How will the medical industry influence the future of technology?

It is safe to say that the last decade, if not the last 12 months, have seen some real accelerations in technology. Cast your mind back to 2009; Android 1.0 is released, and Stephen Fry writes one of his first tweets about being stuck in a lift. Since then, we’ve had the rise of social media, augmented reality and smartwatches — to name a few.

With these advances, we begin to expand these technologies into new fields. Drivers can now auto park in tricky parallel spaces, photographers can wirelessly stream their work, and even farmers can now use software to alert them to changes in the ph of their soil.

One industry that hasn’t shied away from using modern technology is the health industry. In fact, mobile health apps were downloaded 3.7 billion times in 2017 alone. With such a fast-paced rate of growth, we dive a little deeper into the current state of the health industry and discuss some ideas around the direction of medical applications.

How efficient are today’s medical applications?

At the time of writing, there are over a quarter of a million health apps currently on the market. The applications available seem to fall into one of the following two categories: Health or Medical.

Health apps monitor your heart rate, measure your sleeping pattern, and even alert you when it thinks you aren’t getting enough exercise. Medical applications are focused on reminding you about time-sensitive medication, video calls with doctors if you are remote, and emergency assistance notifications to aid in a crisis.

On the 17th of September 2018, Jennifer Aldrich published a story about her 15-year-old daughter, who one afternoon, suffered from a frontal lobe seizure. This had never happened before, so when her daughter lost consciousness, Aldrich became almost paralysed with shock, to the point where she was unable to remember the number she needed to alert the emergency services. Luckily, Aldrich was able to make the call, and the EMT (emergency medical technicians) arrived in enough time to provide all the necessary care to save her daughter’s life.

Why did Jennifer decide to share this story with the world? Because she wanted to highlight the importance of Apple Watch’s newest feature: an emergency alert that is sent if someone falls and doesn’t get up for a specified period. If Aldrich’s daughter is alone and experiences a seizure, both Jennifer and the emergency services will be alerted, and an ambulance can be sent out within seconds. Jennifer’s daughter isn’t alone, and with 4% of the Earth’s population suffering from seizures, advances like this has the potential to save millions of lives.

Another feature of today’s smartwatch is the ability to measure your heartbeat. Some are now equipped with an electrocardiogram sensor that can take a 30 second ECG of your heart’s rhythm. If your watch measures an irregular heartbeat, it can warn you about the risks of complications such as strokes or heart failure, and you can be connected with a general practitioner.

The evolution of medical applications is not just for commercial use. Did you know some medical professionals are using applications to help during complex procedures too? For example, in 2013 a “smart knife” revolutionised the way in which oncologists could determine the correct treatment for cancer patients. When surgeons can’t determine the size of a tumour, they can sometimes unintentionally remove healthy cells or leave behind cancerous ones. The intelligent knife, or iKnife as it’s better known, can analyse lipid molecules in cell membranes. The ratios of these lipids can identify various biological tissues, including tumours. The knives can send this data to an application with a 1-second delay and provide the surgeons with information on where is safest to cut.

What are the predictions for the future of medical applications?

AR (augmented reality), robotics and data capture are all predicted to see huge growths. One aspect of medical technology we are expected to see growth in over the coming years is the ability to monitor triggers, and predict medical conditions before they happen. Startups are currently looking into ways of testing blood sugar levels by attaching a finger prick device to your smartwatch or phone. Some charities are looking into smart inhalers to monitor patterns, such as time of day, in inhaler use for asthma users to determine dosage and possible triggers. All of these developments need large amounts of data, and in the current climate, we’re expected to see a 5000% rise in data capture over the next 5 years..

Credits go to Zignal.com, click the image to be directed to their website.

Diseases with high levels of public interest are already beginning to see developments in technology for diagnostics. For example, software-based Alzheimer’s diagnostic testing can now detect impairments on the hippocampus by evaluating your eye movements.

Augmented devices are set to play a massive part in how surgeons work in an operating room. Accenture is currently using Google Glasses to build software that will be able to transfer the patient’s vital signs onto the lens so that surgeons will be able to make informed decisions in real time. By having this data available to them at all times, it allows for degrees of portability and contextual information when they need it the most.

Some hospitals are looking into using augmented reality to simulate real-life situations so that students can practise procedures with minimal risk. There is also talk of hospitals using AR to record and stream live surgeries so that students can watch along in the eyes of a surgeon, and gain a better understanding of the practicalities of medicine.

From video calls with doctors to augmented operating theatres, the scope of technology in the medical field is limitless. And with the rise of data capturing, predictive diagnostics is just around the corner. Whether it’s used commercially to help monitor your current levels of health, or used professionally to gather data in an emergency, it is clear that technology is well on it’s way to creating a more efficient healthcare system. Are there any medical advances you’d like to see in the future?