By Dan Matthews, Writer, Content Consultant, and Researcher
Medicine and technology have always gone hand-in-hand. This fact has perhaps never been more apparent today, with some of the most powerful and innovative technologies, from robotics to artificial intelligence (AI) to Big Data are proliferating in the modern healthcare industry to fight disease and save lives.
But perhaps the greatest advantage of this happy marriage of medicine and technology is in healthcare tech’s capacity to facilitate and dramatically enhance patient-centered care. Indeed, though it may seem somewhat paradoxical, modern machines are increasingly restoring the humanity of healthcare.
Telemedicine and Telehealth
Perhaps one of the best examples of technology’s role in enhancing patient-centered care can be found in the ascendancy of telehealth and telemedicine. Thanks to the advent of remote care technologies in telemedicine, more patients than ever before can enjoy consistent access to high-quality medical care.
And this means that traditionally underserved and marginalized patient populations such as the elder, the disabled, and those without reliable transportation to medical appointments are at last able to build long-standing relationships with trusted healthcare providers. This includes the ability for patients to receive on-demand care when they need it without ever leaving the comfort and safety of their homes.
But it’s not only in the form of the virtual office visit that telehealth may be used to drive patient-focused practice. Today, a vast and growing roster of telehealth technologies exists to enable clinicians to better monitor and diagnose patients.
For instance, health wearables are revolutionizing patient care practices because their continuous monitoring capabilities mean that the patient is always connected to their healthcare team, no matter where they may be. These devices, for example, can provide doctors, nurses, and caregivers secure access to real-time patient data and can even send out alerts when potentially dangerous changes to the patient’s vital signs are detected.
Such patient access in the form of both on-demand consultations and continuous remote monitoring is also a highly effective strategy for facilitating patient engagement. As the relationship between the patient and their healthcare provider grows through the use of these technologies, so, too, does the care provider’s understanding of and ability to address patients’ unique needs, enhancing both treatment planning, patient education, and the likelihood of treatment compliance.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data
In addition to the use of telehealth and telemedicine to increase the patients’ access to and connection with their healthcare providers, a litany of technologies have emerged to promote evidence-based, patient-centered care.
For example, AI imaging technologies facilitate accurate and timely diagnosis by using machine learning to scan and “read” medical images. And because these technologies are both more accurate and more sensitive than the human senses, patients often require fewer scans and, thus, less exposure to radiation and other risks associated with medical imaging.
In addition to AI, Big Data can be used to facilitate diagnosis as well as to devise customized, evidence-based treatment protocols specifically tailored to the patient’s individual needs. For instance, nurse leaders are increasingly using patients’ Electronic Health Records (EHR) in conjunction with Big Data analytics to support evidence-based practice (EBP). By inputting the patient’s medical information derived from the EHR into a secure health informatics database, nurses can make informed, real-time decisions regarding patient care without ever leaving the patient’s bedside.
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies aren’t just for gamers anymore. In fact, they’re playing an increasingly important role in the medical industry. VR simulations, for instance, are being used to provide training for medical students and experienced practitioners alike.
Best of all, augmented reality technologies are also now being used to prepare surgeons and specialists to practice performing complex and/or novel procedures before performing them on the patient. These simulations are often based on the patient’s data, replicating the specificities of the patient’s anatomy, for example.
AR may even be used while the treatment is in process, better enabling the surgeon or physician to visualize the field and the procedure. The result is a highly individualized standard of practice, as healthcare providers learn not simply the routine of a procedure based on the needs of the average patient, but rather they define and master the protocol based on the specific requirements of the individual patient before them.
When we think of cutting-edge technology, the human element is often one of the last things that comes to mind. But the reality is that today’s healthcare technology is proving to be a powerful tool in driving patient-centered care. Among the most important technologies enabling such patient-focused care are telehealth, artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data, and virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR). From supporting patient access to care to facilitating evidence-based treatments to formulating highly individualized care strategies, technology is making it easier than ever for practitioners to help patients live longer, healthier lives.