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Information Technology: In the Driver’s Seat for Healthcare Transformation

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Can information technology (IT) revolutionize healthcare? It already is.

Driven by trends such as fitness monitoring devices, telemedicine, mobility and big data, technological advances are changing the way healthcare is delivered and unlocking new possibilities for hospitals, researchers, doctors, patients and their families. And the power behind many of them is the cloud.

It’s not headline-grabbing like a cancer-detecting bra or a surgery-performing robot. However, the cloud does provide the scalability, security and other attributes that are enabling the healthcare industry to extract, integrate and store the critical data that is integral to many of the following transformative healthcare advances. We’ll discuss how all that works in a future blog. For now, let’s look at some the IT-driven changes taking place in the world of healthcare.

Wearable Health Monitoring

Personal monitoring devices have become almost ubiquitous accessories — fashionable ones at that —with the plethora of options from Fitbit®, Garmin®, Jawbone® and other manufacturers. These so-called “wearables” track everything from the number of steps walked to sleep patterns, blood pressure, heart rate and caloric intake. The healthcare industry is latching on to the trend, developing wearable devices that help transfer actionable data from patients to doctors and caregivers.

For example, Cyrcadia Health now offers a breast cancer screening bra embedded with a network of thermal sensors that detect abnormal circadian heat patterns in breast tissue that is specific to tumors.[1]

At the 2104 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Intel® and Mimo™ teamed up to show off a sensor-embedded baby “onesie” that can transmit a baby’s temperature, heart rate and breathing to its parents via a tiny PC.[2] And Google X has partnered with Novartis’ Alcon division to create contact lenses that track glucose levels in the wearer’s tears and then transfer the data to a mobile device that the physician uses for monitoring.[3]

The Inside Job of Implantables

Remote monitoring isn’t limited to something you wear —at least on the outside of your body. Exciting things are going on in the implantable device space too.  For example, a Wireless Body Area Networks (WBAN) system can monitor diabetes patients by using an implanted blood glucose sensor and insulin pump, gathering and transmitting data to determine exactly how much insulin should be released.[4]

Meanwhile, U.S. servicemen are experiencing better prosthetic limb function through the use of an implantable myoelectric sensor (IMES) system.[5] Even the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is committing $78.9 million to the development of implantable devices that interface directly with the nervous system, hoping to treat and cure chronic conditions ranging from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome to Crohn’s and arthritis.[6]

Beyond Hospital Walls

The whole concept of remote monitoring is also driving another shift in healthcare delivery: the widespread adoption of telemedicine.  Today, more than half of U.S. hospitals use telemedicine — the exchange of medical information from one site to another via electronic communications — to engage with patients remotely and do everything from monitor vital signs to provide full-fledged consultations. [7] In 2011 alone, the Veterans Health Administration delivered over 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine.[8]

The benefits of telemedicine are seemingly endless. Radiologists can examine digital images without being in the same hospital – or even the same city – as the patients. Physicians treating critically ill patients can access the expertise of specialists who could be anywhere in the world as long as they have access to a web-cam. Hospitals and healthcare systems can extend high-quality care to people in rural or remote areas.

Retailers such as Walmart, Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy® are jumping on the telemedicine bandwagon too, with many of their stores now housing telemedicine kiosks.

Healthcare to Go

Among the most important technological advances changing the healthcare industry may be mobile applications that put healthcare information in the hands of consumers, empowering them to take greater control over their health. There’s an app that helps people keep track of their immunizations. Another makes it possible for English-only speaking medical professionals to speak to their non-English speaking patients about specific medical problems. Yet another app enables physicians to send links to Web-based educational material to patients’ smartphones so they can read it whenever they want and wherever they are.

Apps are also being developed to manage critical diseases. For example, University of Massachusetts Medical School diabetes and wound care specialists are assisting a Worcester Polytechnic Institute research team in developing a smart phone application for people with advanced diabetes and foot ulcers.[9]

The Proverbial Iceberg Tip

Of course, the examples covered in this blog don’t even begin to represent the immense number of medical-related apps, technologies and innovations currently available or in development. The healthcare industry may have a reputation of being slow to embrace new technology, but the “Age of the Customer,” the “Internet of Things,” numerous government programs and hungry entrepreneurs are changing that.

Helping them make that change is the cloud, with its ability to lower IT costs, speed up deployment, supplement internal staff and expertise with off-premise resources, handle compliance and security issues and much more. IT may be in the driver’s seat in terms of healthcare transformation, but the cloud will play an important role in its acceleration.

Watch for future blog posts about the role of cloud services in driving and supporting advances in medical technology and care delivery. In the meantime, download Peak 10’s latest infographic, which provides a visual representation of just how IT can revolutionize healthcare.

Download the FREE infographic now.

Note: Fitbit®, Garmin®, Jawbone®, Intel® and Mimo™ are the property of their respective owners.

[1] Salber, Pat. Cyrcadia Health Web Site. “Cyrcadia, A Wearable, Social Breast Cancer Screening Bra.” August 21, 2014. [Blog post.] Retrieved from http://cyrcadiahealth.com/cyrcadia-a-wearable-social-breast-cancer-screening-bra/

[2] Starr, Michelle. “Mimo smart onesie monitors baby, sends smartphone updates.” February 7, 2014. [Article.] Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/mimo-smart-onesie-monitors-baby-sends-smartphone-updates/

[3]Novartis Web site. Novartis to license Google “smart lens” technology. July 15, 2014. [Press Release.] Retrieved from http://www.novartis.com/newsroom/media-releases/en/2014/1824836.shtml

[4] University of Alabama, Huntsville, AL. “A wireless personal health monitoring system using smartphones to upload data could revolutionize US healthcare.” [Article.]  August 1, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.techbriefs.com/component/content/article/10-ntb/tech-briefs/bio-medical/16989

[5] Merrill DR, Lockhart J, Troyk PR, Weir RF, Hankin DL. Development of an implantable myoelectric sensor for advanced prosthesis control Artificial Organs 35: 249–252. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1594.2011.01219.x  2011. Retrieved from Wiley Online Library

[6] The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. “President Obama Announces New Executive Actions to Fulfill our Promises to Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families/” [Fact Sheet.] August 26, 2014. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/08/26/fact-sheet-president-obama-announces-new-executive-actions-fulfill-our-p

[7] American Telemedicine Association Media Kit. Retrieved from: http://www.americantelemed.org/docs/default-source/ata2015/ata-media-kit.pdf

[8] Ibid

[9] UMass Med Now. “Diabetes management? Researchers creating an app for that.” [Article.] December 14, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.umassmed.edu/news/news-archives/2011/12/diabetes-management-researchers-creating-an-app-for-that/

[1] UMass Med Now. “Diabetes management? Researchers creating an app for that.” [Article.] December 14, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.umassmed.edu/news/news-archives/2011/12/diabetes-management-researchers-creating-an-app-for-that/

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