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Benefits of the Latest, Emerging Medical Technologies

The future of healthcare? Prognosis: Very good.

If you had severe heart disease 30 years ago, “there was not much we could do for you.” So says Michael Dowding, president and CEO of the Northwell Health. “Then new technologies came in and we could have a lot of interventions like stents and surgery.”

And this is no science fiction story; this is science fact, what with the breakneck pace of medical and technological advances today.

What else is in store, and more importantly, how will this impact urgent care?

Data—and lots of it—is quickly changing the way providers treat and patients heal.

Telemedicine

Doctors are making house calls again, yet they almost never leave their offices.

Enter telemedicine: the concept of treating patients from afar via satellite, video conferencing, data transfer and other Internet technologies. It’s not exactly a new idea, but it’s fast becoming commonplace in today’s healthcare. While medical records have been in written, contextual media for some time, video and audio media is rapidly growing in use.

Imagine a patient finding a strange lesion on her skin. Normally, she would schedule an appointment, wait for the appointment, and then travel to the clinic to make the appointment. But with telemedicine, she can contact her dermatologist the same way she would a friend: with her smartphone or laptop! With a video feed, the dermatologist can determine if the lesion will further treatment or not—all remotely. Then, if deemed necessary, a more interpersonal consultation can take place.

The benefits are clear:

  1. Patients will have greater flexibility in time, not having to take time off work or travel to the best medical centers where doctors reside. Patient demand is among the largest drivers of telemedicine's implementation across large healthcare networks.
  2. Doctors will be able to treat more patients, more often—even if the patient isn’t physically in front of them. This is especially vital when it comes to chronic disease management and post-hospitalization care, or in particularly rare medical conditions that may require more testing, follow-up, etc.
  3. Medical specialists, such as endocrinologist, urologists and otolaryngologists (ear, nose & throat), can receive information that they might not readily have access to, or can be delivered much more timely.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability

More and more hospitals and clinics are adopting electronic health record systems. The problem? They’re not always compatible with each other.

The diversity of IT systems in healthcare is NOT a good thing. Imagine needing to send files to your team members, with each of them on a different operating system that may or may not be compatible with yours. It's a data management nightmare!

However, today, this is the reality hospitals and urgent care clinics face. In fact, a 2011 study shows that only 54% percent of faxed referrals result in a scheduled appointment—due to the complexity of communication between health systems.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) aims to cure this. FHIR acts like an interpreter between two healthcare systems or offices, allowing them to safely and efficiently share patient data. This keeps the patient, the various care teams involved, and even the insurance companies on the same page.

FHIR is currently being implemented between Northwell Health, a prominent healthcare system in New York, and their partners GoHealth Urgent Care.This means that if a patient is seen at GoHealth Urgent Care but is referred to a Northwell facility both will work off the same, synchronized data.

Speaking of synchronized…

Internet of Things for Healthcare

A fancy term for the interconnectivity between your devices. But it has massive implications for the medical field and patient care as a whole.

Today we take for granted that our devices—phones, watches, cars, tablets, homes—are all interconnected to each other, collecting and exchanging data to improve our lives.

The same is being applied to our health care. The more digitized our hospitals and clinics become the more sense it makes to integrate all the data.

What does this mean for patient care?

  • Mobile apps that can remotely configure medical devices

  • Ability to manage virtually any number of devices, including the patient's mobile device!

  • Personalized medicine

  • Remote monitoring of patient vitals

  • Predictive maintenance for medical devices

  • Pre-surgical virtual reality and augmented reality

  • Automated device-to-analytics data flow

  • Hospital asset management

  • Data analytics applications for clinicians

  • HIPAA compliant data security

One insurance company, Oscar Health, has already taken the first steps toward this integration. They offered to their customers $1 off their premium for every day they meet their fitness goals. Due to biometric readings and the transmission of the patient's daily routine and exercise habits back to the company that makes this kinda of accountability and consumer offering possible!

At the 2017 Digital Health Summit, top medical professionals unveiled their latest study to find what the profound issues sleep, or the lack thereof, can have on a person's livelihood. And it is no small test group with test administrators working long hours overnight, over a very long period of time like so many studies before it's time. Instead, it will be done over millions of patients, in their own homes, with wearable sensors. The collection of data will be much more accurate and the ability to analyze the data will be done at rates never before possible.

Driverless Cars With Health Sensors

It’s closer than you think, as the clinical trials of this technology have come and gone.

And GoHealth Urgent Care has partnered with Uber, for their ride-sharing app.

Does this mean self-driving cars can take you to an urgent care center?

Uber's efforts have already seen driverless fares in Pittsburgh and Volvo trucks have driven through Europe with no one at the wheel other than it's own artificial intelligence. It’s not farfetched to assume that your car can do the same for you someday soon. In fact, it's already been coined as mobile health.

Say you have a health condition that renders you unable to drive to medical help. A self-driving car would quite possibly save lives in that scenario. There are also talks of implementing waerable sensors in the cabin – around the seats, over the headrests, and within the dashboard and center-console – to monitor your vitals. This means the car itself can be a point-of-care, versus being just a care delivery method, much like an ambulance with their EMTs onboard.

3-D Printers

It’s finally time to update the cast, which hasn't seen too many advances since it's inception in the mid-18th Century.

Plaster casts are not only messy to apply, they need constant doctor visits to refit the cast as the inflammation subsides or muscles atrophy.

3-D printing technology can solve this. A Spanish startup has developed a printer that can scan your broken limb and print a cast in seconds—lightweight, waterproof, and tailored to you.

This has incredible promise for urgent care facilities, who spend a great deal of time applying casts to broken bones. We’re definitely keeping tabs on this.

Diagnoses

When it comes to finding the reason, time and ease are of the essence.

Liquid Biopsies

When cancer is suspected, clinicians perform tissue biopsies, or examinations of suspected cancer cells, to confirm the diagnosis. This is an invasive and often painful procedure, involving actual extraction of tissue from the patient for laboratory testing.

Emerging out of the efforts of the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot research program, however, are liquid biopsies. Like the name might imply, this alternative requires only a blood sample to test for ctDNA, the DNA given off by tumors into the bloodstream.

Testing kits are now being developed by several companies. It’s only a matter of time until cancer screening becomes as routine as an annual checkup—maybe even at an urgent care center!

Vocal Biomarkers

Scientists discovered recently that your voice, like your blood or genetics, is like any other vital sign in that it can be used to detect illnesses like depression, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. 

Deemed “biomarkers,” these were vocal patterns indicative of sicknesses. Technology is now being developed to take advantage of this, hopefully resulting in an effortless diagnostic tool for hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers.

 

What does this mean for Urgent Care?

There’s a lot that can be improved with the state of modern healthcare. Fortunately, it seems like a lot of the technologies mentioned in this article will make substantial headways with them.

In fact, telemedicine is already being implemented at urgent care centers. Patients can already request appointments and check waiting times using their own cell phone or laptop! A provider can then tell them if their condition warrants a visit and further treatment, potentially saving patients time and money.

Doctors too, can receive a second opinion from specialists around the world. Just imagine your provider consulting an orthopedic surgeon for his opinion on your x-ray—from abroad. You’ll be able to get top-of-the-line treatment recommendations no matter where you live.

Exciting stuff. We can’t say exactly when they’ll arrive at GoHealth Urgent Care centers, but given what we’ve seen and the progress made, our money is on sooner rather than later.

 

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