The Future Is (Almost) Here: 3 Technologies Primed to Change Healthcare in the Coming Years

Technologically speaking, healthcare’s in a pretty cool place right now. With the coming advancements, though, it’s only a matter of time before the tools we use today feel downright primitive. That’s a very good thing, assuming you can get behind the idea of easier jobs, sharper clinical skills, and healthier patients.

Though they may sound unbelievable today, here are three technologies primed to change the healthcare arena within the next few years (and beyond).

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

We’ve already talked a little about artificial intelligence and its role in the larger worlds of data analytics and population health. A smart computer that can pore through unstructured data (i.e., scanned-in medical notes and other unsorted, unclassified info) to find trends and points of improvement is exciting on its own. What’s more impressive is that these advancements are one small subset of the tasks AI will soon carry out in healthcare systems all over the world.

AI’s possible reach is nearly as long as its potential is huge. Much of this promise comes from the idea of overarching, “multi-silo” service. A computer could diagnose a patient’s illness (something AI can already do with surprising skill today), recommend a treatment plan to an overseeing physician or advanced-practice clinician, then examine the final proposed plan for problems such as bad medicine interactions. The technology could also have a big effect on growing interoperability concerns: AI assistants could help brief every professional in a given patient’s healthcare chain, making personalized suggestions based on that patient’s specific factors, needs, and desires.

AI’s ability to analyze troves of data shows promise that goes far beyond population health. Imaging analysis tools, many of which are already close to market, are one such example. AI solutions could mine for trends in databases full of images, locating early cancer signs even teams of humans might not be able to discover. Whether these findings are teachable (i.e., able to be recognized by humans once pointed out) or only locatable by machine, you can bet the ever-decreasing cancer death rate will be lowered even further thanks to assistance from AI analysis.

2. Self-Driving Cars

There’s little question self-driving cars will one day be the only cars on the road. If recent predictions by automakers are true, systems will be in place to support the high-speed, high-accuracy devices by 2019, even if cars don’t yet come standard with that technology.

However long it takes self-driving cars to own the road, though, the technology can make healthcare easier and more accessible in the coming two to three years. With major healthcare systems already partnering with new-wave transportation companies such as Uber, self-driving vehicles are the next logical step. They offer a faster, safer, and more accurate way to transport emergency patients, outpatient visitors, emergency medical technicians, and other personnel.

Here are some examples of what this technology could do:

  • Driverless ambulances could transport EMTs and patients at higher speeds while providing more working space.
  • Larger chains could use fleets of self-directed “taxis” with pickup/dropoff locations and times pulled from the company’s scheduling solution. This could be particularly useful in providing transportation to underserved communities.
  • Vehicles could drive by homeless shelters at certain times for block-scheduled appointments, allowing clinicians to treat patients from the healthcare location.

3. Virtual and Augmented Realities

To some degree, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are apples and oranges. The former is all about placing the user in a “different” reality, while the latter aims to supplement what the user sees with some sort of added digital information. Both are already used to great effect in medical settings today, and both have tremendous potential to do more in 2018–19.

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