Healthcare Technology Trends 2018: Macadamian’s Experts Weigh In

Macadamian Technologies | April 17, 2018 | 11 Min Read

We asked our experts in healthcare solutions about how we can expect technology to transform healthcare in 2018 and what businesses in the healthcare industry should pay attention to.

Many industry experts have provided predictions on what they believe will be key focuses in regards to healthcare technology this year. After connecting with leaders in healthcare innovation at Frost & Sullivan and HIMSS, and with events like Dev4Health and HLTH on the horizon, we asked our experts in healthcare solutions about how we can expect technology to transform healthcare in 2018 and what businesses in healthcare should pay attention to.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

There’s been a lot of talk about the impact of AI on healthcare; some might even say it’s become a healthcare buzzword. It has the capability to improve workflow efficiency, a desirable outcome seeing as the aging population is increasing and caregivers and physicians are limited. Being able to quickly access and analyze vast amounts of data with extreme accuracy frees up time and resources that can be spent on other priorities.

Fred Boulanger – CEO

I think AI has reached peak hype in 2017. I think now we’re seeing very specific use cases of AI – we will step away from the chatter surrounding the replacement of folks with AI and instead, will move towards how AI can augment the healthcare system’s effectiveness. For example, AI could be used as an accessibility tool; a frontline tool; a way to understand if one should consult a medical professional about their condition. AI solutions will still produce false positives, but far less than that produced due to human error, thus, a gain for the whole system. When one needs to consult, as per AI findings, that accessibility solution will be bundled with a telehealth solution that allows them to consult live with a doctor/super nurse. As a result, when medical professionals instruct patients to go to the hospital, the number of false positives arriving at the hospital will be less than ever, making better use of resources.

Bogdan Blaga – Director of Engineering

AI and machine learning are providing new ways of analyzing and potentially anticipate disease. The technology can help establish new and faster ways of identifying drug candidates and can be used to analyze behavioral patterns for truly personalized healthcare. As technology experts, we are now faced with the responsibility to figure out how to integrate AI in existing systems and make them available to specialists, enabling them to make better decisions. They will become part of the tools SMEs leverage in their day-to-day to take medicine and personal treatments to the next level.

With regards to bots and personal assistants, one thing is certain. People are social animals. We will always look for social interactions. This is especially important if it relates to our health. We don’t just want a good doctor, we want one that can understand us. Besides this, we as a society have a general behavioral tendency to want everything now. We don’t want to wait until working hours, and in some cases, we simply can’t. This is where interaction with bots and human-like virtual assistants (voice & text) towards healthcare will become more common practice.

Patients are looking for empathic, human responses from voice solutions; this is something that will differentiate services in this space. An assistants capacity to learn quickly and evolve will give them a unique ability to provide personalized advice and in extreme cases, they might even give people the illusion of immortality as described in this case. The future in this space is exciting!

Using Blockchain to Securely Share Information

We’ve discussed the possibilities of blockchain being used to achieve data interoperability in healthcare – a challenge that medical device vendors and other HC software vendors are currently facing. Blockchain allows for decentralized authorization, immutable transaction logging, and distributed ledger – all features which can bring the goal of healthcare data interoperability closer to reality.

Bogdan Blaga – Director of Engineering

Blockchain is a decentralized, secure way of storing and sharing information, which makes it very appealing to the healthcare industry for solving the interoperability challenge. Besides this, it promises an increased control over individual data at the personal level, allowing people to define where and how their PHI can be used, through the use of smart contracts. A particularly interesting area of use is around genomics and the collaboration between researchers, scientists, and patients. This part of healthcare is already seriously considering the use of technology for sharing information in a secure and controlled way. Increased information availability and aggregation of patient information will allow different healthcare domains to communicate better and come up with better insights into different diseases and treatments (ie. the cardiologist will be able to see details about your diabetes treatment and maybe even your workout routine).

All this being said, at the moment this was written, we haven’t seen an implementation of this technology in healthcare worth mentioning. Still, the future looks promising and as the technology matures and adoption increases outside of fintech, it will unlock research that was previously thought impossible and take us a step further towards personalized medicine.

You Might Also Like: Combining AI and Blockchain to Push Frontiers in Healthcare.

The Rise of Voice Technology

In a recent post, we briefly discuss the increase in use of voice-enabled technology and how clinicians have demonstrated openness to using voice assistants in clinical settings. Voice interfaces address challenges in accessibility, have the potential to engage patients outside clinical settings, and provide convenience.

Ed Sarfeld – User Experience Architect

Conversational interfaces are increasingly seen as a means to better engage and capture information from all user populations. Capturing vital sign measurements easily or charting information for care practitioners eases the burden typically associated with those tasks. Easily captured and shared patient data allows for alerts to be triggered to a circle of care.

Timon LeDain – Director, Emerging Technologies & Products

With companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft tackling this area, we can expect to see rapid growth in conversational experiences across the broader healthcare sector addressing some of healthcare’s biggest challenges.

Fred Boulanger – CEO

Voice is a solution that will provide relief to doctors by allowing them to quickly add an annotation to patient files and reduce the paperwork burden they are under today for patient records.

You Might Also Like: Applications of Voice Assistants in Healthcare.

Consumer Wearables Meet Medical Devices

Data collected by consumer wearables is becoming more accurate and reliable and non-medical grade wearables are being leveraged to indicate trends in health condition and abnormalities.

