Industries like retail, hospitality and banking have seen a complete transformation in relation to self-service and customer experience, but the healthcare industry still lags behind in the adoption of digital technologies.

Healthcare spending is still on the rise and continuing in this manner is unsustainable. The only way to meet these growing demands will be to improve the productivity of the NHS - perhaps this is where technology will shine through.

As a consumer, technology is disrupting our everyday normality and doing so at an unprecedented rate - from the smart devices filling our homes, electric cars, Netflix and meals delivered at a click of a button, to name just a few.

Our devices have become smarter. A lot smarter.

Technology is also affecting the health industry, especially when you consider how important a patient monitoring device could be for an individual of Alzheimer’s disease. They can be used to detect motion by using a sensor or pressure mat and play a pre-recorded note when there’s movement. Or a dementia patient could wear a tracker so their loved ones or carer know where they are and don’t have to worry about them wandering off. Whereas fertility tech captures and analyses women’s data, placing them in control of their menstrual cycle.

It’s all about the technology

Technology is aiding and improving lives, but how exactly can the health industry take advantage? It can be applied and innovated to shape the healthcare system to be more precise and by placing the individual in control to determine when, where and how they receive treatment. Fundamentally, these advancements are transforming the system to become heavily customer-centric - as long as the individual is using it to their benefit.

The modern world is a mobile place. Consumers have access to a breadth of online content, such as opinions, recommendations, virtual GPs and alternative therapy ideas. The availability of data interoperability and wellness apps is putting the individual in charge of their own health, distilling a culture of prevention rather than treatment.

The wave of wearables has impacted daily choices, from monitoring physical activity, sleep and calories, all to provide a personal report to the consumer, all within a swipe on their phone. However, they’re having an impact far beyond consumer fitness tracking, GPS navigation and message notifications, into medical applications too. Medical wearables can detect life-threatening conditions, collect biometric data to help with patient diagnoses, and even administer medicine to alleviate pain.

These advancements are continuing to develop and place the consumer further into the heart of their own healthcare plan.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Emerging technology such as AI is turning sci-fi gadgets and ideas into a reality. This age of innovation will define the future of this industry and is already causing waves in disease detection and prevention, drug creation, medical chatbots and much more.

Most of the available care today is algorithmic and predictable. Digitisation of healthcare could enable people to address health concerns in the comfort of their own home. For example, confirm diagnosis with a test, verify a diagnosis via a safe data platform and order an online prescription.

Making a treatment plan easy to follow is crucial to decrease wait times and strains on the NHS, whilst increasing levels of recovery. Automated reminders are a fantastic tool for helping patients take medication within a specific timeframe, rather than relying on somebody or a handwritten note attached to the fridge to nudge them.

We must be able to identify people at high risk in order to intervene and trigger medical staff alerts to create custom care plans. IBM Watson are currently testing this with opioid addiction issues. The system creates a relationship between the person in recovery and their treatment team. Using a mobile device, the person in recovery receives regular prompts through push notifications to submit journal entries by answering a set of predefined questions on how they’re doing. Their input is processed using an algorithm and shared with their treatment clinic. This system is helping identify in real-time the possible risk of relapse for each person.

We only need to look down memory lane to see how science fiction has made its way into reality. From science fiction to reality:

1989: Remember Doc from Back to the Future predicting the weather on his smart watch down to the second?
2015: The Apple watch tracks your health and more recent models can even generate an ECG.

The possibilities of AI are endless. It will empower people in ways that we may not realise are even possible today, but what does, or could, the future look like?

Augmented Reality - Chatbots:

Improving accessibility. Personalising service.

Chatbots can use the power of AI and Machine Learning to provide personalised care by providing ‘someone’ for a patient to interact with and gain medical advice and treatments from.

Chatbots are currently being used as an assistance to human beings:

“To answer people automatically these bots are a new type of user interface which takes advantage of artificial intelligence. With the advancement in technology, these chatbots can pre-diagnose your symptoms before you visit a doctor.”

This functionality takes away the need for people to travel to appointments if they can speak to someone online who can help them. They can provide extensive reach and help people who may not have easy access to a health practitioner, as well as reducing the risk of infection and spreading of illness if they can stay at home rather than waiting in a GP’s reception.

Virtual Reality (VR):

Virtual reality is currently being used for a variety of medical reasons and perhaps the most interesting is its use to train Doctors and Nurses. Training is labourious – for obvious reasons – but VR is allowing professionals to train in a virtual environment to “learn anatomy, practise operations and teach infection control.” All without the need of taking up the time of a busy and expensive professional in the associated field, which means that not only are more students being trained in an effective manner, but the already qualified teachers are able to continue with the role of helping patients. Surely, an exciting time for medical professionals and consumers?

Cognitive Rehabilitation:

Patients with a brain injury from trauma or illness can often struggle with everyday tasks. VR is able to recreate these tasks, such as doing the weekly shop, in a virtual environment for them to practice. Not only does this build up confidence and make treatment accessible, but it can speed up recovery and help patients regain a higher level of cognitive function. “Virtual reality headsets make you feel like you’re actually in the room, the doctor’s office or anywhere you want to be, making it a great tool in facilitating patient care.”

And finally…

The transformations that this industry is witnessing is being driven by the need for efficiencies and cost reductions. However, these tech innovations need to work together in order to enable the system to become customer-centric and place the individual in the driving seat of their own health and treatment. People expect instant. Being a cog in a national rota whereby awkward appointment times are assigned, different consultants are seen and a two-week wait for a GP appointment is the norm, simply won’t suffice.

The future of technology needs to focus on the person. With visibility into, and control over their health information, people will be able to undertake tasks that currently require a GP, such as mild diagnoses, check-ins and therapy sessions via technology. They will understand their health risks, embrace prevention and expect personalised care when they need it – perhaps even, in a virtual room.

We may not know the future of these innovations, but what we do know is that the health industry needs to use technology to solve a problem in order to reap the benefits for the patient.