The constant pressure to reduce costs associated with health care delivery and concurrently improve services drives innovation in in the healthcare industry: From digital data management to innovative medical devices and diagnostic tools, appropriate use of technology has the potential to facilitate better care while also reducing the cost of it's delivery.
As such it is no surprise that healthcare technology adoption is gathering momentum globally despite barriers to their use: not just those associated with efficacy and cost, but also privacy and security concerns.
As technology assumes a greater and more widespread role in healthcare, the patient experience and clinician's workflows will changed. But, as the various constraints surrounding technology adoption are resolved, to what extent can clinicians and their patients expect their daily lives to be altered over the coming years?
A recent article entitled "Is Alexa About to Become a Doctor’s Assistant?" discusses a podcast with John Halamka, MD, CIO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Healthcare System and professor of international healthcare innovation at Harvard Medical School, where he predicts that mobile devices will dominate data access in terms of records, schedules, medications and more for both clinicians and patients. They will be used along with apps that integrate Internet of Things (IoT) data, allowing more individualised care as patients interact with their own electronic health record (EHR). He envisages reduced face to face contact between patients and clinicians (with accompanying reduction it the associated of time and monetary burden), this being replaced by telemedicine where appropriate and he expects the majority of healthcare applications to use the cloud.
In Prof Halamka's view, over the next year and a half we will also see blockchain technology assisting with patient consent for data sharing in two significant ways. He says: "It can host patient consent preferences in smart contracts that any application can access, clarifying how data can flow among stakeholders while respecting patient privacy preferences. Blockchain can also provide audit trails that ensure integrity of a medical record and track where data was exchanged. Blockchain will not replace EHRs—it’s not a database—but it will help build trust for health data sharing"
A CNBC article earlier this year reported that Amazon is bolstering it's position in the healthcare industry with creation of a health and wellness group for Alexa: Focusing initially on postpartum and diabetes services and with particular attention given to regulatory and data privacy provisions. In order for both patients and clinicians to interact with EMR via voice assistance, trust is paramount and therefore compliance with HIPAA necessary.
Prof Halamka predicts increasing use of voice assistance and added in the article "By the end of 2018, I predict Amazon Alexa will be covered by business associate agreements so that healthcare organizations can design Alexa skills that interact with EHRs and practice management systems while managing privacy." and goes on to say "We’ll even be able to use sentiment analysis to assess voices for stress, anxiety and depression."
With regards to artificial intelligence and machine learnings Prof Halamka predicts that the healthcare industry will need to improve stored data quality in order for it to be of a grade that enables training of machine learning algorithms. Increased use of machine learning in place of traditional methods of data analysis would also be his expectation and he comments in this article that: "Artificial intelligence will not replace clinicians; it will augment them. Although algorithms can identify patterns, they cannot apply emotional or human factors. If your doctor can be replaced by a computer, then he or she should be."
Earlier this year a Google cloud blog entry detailed "How Chrome Enterprise is helping healthcare companies provide better patient experiences", and described healthcare organisations as rapidly adopting Chrome OS due to it potentially being faster, more secure and also "integrated with critical virtualization solutions". Indeed In the longer term Prof Halamka agrees that Windows desktop will be replaced by Chromebooks running cloud hosted tools .
While the big or global players, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google, for example, dominate the news relating to advances in healthcare delivery, new startups creating discrete projects have also proved successful and innovative services that integrate with current EHR hold particular promise moving forwards. So we can conclude that the only certainly in terms of the future of healthcare experience is that of constant evolution.