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Five Innovative Healthcare Technologies

Promising technology to improve patient care.

Lying in the immaculate, eerily silent hospital room, you wake up to the machine sounds of a virtual presence robot rolling up to your bedside. Through it, the nurse speaks to you even though he is miles away.

Is this a likely scenario in technological future of our healthcare? Wait, there is more. Back to the really clean and quiet place - yes, the hospital.
 
He directs you to hold a digital device to your body to perform a scan, which sends real-time results wirelessly to your treating provider. Your diagnosis is then confirmed virtually with a specialist, your DNA profile is reviewed, and a computer determines the most effective treatment.

There is no denying technology is continuously shaping the ever-dynamic healthcare landscape. The Institute of Medicine has named six domains of care to ensure quality for the future; care should be timely, efficient, effective, safe, patient-centered, and equitable. The following five healthcare innovations are in place or are in the works:
 
1. Robots
There are a number of robotic applications in place today. Robots can be used to facilitate a variety of tasks, such as disinfecting rooms, performing surgical procedures, and interacting with patients. One company has a full-spectrum germ-zapping robot, which uses pulsed, xenon ultraviolet light to damage bacteria and viruses preventing cell replication. After a surgical room is cleared and secured, the robot can do its job disinfecting the room within minutes. Technology like this can improve care and reduce complications, positively impacting nurse-sensitive indicators, such as hospital-associated infections.

Robotic or robot-assisted surgeries are widely available, which facilitate more precise and less-invasive surgeries for gynecologic to neurologic cases. A system may have mechanical extensions, as well as a camera providing the surgeon with a magnified, high-definition view. The smaller incisions and more control results in better outcomes for the patient with less pain and fewer infections. In the future, it may become even more common to see telerobotic surgeries, where the surgeon is located remotely during the procedure.

On that note, nurses can also use robots to interact with patients when they are not physically there. One virtual presence product facilitates interaction and communication of a healthcare provider with their patients or colleagues, even though they are not physically present. There are some e-ICU settings where bedside/in-house ICU staff are supplemented remotely with expert staff analyzing data and providing support in the background.

2. Streaming Data/Telehealth
Teleconsultation is becoming more ubiquitous and is especially useful for patients in rural settings, developing countries or in home health. One basic application is communication between patients or physicians and specialists located somewhere remotely. This has been taking place for decades for review of radiology images. But now this concept has been made real-time and wireless. A variety of everyday medical equipment has been digitalized to wirelessly stream data to smart devices and the electronic health record. For example, one FDA-approved digital stethoscope streamlines data to a smart device and electronic health record. It can amplify sounds and facilitate viewing and sharing of cardiac or other waveforms. There are also wearable devices that continuously monitor and wirelessly send data, such as sensors that attach to the skin to monitor heart rate or even contact lenses placed in the eye to monitor intraocular pressure. These innovations are patient-centered and support timely and efficient care.

3. Genomics
Since the human genome project was completed several years ago, there is an improved understanding of disease at the molecular level. Scientists are getting better at predicting, detecting, and treating disease. Genetic-based therapies are new treatments to cure chronic disease or cancer. Personalized medicine, such as pharmacogenetics, is a promising approach to selection of the most effective treatment for patients based on their DNA profile. Then, there are the more controversial applications, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, which involves screening of an embryo prior to implantation; this provides the opportunity to filter for traits - be it lifesaving or preferential.

4. 3D Printing
Instead of printing paper, there are printers being tested to print new tissue or body organs. This involves multiplying the patient's own cells and using them as the "ink" to create the new body organ. If this becomes successful, it may help patients waiting for a transplant. There is even thought as to how to regenerate cells within the human body instead of in the lab. Several companies also create customized prosthetics through 3D printing. This makes them more affordable and accessible to patients.

5. Cognitive Computing
According to the CMS website, "The effective use of a clinical decision support system means patients get the right tests, the right medications, and the right treatment . ." The problem in healthcare knowledge today is that there is simply just way too much information than the human brain can effectively store and retrieve. It is unrealistic to expect healthcare providers to be able to independently store and recall all the applicable and latest information for each specific patient scenario. This is where computers come in. Clinical decision support systems can help identify the best evidence-based practices based on the patient's individual data. They can be used with electronic health records to prompt providers what to consider using pop-up screens or other methods. 

One system uses cloud-based artificial intelligence to store large amounts of data, analyze it, and answer questions. It has been applied to oncology helping providers match patient information with treatment options or clinic trials. There are also applications of advanced analytics taking big data pools and determining which populations should be targeted for certain services, such as high-utilizers or those at high-risk.

These are just a handful of the many innovations in process or currently used in healthcare today. They all have benefits, but it remains to be seen whether they can ultimately help improve the value of care or whether these technologies will just lead us down the same path of high health care costs and poor outcomes.

Daria Waszak teaches for an RN-BSN program and is currently pursuing her DNP. She has freelanced for a number of nursing publications, including ADVANCE and has 20 years of professional nursing experience.

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