Emerging technologies in health and care
Soon after we saw the global spread of Covid-19, researchers and clinicians ramped up efforts to find alternative solutions and new methods of delivering safe and effective care, deploying people and equipment in record time to radically transform the way care was provided to help manage and control infection rates.
Whilst no mean feat, the age of technological advancements in care has helped a great deal, with national shifts to online consultations in both primary and secondary care and the sudden emergence of smartphone apps to support with mindfulness, improving sleep and breathing together with lifestyle apps to encourage exercise and support healthy diets. Technologies in this respect have evolved a great deal and mean there need be much less face-to-face interaction.
- The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has led to significant changes in how health and care services are delivered and used. This has seen policies, that have previously only made incremental progress, accelerate at an impressive pace.
- Technology has enabled radical changes in entire care pathways, from changes to the way health promotion and support for vulnerable people in the community is delivered, to remote consultations in primary and secondary care, close multi-agency working to manage local Covid-19 responses and new ways of receiving acute and mental health care.
- The key enablers in this have been people resource and technological advancements.
- Barriers to sustaining these new developments include fears of digital exclusion for some patients, challenges arising from collaboration between providers and the potential fragility of community support networks due to financial pressure on the voluntary sector and future loss of volunteers.
Scientists and Researchers are not just trying to develop a vaccine for Coronavirus and understand it’s make-up, they are also trying to find a solution to minimise the threat of future pandemics. Many existing technologies have been instrumental in ensuring elective care can be delivered safely despite the social distancing regulations, such as robots and wearable gadgets. This reduces the need for human contact, particularly when patients can be at their most vulnerable.
Surgery robots are already transforming how surgical care is delivered and is allowing more complex surgeries to take place whilst minimising risk. Surgery bots consist of several hydraulic arms, each equipped with surgery apparatus. To operate the robot, independent controls can be positioned in the theatre or elsewhere with a surgeon operating the equipment remotely. This technology is already allowing providers globally to maintain urgent surgical lists and meet elective demand whilst controlling the spread of the virus.
Room Disinfecting Robot
Equipment that autonomously disinfects clinical facilities has seen record demand, with providers large and small either investing outright in this technology or by renting equipment. This bot provides infection-free space to work or rest. The robot minimises the growth of bacteria, both airborne and on surfaces. The technology can be controlled with input controls or can be entirely autonomous, avoiding obstacles and moving from room to room,
There are two processes in the cleaning cycle, firstly an Ultraviolet LED is used, killing bacteria on the surface followed by the second cycle, a mist spray disinfectant which coats the surface and is expelled into the air to capture and kill bacteria.
The latest development in medical imaging technology focuses on the acquisition of real-time information and data visualization. Improved accessibility of real-time data is becoming increasingly important as their usage often makes the diagnosis and treatment faster and more reliable. This is especially true in surgery, where the real-time access to 2D or 3D reconstructed images during an ongoing surgery can prove to be crucial. This access is further enhanced by the introduction of augmented reality (AR)—a fusion of projected computer-generated (CG) images and real environment.
Wearable technology in health and care includes electronic devices that patients can wear, like Fitbits and smartwatches, and are designed to collect the data of users’ personal health and exercise. Some of the simplest and most original forms of wearable technology, wearable fitness trackers, are wristbands equipped with sensors to keep track of the user’s physical activity and heart rate. They provide wearers with health and fitness recommendations by syncing to various smartphone apps. Smartwatches, once only used to count steps and tell time, have now transformed into clinically viable healthcare tools. In addition, technologists have developed blood pressure and heart rate monitors built into smartwatches and other wearable tech. There is potential to provide data from this technology direct to health and care professionals.