Aspiring towards a smart healthcare system

When I was eight or nine years old, my parents gifted me a wristwatch. I still remember that it was a simple digital one with a steel strap. I could tell the time, the date, the day and also use it like stopwatch. Back then, it was probably considered as a smart device.

Cut to present day, almost four decades later, such watches don’t make it to the shelves of retailers anymore. They are too simple, without sufficient functionality and have no colour displays. The technology has advanced so much that watches like the one I described might fetch a decent price in antique auction. This actually begs a question: how does technology today, help in shepherding us towards a healthier lifestyle?

Everyone who has read anything on healthcare systems around this world will agree that major advancements have been made in the fields of diagnostics and medical treatments. Not just for the patients but also for healthcare professionals. What are some of these technologies that have and will continue to vastly improve how we live, how we are diagnosed and how we get treated.

The use of smart watches, while one side does look trendy, but also has its distinct advantages. In fact, the phrase now used is not “smart watches” rather “smart wearables”. The advantages of these smart wearables and sensors are: monitor parameters related to sleep, calorie intake, steps, water intake, heart rate and so. These can be used by any person living anywhere and from any walk of life. Smart wearables also provide preventive care to elderly and intensive care unit patients. They have the potential to offer quality remote care to patients located at a distance from a healthcare facility. Some of the common wearable devices used in hospitals and remote care include: ECG monitors, Biosensors and Blood pressure monitors.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality is another technological breakthrough that has come to the forefront for changing patients’ and physicians’ experiences alike. For the uninitiated, AR means a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. VR, on the other hand, means the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors. Today AR and VR are being used to train physicians and surgeons with essential medical insights, assisting medical staff and surgeons conduct surgeries and practice operations (in order to prepare them better for real life situations) and bolstering R & D sector to provide better study materials to future healthcare professionals.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the profitable healthcare technologies enabling automated services. AI is being deployed in the healthcare sector: for collecting, managing, and processing a vast amount of user data; to erive essential information patterns for future implementations and enabling human-independent communication via chatbots.

Blockchain technology is expected to be the next big thing in healthcare sector. Ensuring secure and streamlined service provision to users. Blockchain would help in: Secure data protection, and access means; Enable insights to better collect, manage, and process patients’ data; Improvise the use of healthcare apps to pay medical bills, make secure online transactions; Enhance data security and app performances and Ensure maximum security to valuable patient data.

Finally, we have all been entertained by Robots on television or video games when we were young. It’s true that Robotics has well and truly penetrated in the engineering, manufacturing and warehousing sectors. But the good news is that Robotics is also making its way in the healthcare sector slowly but steadily. It is expected that Robotics would help in: critical surgical procedures; Robotic companions offering effective day-to-day health management; Disinfectant robots play a vital role in situations like the pandemic; Self-assistive robots allowing patients to manage and monitor their health conditions.

With all these modern technologies with fancy names, how does the common man stand to gain? Well, starting from smart wearables which are becoming increasing affordable to improving data access for both the patients and healthcare staff to improvement in diagnostic accuracy, the new technologies offer a much better prospect for all of us to stay healthy or become healthy soon in case of any hitch. There is a downside though: Not everyone is tech savvy. Some patients are not properly equipped to understand the high-tech interfaces and functionalities of many of medical devices. Hence, it becomes difficult for them to operate these machineries on their own. Seamless usage of such technologies depends on a user’s own abilities, something which needs to be considered.

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