Technology has seeped into every aspect of human life and possibly every industry, be it Cultural, Finance, Healthcare, Food or even Education. It is changing the way things are made, information is transferred, children are taught and essentially, how life is lived. Technology, the ‘science of craft’ (1), has come a long way since the use of stone tools for starting fire, hunting and cutting, more than 2 million years ago (2). Continual developments in techniques, skills, methods and processes to investigate various theories, in basic and applied sciences, have allowed mankind to generate solutions and/or products that have transformed the way of being for not just humans, but any living organism.
The consequences of applying technological know-how in various trades have been, so to say, controversial – more so in the life sciences community. For example, the Embryonic Stem Cells research, which despite having considerable potential in the treatment of damaged tissues caused by injuries and life threatening diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease, has been met with significant ethical, legal and social conflicts within the last couple of decades (3). Nevertheless, it is hugely commendable how healthcare has evolved from associating unexplained diseases with magic (4) to beginning research on modifying human embryos at a fundamental, genetic, level (5). Cross-industry innovation has had a crucial role to play at enabling this. While this is a vast topic to cover, brief outlines of the two fields that have piqued my interest – Information Technology and Biomedical Engineering Technology – have been provided in this and the following blogs.
Information Technology (IT) in Healthcare
IT is the application of computers and telecommunications equipment to store, retrieve, transmit and manipulate data (6). It has had a significant role to play in improving the capability and quality of healthcare, as evident by some of its key applications below.
- Data Storage and Mining: With increasing research, population and treatments, the amount of data generated has not only been on an exponential rise but has also been becoming increasingly complex. Management of such volumes of data, the accuracy of which is pivotal to safety, has been made possible through data mining which transforms these mounds of data into useful information for decision making (7). Among its various applications,
- Data mining allows for the evaluation of the effectiveness of a medical treatment by comparing causes, symptoms, courses of various treatments under study and their side-effects’ profiles (7).
- It attempts to detect fraud and abuse by identifying any abnormal patterns of claims by clinics, laboratories, physicians, etc. or inappropriate referrals and prescriptions; for example, a state Medicaid agency identified, via data mining, a large number of patients overlapping among multiple providers, which was worthy of investigation (8).
- The key application of data mining, however, has been predictive modelling, which is the establishment of previously unknown patterns and trends in databases for building models that allow for the introduction of measures that either prevent a disease altogether or decrease its impact (on both technical and financial fronts) (7); for example, Simulation-Based Medical Planning (developed using Java and VRML, image segmentation, geometric solid modelling, automatic finite element mesh generation, computational fluid dynamics, and scientific visualization techniques) tests alternative treatment plans on blood flow in the cardiovascular system of a patient and predicts the most favourable outcome (over the use of only diagnostic and empirical data to plan treatments) (9).
Although not limited to the above applications, it is evident that data mining significantly influences cost, revenue and efficiency of healthcare organisations.
- Electronic Health Records (EHR): A central component of the healthcare IT system has been the maintenance of EHRs – that are digitally stored health information about patients. It provides the possibility of sharing data on demographics, medical history, medication and allergies, immunization status, laboratory test results, radiology images, vital signs, personal statistics like age and weight, and billing information among multiple facilities. Such a system allows for the provision of patients’ medical histories while ensuring transparency, accountability, accuracy, reliability, efficiency, maintainability, and usability (10).
- Improved communication: IT provides platforms over which healthcare professionals can connect with each other, be it via social media or a dedicated platform such as Doximity (11). There has also been increasing interest in development of information systems to connect patients with healthcare professionals to support education, decision making and communication, which not only contributes towards reducing costs, but also keeps consumers informed (12); this has been made possible via EHRs or apps such as HealthLoop (13).
- Apps for Health: Mobile digital devices have had an enormous impact on our way of living, and their adoption into the health arena – in helping patients maintain their lifestyle via apps that track activity, sleep and diet – is noteworthy. For example, ‘FitStar Personal Trainer’ gathers information on an individual’s fitness levels through a set of questions and generates an appropriate work out regime; ‘MyFitnessPal’ counts the calories for any meal logged in on its database; RunKeeper uses a phone’s GPS to track a runner’s time, distance, pace and calories burned (14).
Developments in the field of Information Technology have aided the establishment of the current modern hospitals, highly efficient communication systems, quality control systems, health monitoring platforms, data storage, retrieval and manipulation tools and research tools. Although there is certainly more to come from the coupling of these two domains, it is evident that the healthcare industry is increasingly embracing the use of IT, for not just improving its own capabilities but also for moving towards a new platform that is centred more around patients.
1. Technology. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 02 08, 2016.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology.
2. Older than the Oldowan? Rethinking the emergence of Hominin tool use. Panger, Melissa A, et al., et al. s.l. : Evolutionary Anthropology, 2002, Vol. 11.
3. Ebryo Stem Cell Research: Ten Years of Controversy. Robertson, John A. s.l. : Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 2010.
4. Allen, James P. The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt. The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt. New York : The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005.
5. Gallagher, James. Scientists get ‘gene editing’ go-ahead. BBC. [Online] 02 01, 2016. [Cited: 02 09, 2016.] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35459054.
6. Information Technology. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 02 10, 2016.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_technology.
7. Data Mining Applications in Healthcare. Kob, Hian Chye and Tan, Gerald. 2, s.l. : Journal of Healthcare Information Management, Vol. 19.
8. Medical Fraud Detection Through Data Mining. Megacomputer. [Online] [Cited: 02 10, 2016.] http://megaputer.ru/ua/down/medical_fraud_detection_case.pdf.
9. Predictive Medicine: Computational Techniques in Therapeutic Decision-Making. Taylor, Charles A, et al., et al. 5, s.l. : Computer Aided Surgery, 1999, Vol. 4.
10. Electronic Health Records: A Systematic Review on Quality Requirements. Hoerbst, A and Ammenwerth, E. s.l. : Methods Inf Med, 2010, Vol. 49.
11. The Healthcare Network. Doximity. [Online] [Cited: 02 09, 2016.] https://www.doximity.com/.
12. Consumer health informatics. Eysenbach, Gunther. s.l. : BMJ, 2000, Vol. 320.
13. healthloop. healthloop. [Online] [Cited: 02 09, 2016.] http://healthloop.com/who-we-help/.
14. Best App for Exercise: RunKeeper. time.com. [Online] [Cited: 02 10, 2016.] http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/16/5-great-health-apps-you-should-use….