Timon LeDain – Director, Emerging Technologies & Products

The convergence of fitness wearables and diagnostic devices has arrived. From the FDA-approved EKG wristband accessory for the Apple Watch, to the integration of wearables to provide ambient and continuous collection of patient data that enables AI-assisted diagnosis – 2018 will be the year where the two solitudes, consumer wearables and FDA-approved medical devices, converge.

Non-medical grade wearables like Fitbit and Garmin are being leveraged in healthcare solutions not for the absolute number they provide, but as an indicator of trends. If your step count averages a consistent amount week over week, but then drops by 50%, this is an actionable event – even if the device only measures step count to within 5% accuracy.

Cybersecurity in Healthcare

The positive impact that advances in healthcare technology can have on population health is promising, but let’s not forget the risk that comes with the digitalization of health information. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office for Civil Rights, over 113 million Americans health records were exposed in 2015 and that number exceeded 16 million in 2016. Security breaches of Personal Health Information can be extremely costly for companies responsible for the safe storage of patient information and damage done by leaked information is irreversible for patients. With innovation comes the responsibility to keep information secure.

Timon LeDain – Director, Emerging Technologies & Products

With an increase in connected medical devices, especially those that are life-sustaining like pacemakers and insulin pumps, security of these devices are going to be paramount to avoid an exploit that leads to a serious health consequence or even death.

Geoffrey Parker – Director, Healthcare Software Development

While it’s easy to look at devices that are life-sustaining and certainly they’re important, security is also important for any device that connects into a system. With increases in connectivity, hacking any of these interfaces could result in the exfiltration of large amounts of personal data based on the systems that they also connect to. Ultimately security needs to be designed into the products that we’re building right from the start, rather than an afterthought.

Pro Tip From Mark Walker – Senior Software Engineer: OWASP lists the possible attack surfaces that developers of medical devices should be aware of.

Mark Thompson – Healthcare Software Architect:

IoT has given us a preview into the risks of increased connectivity and the growth of connected medical devices just raises the stakes. Connectivity is at the heart of medical device innovation, but manufacturers aren’t necessarily equipped for the challenges associated with securing these distributed systems. This is not a problem to be solved and then neglected. These systems demand ongoing monitoring and updates to stay ahead of the latest security concerns. “Build, test, ship” is now only the start of the life cycle.

Bogdan Blaga – Director of Engineering

Security was and continues to be, of extreme importance for Healthcare applications. As more and more companies move to the cloud, platforms increase their service offering around security and companies that leverage this will need to become more aware of the features they can tap into. Also, with the adoption of GDPR, healthcare organizations that have business in Europe or serve European citizens will have to comply and put in place strategies to give patients and providers control and trust that their information is used ethically in order to serve their interests.

Where is Digital Health Going in 2018?

With the US healthcare revenue model changing from heads-in-beds to value-based care, the healthcare consumer has emerged. While patients are subject to the decisions of their clinicians and healthcare system, today’s health consumers have more decision-making power when it comes to their healthcare options. As a result, stakeholders in the industry are under pressure to find ways to engage patients in managing their health as to reduce time in clinics, to connect the circle of care, and deliver quality care in ways that best suit the health consumer.

The golden goose of healthcare technology will be solutions that:

  • Thoroughly understand and are designed around the needs of patients.
  • Enable quality patient care outside of the clinic.
  • Engage patients to change behavior that impacts their health.
  • Gather and analyze patient data to make meaningful decisions.

When asked about where healthcare is heading, here is what some of our experts had to say:

Lorraine Chapman – Senior Director, Healthcare Services

We will continue to see an explosion in the digital health transformation. Fitness and wellness trackers/apps have been increasing in popularity and usage at an exponential rate. Digital clinical applications are also on the rise and will be an integral part of improving patient outcomes, particularly in the outpatient area (e.g., remote health monitoring). However, right now, these apps represent two different divides: patient-reported/generated data and clinical data.

Where I hope to see a great deal of movement is the integration of these two worlds. How can systems make use of patient report data (from health and wellness apps) in conjunction with the clinical data they get from, say, “mental health” apps? What does this say about a person’s adherence to treatment plans, for instance, or about how they may be managing certain conditions (be it asthma, diabetes, obesity, etc) and the impact on their overall health? With the amount of data that will require parsing and analysis, certainly, this is also a space that will have applications for analytics and AI, especially as it relates to population health.

Bogdan Blaga – Director of Engineering

Overall, I see healthcare becoming more and more of a personal practice – something that is human-centric. From being able to get tested and have the results on the spot during your checkup, to using AI and bots that can answer most of your questions, make appointments, and even be empathetic to your struggles, your health will become something you are deeply connected with and become an aware and informed choice.

Checkups will no longer be about figuring out what’s wrong – instead, they’ll focus on seeking an understanding of the body as a complex, interconnected system. People are consuming healthcare differently than before; they want to take their health into their own hands and write their own story. Because of that, their expectations surrounding healthcare are evolving, producing a demand for a new breed of services. Being able to access health services on demand through trusted applications, telemedicine, and home devices will become more appreciated as people want more control over their well being. Instead of relying completely on the physician, people are looking to empower themselves with information through different channels, augmenting the standard clinic visits. They are demanding to have more personal, human-like conversations with their physician – much like a premium service.

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