New technologies help doctors achieve precision, efficiency
Though house calls may have been replaced by video screens, and instruments in the little black bag by sophisticated imaging, today’s doctors are every bit as dedicated to patient welfare as their predecessors. Thanks to emerging technologies, they can diagnose problems with amazing precision and deliver faster, more efficient care. While we officially take a moment on March 30 to celebrate Doctors’ Day in the era of high-tech medicine, we can always show our appreciation to medical practitioners.
Healthcare IT at the forefront
Health IT infrastructure is very much on doctors’ minds these days. Medical device integration, new payment models and security are some of the hot topics that were discussed at this year’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, a gathering of more than 40,000 doctors, health IT professionals, healthcare executives and vendors from around the world.
One session demonstrated how physicians can reduce IT costs and increase agility by using cloud computing and unified access. Other presentations showed how doctors can optimize drug dose checking to prevent errors and achieve an automated, fully paperless office environment — while avoiding security breaches and staying in compliance.
“HIMSS was very exciting this year. The sheer size of the conference underscores the important role technology has come to play in the healthcare sector,” said David Cristal, VP and General Manager, Insight Public Sector. “Innovation isn’t only occurring in medical devices, but in modernizing healthcare systems to be more operationally efficient for both the patient and the business. It’s been transformative across the scope of the industry.”
The rise of telemedicine
Also discussed at the conference: the growing importance of telemedicine and its impact on outcomes, ROI and the quality of care.
IHS Technology predicts 7 million patients worldwide will use telehealth services in 2018, up from 350,000 in 2013.
Telehealth saves patients both time and money. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that the average in-person doctor visit took 121 minutes, including transportation, while the average telehealth session took just 15. Additionally, the study said the average opportunity cost (the cost of lost work time) to a patient for an office visit was $43, as opposed to just $5 for a telehealth visit. Cost of the care itself is also lower.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found 69% of veterans preferred telehealth visits over in-person visits for post-operative care.
While some doctors resist telemedicine, others think the change can’t happen fast enough. “I want updates from my patients, but the outdated emphasis on face-to-face visits often makes this impossible. Text, email and videoconferencing should be commonplace for follow-up, even though regulations and reimbursements pose formidable barriers,” Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal blog.
Ultrasound as an app
Patients who visit a clinic may notice an increased use of ultrasound. Doctors can now plug an ultrasound transducer into a tablet. As ultrasound technology gets smaller and more portable, some doctors believe the devices will soon be carried around as standard equipment, like stethoscopes.
Modern ultrasound offers significantly improved color sensitivity and spatial resolution, providing enough detail to help doctors diagnose everything from cancer in the liver or lymph nodes to inflammation in the elbow. Reading the images is becoming part of the curriculum at many medical schools.
3-D brain mapping
Advanced imagery is also helping doctors treat patients with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and other brain disorders. Using 3-D brain mapping, doctors attach electrodes to parts of the brain while a patient is conscious, recording where seizures or tremors occur so that surgery can later be performed with precision. While MRI scans can only resolve features down to about a millimeter, a 3-D map provides nanoscale resolution in millionths of a millimeter. The procedure can also be used during surgery to test areas of the brain that cause movement.
Because it allows doctors to see abnormal connections between individual brain cells, 3-D mapping could lead in the future to the visual diagnosis of mental problems such as schizophrenia or depression.