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What are the key trends in digital medicine?

digital medicine digital medicine
Photo credit:

Taki Steve

Technology is disrupting the provision of healthcare and medicine on a global basis. What changes can we expect to see in the coming years?

Gone are the days when healthcare was confined to a doctor’s office or a hospital.

Information technology has introduced the age of digital medicine, and a growing number of traditional and non-traditional IT companies are stepping into the fray, offering an array of new healthcare tools and services.

The trends go far beyond the plethora of wearable devices developed to track fitness goals.

Advances in sensor technology, widespread wireless capabilities and exponential increases in electronic data and digital analytics – these are just a few of the developments already revolutionizing health care and digital medicine, from disease prevention and detection, to treatment and monitoring.

Digital disruption is changing the very nature of medical practice.

Technologies such as telemedicine are redefining how doctors and patients interact, while new and plentiful sources of personalized health information and advice are, to some extent, replacing physicians

Google, Apple and Microsoft have invested heavily in platforms that offer consumers the ability to track and capture data on their own health.

These platforms and others like them are enabled by sensor-equipped, wearable devices that register movement, heart and muscle activity, as well as record an abundance of data points, such as body temperature, hydration, glucose and oxygen levels, respiration, ingestion and sleep cycles.

Somewhat lesser-known names like Zephyr and Garmin are carving their own spaces in the digital medicine sector. Established GPS player Garmin has entered the heart-tracking space.

Meanwhile, Zephyr is applying its deep experience in wireless, wearable consumer products to bring affordable patient monitoring to hospitals and into patients’ homes.

On another front, pioneers in augmented reality like DAQRIf have become involved in neuroscience. DAQRI recently acquired brain-activity company Melon, the creator of a headband that gauges the user’s focus by measuring their brain’s electrical activity.

Meanwhile, some very established and traditional pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies have entered the IT space.

Today’s drug pipeline is filled with all sorts of combination products, be it implantables, patches or micro-electrical mechanical systems (MEMS).

Putting data to work

Data generation and collection facilitated through home diagnostics, telemedicine and retail clinics also are part of the changing healthcare landscape.

For example, diabetes management – monitoring and analysing blood sugars – has significantly improved because electronic devices such a continuous glucose monitoring systems.

And diabetes diagnostic services are offered by an increasing number of convenient outlets, such as retail chains like Walgreens.

Health economics and the wider debate around healthcare costs are key dynamics driving the growth of the digital medicine segment.

The paradigm shift extends to virtually integrated players, such as insurers, hospitals and other healthcare providers, who are offering remote monitoring and mobile communications connectivity to improve patient care while reducing costs.

Governments are also playing a role.

In the United States, for example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is increasing re-admission penalties on hospitals to improve the quality of care and reduce the high cost of repeat hospitalizations.

This move has prompted hospitals to adopt telehealth solutions to remotely monitor patients after they have been discharged.

On the information-analysis front, the potential power of “big data” aggregation and cognitive computing is manifested in a very compelling way by IBM’s Medical Sieve project.

The name is based on the goal: to create a digital sieve that filters clinical and diagnostic-imaging data to help physicians more precisely diagnosis and treat patients.

The system relies on cognitive computing to analyze multimodal sources of data – such as pharmacy records, EMR, labs and ADT – combined with advanced clinical knowledge.

When proven, this technology will revolutionize the field of radiology, just as x-rays, ultrasound, PET scans and MRI have in the past.

All these trends and developments foretell an increase in the growth and the prosperity of a fast emerging digital medicine industry sector.

Ultimately, digital medicine is heralding a major shift from the old, “one size fits all” approach to a much more cost effective, customized approach.