TMCnet Feature
January 04, 2021

Health-tech digital transformations in healthcare for 2021 and beyond

2020 was by far not the year everybody expected it would be, but it was an exciting time to be in the digital healthcare space. Forced by the circumstances triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare sector, like most other sectors, had to embrace technology more than ever before. 

Virtual patients, online consultations, medicine-making bio machines, and microneedles are only a few examples of digital transformations that took place in the healthcare sector this year. 

Technology became an agent of change that is used to manage the current health crisis and prevent the next one. As traditional health systems around the world struggled to survive the challenges triggered by the pandemic, new and innovative solutions had to be found. So, everybody turned to technology for such solutions. 

Technology is more integrated into our day to day lives than ever before. We do pretty much everything using technology these days, from communicating to getting entertainment, shopping online, and now, developing vaccines and protecting ourselves from a deadly virus. 

With all other sectors migrating to the online and embracing technology faster than ever before to manage the changes brought by the pandemic, the healthcare sector had no other option but to do the same. 

So, how did the healthcare sector embrace technology this year? Will these digital transformations in the industry stay beyond 2020? Keep reading below to find out! 

On-demand healthcare services and telemedicine

Only a decade ago, finding a doctor for your health issue meant asking around for recommendations. You’d reach out to your family, friends or work colleagues for recommendations of a trust-worthy doctor who can help with your medical problem. Yet, the process of finding a doctor and booking an appointment to see them could take a lot, up to several days to weeks. 

Yet, since then, things have changed a lot, and now people are going online to obtain medical information. According to 2017 data, 47% of people research doctors, 38% of them research hospitals and medical facilities, and 77% of people go online to book medical appointments. 

Today, thanks to technological advancements, patients can easily and rapidly connect with doctors. Doctors can connect with medical facilities, which speeds up getting and providing healthcare services. 

In 2020, when the healthcare systems have been really busy fighting off the pandemic, this digital transformation was particularly useful. People who needed healthcare services could more easily find them and book an appointment without having to visit medical facilities where they could get exposed to the virus. 

What’s more, while telemedicine isn’t fresh news and has been around for a few years now, in 2020 it has boomed as people feared visiting medical facilities and meeting their doctors in person. Thanks to several apps and tracking devices, healthcare professionals could monitor, diagnose, and treat patients remotely. 

VR and AR

VR and AR have great potential in bringing innovation in the healthcare sector. They can support patient empowerment, training of novice healthcare professionals, and work optimization of experienced doctors, and the development of new treatment options such as AR-enhanced surgery. 

Healthcare professionals use VR technology to treat pain, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even stroke. But that’s not all, VR is becoming more important among residents and users to hone their skills or to plan complicated surgeries. 

It’s no doubt that VR and AR are here to stay in the healthcare sector as it is expected that global virtual and augmented reality in the healthcare market is expected to reach $5.1 billion by 2025. 

In these times of global health crisis, VR can offer scientists a safe alternative to conducting potentially life-saving studies and trials. Leveraging VR for medical research and clinical studies can be an innovative solution when conventional labs worldwide are shut. 

Cloud computing and blockchain 

Cloud computing and blockchain are both pretty new and innovative technologies that are set to dominate the healthcare IT ecosystem over the next decade. These technologies can help provide remote consultations, store large amounts of medical information that must be easily accessible and shareable in real-time, and deliver diagnostic imaging reports. What’s more, both technologies can help solve many of the cyber-security issues that the healthcare sector has been dealing with for some time now. 

When applied to the health sector in times of a pandemic, the two technologies can have many use cases related to the current health crisis. They can help with contact tracing, patient-record sharing, and provide credentialing faster and more efficient solutions. 

Googled health questions 

What do people do these days when they don’t know the answer to a question? They grab their smartphones and ask google for that piece of information. 

Well, it’s no surprise that this year Google (News - Alert) saw many health-related questions as the entire world is fighting an ongoing pandemic that threatens people’s life. Unsurprisingly, many people turned to Google with health queries, most of them related to Coronavirus. According to Google’s Year in Search 2020 report, people searched for “how to make hand sanitizer”, “how to make a mask”, or “how is Coronavirus spread?”. 

Besides questions about COVID-19 virus, people also turned to Google for “self-care” tips, from breathing exercises to meditation, relaxation techniques or “how to stay calm”. Immunity boost has obviously made it on the list of online queries regarding preventing COVID-19 infections. When searching for natural remedies for Coronavirus, Google results would suggest a lot of rest, plenty of fluids, and nutritious foods. Suppose users want to find ways to boost their immune system. In that case, they can find tips on exercise, where they can find the best elderberry supplement, well known as a natural remedy that reduces cold duration and symptoms, or learn how to take steps to avoid infections such as good hand hygiene.

With doctors around the world being busy fighting off the virus, Google has become a reliable and helpful source of information on identifying symptoms, finding natural home remedies for mild medical issues, and tips on how to stay calm in these uncertain times. 

High-tech face masks 

It was only a matter of time until someone would think of transforming the basic surgical mask into a high-tech device that will help fight off the COVID-19 virus better. Earlier this year in November, a Romanian designer, Burzo Ciprian, won the MIT (News - Alert) Media Lab prize for his high-tech face mask prototype. 

What’s so great about this face mask? It is equipped with a sensor capable of detecting COVID-19 particles in the surroundings. The mask can be connected to a smartphone via an app, allowing users to know the number of surrounding air-borne pathogens and the risk of infection with COVID-19 in certain public places. In other words, the high-tech mask allows us to know who is infected in our area. 

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