hospitals and clinics to run more efficiently overall. Admission rates can be predicted based on data from previous years, and cloud computing allows easier sharing of EHRs so patients can move between hospitals and care teams more easily.
Why is it a game-changer?
Predictive analytics and machine learning can aid in the diagnostic process by systematically using data to improve clinician accuracy.
Cloud-based EHRs allow more flexible and accurate sharing of medical information between hospitals for patient flexibility and safety.
Immunotherapy uses pharmaceuticals and vaccinations to engage the immune system to fight disease. Although it has been a promising component of cancer care for years, it is developing from an experimental therapy into a new therapeutic option. Developments in next-generation sequencing (NGS) have provided fast and inexpensive ways to analyze tumor genes, allowing more targeted therapies.
In May of 2017, the FDA approved Keytruda, the first drug which targets tumors based on specific genetic factors rather than location in the body.
In addition to cancer care, immunotherapy is proving to be a promising tool against autoimmune diseases. Researchers are using vaccinations to prevent, and even reverse, Type 1 diabetes. The FDA recently approved a second-round clinical trial for vaccination in Type 1 diabetes, and similar approaches are being investigated in animal models of multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Why is it a game-changer?
Traditionally, cancer care has relied on broadly-acting drugs and therapies that can cause dramatic side effects. Immunotherapy helps the body identify and eliminate cancer cells on its own, reducing negative side effects.
Similarly, treatments to control autoimmune diseases often rely on life-long symptom management and lifestyle modifications. Immunotherapies offer promising ways to train the immune system to not attack the body, allowing a model of care for autoimmune diseases that centers on prevention and reversal rather than lifelong symptom management.
What do you think is the next big development in healthcare? Tweet us @cglifeagency.