Reinventing HealthcareBy Ricardo Moguel | Wed, 03/10/2021 - 13:53
“Health is not valued till sickness comes,” said British historian Thomas Fuller. This became evident when a health emergency forced us to implement measures to avoid the spread of infection and, with it, focus on new disruptive strategies and actions to prevent, control and maintain our physical and mental health in the best possible conditions, even in a lockdown situation.
In this environment, digital tools such as the Internet of Things applied to Medicine (IoMT) and health-centric platforms have become our best allies in the field of medical attention. Not that they have not existed for years, but what the COVID-19 pandemic has achieved is to accelerate the digital transformation in the health sector.
It had been coming; a 2017 poll by Aruba Networks forecasted that by 2019, 87 percent of medical care organizations would have adopted the Internet of Things (IoT), while a study from Juniper Research predicted that in 2020 the IoT would reach US$66 billion in revenue, 20 percent more than in 2019.
The IoMT has applications in personal medical attention, the pharmaceutical industry, medical expenses insurance, the Real Time Health System (RTHS), artificial intelligence, smart beds and pills, robotics, and an endless list of tools. For now, it is used mainly in remote health monitoring, in devices used by patients (biosensors and wearables) and in digital platforms, which connect patients with healthcare professionals.
An almost infinite array of possibilities opens before our eyes: remote surgeries using robotic arms connected to devices via the 5G network; robots in hospitals in charge of distributing drugs, food and other supplies; smart glucose monitors; wristbands, watches, glasses and earphones recording everything from our pulse rate, breathing pattern and stress level to sleep habits; creation and comparison of patterns through big data to anticipate conditions; and applications in smartphones to improve health habits, provide support for mental illnesses, provide company for patients with conditions such as cancer, and stay in constant touch with medical specialists.
The implementation of digital tools in the health environment, aside from countless applications, has advantages such as cost reduction thanks to the digitalization of medical check-ups, improvement of the patients’ quality of life by getting more personalized attention, a reduction in wait times for consultations and studies, and automation of processes to benefit the healthcare personnel, among many others.
But the challenges entailed by this transformation are varied. One is the safe selection and management of data without violating confidentiality; another is having professionals in health information systems, since many processes (in several Latin American countries) are still done on paper, among other factors, due to the shortcomings in hardware, software, and connectivity. It is also necessary to improve information systems in order to have the correct data on patients, and to enable proper care.
Nevertheless, within the context of the health emergency, with the proper use of technology and the expertise gained on what has worked in the previous months, we are moving towards a new normality that will allow us to increasingly integrate technology in the daily routine, from an online reservation to the proper monitoring of patients in a critical state.
Without a doubt, we will see a greater number of technological advances and integrations in 2021, which will be a key element in overcoming the particularly challenging moments we are living.