Technology Trends
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Healthcare Technology Trends in 2022

Over the last 24 months, healthcare has been a prominent (if not the most prominent) issue in everyone's mind. Since the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, Covid-19 has featured in news pieces, magazine articles, podcasts, and virtually in every other form of media.

The pandemic has caused sickness and death worldwide, but it has also become the starting point for new trends in medical research. The most obvious outcome of this is the range of coronavirus vaccines developed by some of the biggest players in the pharma field, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna. But medical research goes far beyond these compounds. The coming months and years are likely to see more achievements and breakthroughs in the healthcare sector, for two reasons: sheer ingenuity, and the application of digital technologies.

The global digital health market size was valued at $145,884.3 million in 2020, and is projected to reach $767,718.9 million by 2030, registering a CAGR of 17.9% from 2021 to 2030. In this article, we discuss some of the hottest healthcare trends expected during 2022 and the years ahead.

Digital technology for healthcare

Even in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with AI routines, Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) slowly permeating most industrial sectors, many hospitals and medical practices still rely heavily on antiquated, paper-based systems to document patient and disease data. This is clearly inefficient, and worse still, data can be open to manipulation. An all-digital platform offers immediate advantages:

  • More efficient, tamper-free data management
  • Enhanced access to medical information
  • Better overall patient experience
  • Improved communication between medical facilities and remote practitioners
  • Enablement of telehealth

These are just general observations about how digitalization can make a world of difference in healthcare, both from a patient and practitioner perspective. From an innovation point of view, healthcare is continuously evolving. In the context of the ongoing pandemic, there are several trends bound to expand and grow over the coming months.

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Telehealth

The prefix 'tele' derives from the Greek adjective tēle, 'far off' or 'long-distance.' Telehealth is 'long distance health,' or 'remote health.' 

The provision of healthcare in a remote setting is hardly new. As far back as 1879, the use of the telephone was proposed as a means to reduce the number of in-person visits to medical practices. In the 1920s, ships on open seas received medical advice through their radio sets. Later, in the space era, physicians on the ground constantly monitor astronauts' health status. (The term 'telemedicine' was indeed coined in the 1960s, at NASA's behest.)

But the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the resulting restrictions (lockdowns, social distancing, etc.) brought the issue of telehealth to prominence. By April of 2020, a large percentage of Medicare primary care visits were conducted remotely. 

Telehealth is a sort of 'catch-all' term that encompasses a wide range of services, from general practitioner queries, speech therapy, counseling, and many more. And because of advances in digital technologies, and a wider reach of broadband networks, these services are likely to broaden in availability and scope over the coming 12 months, and beyond.

Staff wellness apps

Many companies boast about caring for staff's well-being, etc. in their corporate brochure. Often, the truth falls short because of budgetary, culture, or other reasons.

A company is only as good and resilient as its staff. People are what powers a company's ongoing existence and growth, and because of this, people-centric developments should be a priority.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the work environment, affecting millions of people worldwide. This change has not always been for the better. In many cases, people's mental health has suffered because of the relative isolation of 'forced' remote work.

This new paradigm has also meant that HR departments have had to come up with ways to maintain the team's cohesion, and also devise strategies to boost mental health. Neither task is easy when everyone's working remotely, so one of the emerging trends in this particular aspect is the development of apps that support staff wellness. Previously 'niche' apps like Calm, Liberate, or Headspace suddenly received a massive influx of new users. Calm, for example, reported getting 10m new users in a very short space of time.

Apps are only part of the wellness strategy. Other people-centric initiatives include staff retreats, team-building events, and yoga and massage therapy at the office, to name but a few.

This sort of approach to well-being (both physical and mental) has an added advantage: it acts as a preventative measure, moving away from more traditional treatment-centric therapies. In other words, looking after someone's well-being offers a method for potentially preventing someone from becoming unhappy, or even physically ill because of work-related reasons. Apart from the obvious benefits from a health perspective, it enables a more cost-effective methodology to deal with employee satisfaction. According to a report by Deloitte, this trend is likely to expand over the next 20 years. By 2040, we might see up to 60% of spending going towards the improvement of staff health and well-being. 

Virtual and augmented reality

The term 'virtual reality (VR)' has been around, in one way or another, since the mid-1950s. What's considered the earliest example of a VR system, Sensorama, was invented in 1956. In the 1990s, the burgeoning video game industry seized on the VR concept and released a series of arcade machines, including Virtuality (1991) and VR-1 (1994). Due to high maintenance costs, and technological limitations of the era, both quickly disappeared from arcade salons, and the VR craze died down for a while. Then, back in the first decade of the 2000s, Google turned its attention to VR, releasing its popular Street View app. The first iteration of the Oculus Rift appeared in 2010.

VR has always had a 'gimmicky' air about it due to its association with video games. But in the healthcare sector, this technology can be applied in a variety of ways to greatly enhance a range of disciplines, including medical training, patient education, pain management, and physical therapy, among many others. As technology evolves, so does its versatility and applicability.

Recent figures suggest that the VR healthcare market was worth somewhere in the region of $2bn in 2019. But the latest reports indicate a massive growth of this particular sector, with projections reaching $34bn by 2027. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) in medicine 

In many countries, healthcare is a patchwork of private and public entities that lack cohesion and uniformity. This is particularly apparent in the United States, for example, as every state has its own regulations, guidelines, and health systems. 

Over the past few years, the Internet-of-Things (IoT) concept has risen to prominence. Understood as a network of interconnected, web-enabled devices that collect and send data to a gateway, the IoT has its own spinoff in healthcare. The Internet-of-Medical-Things (IoMT) can be described as a connected infrastructure of medical devices, software applications, health services, and health systems, all forming a coherent whole to enable quick and easy data sharing.

The potential applicability of IoMT is huge. Quicker, more accurate diagnoses, for example, as medical professionals do not waste time requesting patient information to other health systems. This can be life-saving. Also, it removes the need for many in-person visits. According to Goldman Sachs, IoMT can save the healthcare industry up to $300m a year. 

The IoMT market is only likely to grow throughout 2022 and beyond. Valued at around $44.5bn in 2018, this sector is likely to expand to a massive $254bn by 2026.

Smart implants

A medical implant is a device or tissue placed on, or inside the human body. External implants include prosthetics that replace missing limbs or extremities, while internal implants range from stents to insulin pumps.

Some of these implanted devices can be exceedingly costly to produce, which translates into affordability issues for the patient. In emerging countries for instance, most people would not be able to pay for a prosthetic limb.

But advances in medical technology, particularly in the field of 3D bioprinting, coupled with new and cheaper materials, can offer a significant reduction in production time and costs.

There have also been significant advances in neural implants, that is, implants on the human brain to partially restore sight, for instance, or improve or restore mobility of paralyzed limbs. Neural implants have a very long way to go still, and this is where smart medical implants come in. One of the latest medical innovations, a tiny chip implanted inside a human body can regulate hormone levels, monitor a range of biological functions, and send data back to a medical facility, thanks to IoMT. 

Conclusion

There are plenty and fascinating innovations to be found in the era of digital healthcare. Technology, when applied to the improvement and enhancement of human life, can make a whole world of difference to people who might have long suffered from disabling conditions, such as blindness, deafness, paralysis, or chronic illness.

These trends are among many others to be watched over the coming year, and far beyond that. The human body is imperfect, and disease is never too far away. Digital technology can help to make everyone's life much better.

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