Focus on Wellness First, Invigorated by Innovative Technologies
New technologies are constantly in development to help people stay healthy, better diagnose disease, treat illness, and provide a better quality of life.
by Fran Turisco
Traditionally healthcare has revolved around treating illness, but what if the focus changed to staying healthy?
What may seem like a subtle shift has major implications for the healthcare industry. The growing aging population worldwide, the increasing number of people with chronic conditions, expanded regulatory requirements, insufficient healthcare resources, and rising costs are all burdening today’s health system, and creating the impetus for major changes.
Our report, “The Future of Healthcare: It’s Health, Then Care,” examines the renewed priority on helping people stay healthy, and the emerging practices and technologies being used to detect and treat medical problems sooner – all with the ultimate goal of achieving better health outcomes. The report, by CSC’s Leading Edge Forum (LEF), identifies five key trends that are shifting the industry’s focus.
When we began our research, we wanted to identify the major trends that are disrupting healthcare to address its current problems, and then investigate the emerging technologies that are facilitating these trends.
E-Power to the Patient discusses patients taking increasing responsibility for managing their wellness and health. The Internet and the smartphone are key technologies for assisting the patient, with thousands of applications (apps) offered for free or a small investment. The issue becomes one of selecting the right technologies and applications that suit the patient’s health status and lifestyle.
Everyone knows they should have a healthy lifestyle, but knowing what to do and which tools to use can be overwhelming. There are more than 5,800 smartphone apps already on the market, providing medical content, capturing patient information, and sending messages and alerts – all of which helps patients manage diets, medications, and health goals. When coupled with simple medical devices, such as a Band-Aid-like heart rate sensor that transmits data wirelessly to a smartphone, managing health gets easier. In addition, social networking sites enable people to connect with others who have the same medical issue, such as obesity, diabetes, or hypertension, to share specific problems, and discuss treatment options and available resources.
Earlier Detection discusses how emerging technologies can diagnose illness sooner, thereby reducing the amount of damage the illness causes, and, at times, eliminating the illness altogether.
When designing computer applications, if you can detect a design problem early on in the project, you can implement a change more quickly using fewer resources to keep the project on track. It’s true in healthcare, too.
Our report cites numerous detection technologies currently in use or in development, including a breath test that uses nanotechnology to detect cancer, an at-home sleep apnea monitoring device, and a smart contact lens with an embedded microchip that monitors for glaucoma. Paper-based inexpensive diagnostic tests have also been developed that can be widely distributed and used by large numbers of people, especially in developing countries. By making tests more affordable and more convenient to use, more people are likely to use them and detect diseases earlier, when they are less expensive, complex, and time-consuming to treat.
High-Tech Healing covers how new breakthroughs in combining medicine with technology are enabling people to improve medical conditions such as blindness and epilepsy, and better manage chronic conditions.
Regardless of how healthy a lifestyle people follow, or how much testing they undergo, people will become ill.
Diabetes, for example, is a significant health concern worldwide. The International Diabetes Federation estimates diabetes will affect up to 438 million by 2030. Managing the disease is a lifestyle change and requires close monitoring of glucose levels. The report cites developments such as a special tattoo and a rice-sized implantable microchip that will be able to monitor glucose levels, and an artificial pancreas that could potentially monitor and correct glucose levels.
Resources: More, but Different examines the evolution of new care models designed to support increasing demand; these models include teams of care resources, each with specific roles and responsibilities. The evolution and faster emergence of high-tech devices will help stanch the escalating drain on medical resources; however, it won’t be enough to eliminate it.
“Healthcare organizations must be learning organizations, using the data they are collecting to make changes in practices to provide better, more efficient, and effective care,” says Dr. Harald Deutsch, vice president for CSC’s healthcare sector in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Using a care-team approach requires that all members share data and communicate; technology can be a team member, too. According to the report, robots will play an increasingly prominent role on the care team as the technology matures. The “Huggable” teddy bear, in development, can provide real-time data on a child’s status, and the “Kompaï R&D” robot provides in-home assistance, including communication.
Another aspect of the new care model is ‘e-visits,’ which range from email and cell phone communication to webcam conferences. The key is using whatever is available to gather data, analyze findings, and provide care wherever it is needed. For example, in remote, poor regions in Africa, volunteer community healthcare workers use cell phones to track and care for pregnant women in their villages.
Global Healthcare Ecosystem emerges by developing the ability to safely connect and share patient and research data, the entire health community can collaboratively focus on the toughest health problems, leading to improved outcomes.
As the world continues to connect, healthcare systems are becoming increasingly linked across states, nations, and world regions. A richer information environment, which is an important means to this ability to share data, is taking shape as a network of networks enhanced by a variety of initiatives starting to connect the dots. For example, the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working together on a Global Public Health Grid to improve public health.
Connecting the dots, not only by linking networks but by linking care givers – professional, family, and technology-based – with innovative diagnostic and healing tools, draws together an industrial-strength support system for people, offering a new potential for staying well.
FRAN TURISCO, who led the report’s research effort, is an Emerging Practices research principal with CSC’s Global Health Services Group.