An Overview of Health Technology

Technology has indisputably become an important and ubiquitous aspect of health care. Patients of all ages and in all stages of life now benefit from modern health advances, from high-tech wearables such as watches for maintaining and improving personal well-being to modern innovations adopted by hospitals and health professionals to improve patient outcomes and help lower the cost of care. All in all, the widespread use of technology is shaping the way we approach health and the way health care is delivered.

Much of medical technology appears to be the stuff of science fiction: organs and other body parts that can be created with a 3D printer, for example, and robots designed to perform surgery. As progress continues, health tech has been recognized as an attractive avenue for investors and startups, which are accelerating the rate of advancement in this area.

Health Monitoring Technology

New medical technology, sometimes referred to as "medtech," depends on smartphones and tablets, online platforms, apps, and other advanced hardware and software. All have become useful conduits for monitoring and assessing health and well-being. Some can track a person's vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, etc.), for example. Others are able to pick up on abnormalities that might otherwise require a costly visit to a doctor or clinic to detect.

Health monitory tech is helping to "democratize" care, allowing patients to play a more active role in their treatment by providing increased access to information about their own health.

An important area of technological development in health is replacing potentially dangerous and invasive procedures with nanotechnology. An example is weight loss technology that involves swallowing an electronic pill that can be positioned in the gastrointestinal tract from outside the body using a magnetic device. Once in place, the pill is designed to release electronic stimulation to trick the brain into thinking the body is full. Another example is capsule endoscopy, a procedure in which a patient swallows a capsule micro-camera, which can then send images to sensors. It's a high-tech, non-invasive way to gather images of the gastrointestinal tract.

Mobile Health

Wireless medical devices have become an important feature of modern medical care. They include wearable sensors, portable biomedical devices, tablets, and even smartphones co-opted to serve as medical devices for pregnancy monitoring, cancer care, ophthalmology, and more.

There are devices that can track, record, and transmit information about a patient's health, or monitor sleep and other functions. The Quantified Self movement was only the beginning.

Mobile health monitoring is reaching beyond activity and diet—almost every aspect of our lives can now be tracked with digital devices guiding us to better health.

Smartphones and digital health devices have a central role in this process and are becoming indispensable in contemporary health care. Their jobs include communication and health promotion, monitoring patients, performing image scans, and even the ability to perform simple procedures in some cases.

Caregivers and family members can see physiological metrics in real time remotely. This alone has revolutionized the monitoring process and response time and kept us more independent than we have ever been before. What used to require an admission to the hospital (and a lot of wires), can now be completed using simple and affordable sensors.

Smart devices can now send data to the cloud and dispatch information to whoever needs it. You can even create an entire ecosystem around your well-being, connected in real time, placing yourself at the center.

The caveat here is that many apps and mobile health devices have not been rigorously tested. The danger here is that they could be inaccurate. It's important to understand the limitations of many of these apps, and to always check with your physician for recommendations and advice.

Electronic Health Records

Although electronic health records (EHR) have been around for more than 30 years, they are only just now beginning to really transform health care. As more and more hospitals adopt EHRs, the potential of this virtual system gets increasingly recognized.

Interoperable health data, accessible anywhere and anytime, are becoming the new gold standard. These systems are improving patient safety and satisfaction.

However, many hurdles still stand in the way of EHRs—from organizational factors to negative attitudes to lack of established ways to practice.

Nonetheless, health care systems are heading toward an epoch in which accessing and sharing patient data in a timely manner will become the norm. Questions such as, “Where is the patient file?” will soon become obsolete. As EHRs become more interoperable, we will be able to benefit from continuous care no matter our locale. This will be particularly relevant if we find ourselves with multiple diagnoses and/or receiving care at different health centers.

Many health professionals and institutions are supportive of recent developments in health tech, recognizing that such systems can save lives and money. Ongoing developments are strengthening the software of EHRs. For instance, improvements in cybersecurity are ensuring our privacy and confidentiality are protected at all times.

Population Health

Health technology is improving all of society. People worldwide can now be assessed and treated with the help of digital health devices. Better accessibility is also influencing the trajectory of research by giving scientists bigger samples to work with as well as putting them into contact with patients who would otherwise be underserved.

Health technology is exploring how to tackle some of modern society’s most prevailing diseases and ailments, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, as well as managing health conditions in less developed countries.

At the same time, digital health technology is making health care more personalized, tailoring the treatment to each individual whenever possible and making health care more efficient.

Digital health is also increasing health literacy, which is vital to various global campaigns aiming to improve population health. These efforts include learning how to utilize the ubiquity of smartphones and other digital health devices to provide free and easy-to-access health information. As we become more empowered through health technology, our levels of engagement naturally increase. Many individuals now participate in online communities and educational platforms specific to conditions they are treating.

Telehealth

Waiting for a doctor’s appointment and visiting an office may become a thing of the past. Your health condition can now be discussed remotely with a qualified health care professional through telehealth (also referred to as telemedicine).

Health technology is not only keeping people out of hospitals and giving them more independence and autonomy, but it is giving them the opportunity to see their caregivers in the comfort of their own homes.

Two leading areas of medicine that are increasingly benefiting from telehealth and telemedicine are gerontology and the management of chronic diseases. Mental health is another emerging area of telemedicine, naturally reducing the risks of the stigma associated with treating mental illness.

Telehealth is also making some types of treatments accessible to patients who might not otherwise be able to obtain care—in many cases making the accessibility to specialists more timely and relevant.

A Word From Verywell

As health care continues to move towards the digital world, many people are becoming concerned about the impact this might have on those who lack an affinity for technology. Health technology is connecting the world, but it can also make some communities and individuals feel left out.

On the other hand, the popularity of smartphones and other smart devices is helping to bridge the existing divide. Free medical apps and websites are now accessible to everyone. These powerful tools empower us through engaging content and sharing knowledge. However, it also needs to be recognized that not all wearables and devices are easy to integrate into our everyday lives.

It has also been suggested that certain vulnerable groups of people—such as the elderly, the economically challenged, and the debilitated—are difficult to design for and therefore passed over by those designing new applications and digital health devices.

Despite continued considerations to ensure we maximize the potential of health technology, it is clear that the rapid advancement of digital health and medical innovation will continue to ensure our health and well-being in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

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Article Sources

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