Three Technology Innovations that Are Revolutionizing Patient Care

November 15, 2013

Healthcare technology is advancing so quickly it is hard to keep up, but there are three trends physicians should be watching that are revolutionizing patient care.

Whenever I go to a sci-fi movie, I am amazed at some of the ideas people have come up with around what healthcare is going to look like one day. We've seen handheld body scanners that diagnose problems, pills that grow a new organ, synthetic body parts, and a lot more.

We obviously aren't there yet, but there are some interesting and innovative things happening in healthcare IT. I think that in many ways the technology is finally catching up with the vision. I don't mean the filmmaker's vision of the future but a physician's vision of the future. There are three trends in particular that I think are starting to revolutionize patient care.

1. The evolution to a completely mobile environment. In this case when I say mobile, I mean more than just the mobile EHR. While I believe that is the direction we are headed and that it is changing the way we practice, mobile is much bigger than the exam room. mHealth is having a huge impact on healthcare. From mobile apps to track blood pressure, weight, and other vital signs to exercise trackers and much more, mHealth apps and devices are flooding the market place. There are tens of thousands of these devices and applications and the number is growing every day. Consider how this trend will continue toward wearable computing and sensors to implantable wireless sensors. Soon, you'll be able to work with your patients to use some of these devices to manage their wellness. The day is coming when all this data will move into the cloud and be accessible to your EHR and via its analytics engine, be presented to the clinician as intelligence, not just raw data. Not only will you be able to engage the patient more by using a mobile device to document the visit, but you'll be able to engage them in their healthcare when they are not even in your office.

2. Mobile telemedicine and remote visits. We've been using telemedicine to conduct remote visits in healthcare for a while now, but it has largely been restricted for use in rural settings where care and access to specialists is limited. I think we are going to get to a place where e-visits and telemedicine visits are much more commonplace. Patients may not always have to come to you. You may be able to meet in the middle using technology that allows you to interact in real time. For a family practice, you might start to do "virtual triage" where you interact remotely to determine if an in-person meeting is needed.

3. Google Glass and similar technology. I am fascinated by the possibilities with a solution like Google Glass. Imagine being able to wear a small, lightweight headset while you are looking at the patient that shows you their record. Then what if you could call up another provider on that device and have them interact with you and the patient as well. The possibilities seem endless. This really is a sci-fi gadget that takes us to places we've never been before.

We have been waiting for EHRs and mobile devices to offer the kind of powerful, easy-to-use technology that will really make it simpler for us to practice medicine and take care of patients. I believe that we are on the cusp of huge advances in technology that will change the way we interact with patients and other providers.

The most exciting thing about what the future holds is that these technologies are going to enable us to really practice what I call "heads up" medicine. We'll be able to look the patient in the eye and discuss their condition and care while documenting the visit or consulting another provider. We'll be able to recommend health and wellness apps and technology to patients that can really help them instead of sending them home with a print out of instructions we expect them to follow.

The potential for improving care is vast as we move into the next phase of technology in healthcare. And while I certainly have my ideas about what will happen next, the truth is that anything is possible.