The Human Side of Healthcare Technology

Ask any physician or nurse why they do what they do, and you will likely hear them say a variant of: “I do it for the patient.” The primary purpose of healthcare is to prolong the length and quality of human life. That is why we push the envelope every day to develop new medications, procedures, technologies, and techniques: It’s all about the patient.

The purpose of IT in healthcare is no different. In today’s hospitals, all technology exists to help the patient—whether directly or indirectly. I’ve worked with healthcare technology for over 10 years, and knowing that everything I do ultimately helps patients is why I get up and go to work every morning.

Now, more than ever, technology in healthcare settings has a very direct impact on patient outcomes, and recent technologies are even helping patients become more involved in their own care. Let’s review a few of these patient-centric technologies and their impact on the continuum of care.

The Internet of Me

Shortly before his death, Steve Jobs said: “I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be the intersection of technology in biology.” We’re already seeing strides in this area. One emerging technology is being termed “The Internet of Me” (IoM). IoM is transforming how we interact with technology and how it interacts with us. Wearable items like Fitbit®and Apple Watch™, smart clothing, and mobile health apps now document an individual’s behavioral patterns.

Also called a connected life platform, IoM has the potential to greatly impact healthcare. Medical device peripherals—such as electrocardiograms, glucose meters, blood-pressure monitors, and pulse oximeters—can connect to smart devices to allow patients to monitor their own health and upload personalized health trends to a cloud-based profile. Wearables with pedometers and apps that help patients track their exercise and what they eat allow patients and their providers to review their behavior and make health decisions. This gives care providers access to unprecedented volumes of data for research and diagnosis. Add additional contextual information like location and it becomes possible to generate a comprehensive, long-term profile of an individual that can be compared against a demographic baseline. We now have the ability to leverage the Internet to facilitate a constant connection among the patient, the patient’s environment, and the patient’s care providers.

3-D Printing and Data Science

Personalized medicine (PM) is a medical model centered on customized patient care. As each person has a unique variation of the human genome, PM aims to identify the health plan that best meets a patient’s individual needs. Data science is one area of technology that is advancing our ability to act on PM. As data is collected about patients, correlations can be isolated and patient profiles can be built, allowing care providers to create a customized care plan based on attributes about a patient that are similar to other patients. This is accomplished by mapping biomarkers to diagnosis and successful treatment plans.

Another technology that is helping researchers and physicians develop personalized health plans is the technology of 3-D printing. This exciting new area of technology has the potential to allow a patient’s organs to be rendered outside of the body so that they can be carefully mapped and documented. Not long ago, PM merely seemed like a good idea. Now, with technology, it is a reality.

The Patient Portal

Another technology that is putting the patient at the center of the equation is the patient portal. Patient portals allow patients to get password-protected access to their own Electronic Medical Records (EMR)—including medications, lab results, and educational materials—from anywhere with Internet access. Most patient portals also give patients the ability to communicate with their care providers via chat, email, and/or video call. As time goes on, the data collected from connected devices and applied data science will likely build a digital world around the patient, filling the personalized portal with a customized view of the patient’s health. The patient can use the data in the portal to communicate with clinicians and vice versa, creating a constant flow of inputs and outputs that the patient can access anytime.

As these portals evolve, communication between the patient and care providers will play a larger role, extending to the patient the clinical workflows that currently take place between care providers inside the hospital walls. It is possible that these portals will evolve to take the form of social media networks, with data points hitting a feed like status updates that patients and care providers can view and interact with in real time. This kind of technology will change the way we think about healthcare and the way we look at our own health.

Putting the Patient at the Center of Every Conversation

Whether inside the hospital, at home or on the go, technology is enabling health to be constantly monitored and proactively treated. Patient care and outcomes are the most important priorities in healthcare. In order to accomplish successful outcomes, healthcare organizations must provide the best possible patient experience and must customize care to each individual patient. As IT teams and care providers work together to implement these new technologies, healthcare organizations can put patients at the center of the world—where they belong.

What new technologies is your healthcare organization currently examining? Which one do you think has the greatest potential, or are you the most excited about? I’d love to hear from you with a comment on our Facebook or LinkedIn page.