Each year, billions of dollars are poured into medical research, testing, and development, aiming to improve patient care and people’s lives around the globe. Today’s healthcare professionals are better equipped and far more connected than their peers of the past. Just when it may appear the limits of possibility have been reached, trailblazers and pioneers launch bigger and better—and sometimes, smaller, faster, and cheaper—technologies.
referralMD lists what it deems the seven biggest innovations in healthcare technology in 2014. The following items earned a spot on this list due to their level of innovation, ease of accessibility, and overall impact on the medical industry and patient care.
- Microchips Modeling Clinical Trials – Similar to the concept of microfabrication—the process of making structures on a micrometer scale—microchips are now being used to reconstruct the complicated interface between organs and capillaries and emulate complicated bodily systems. The aim of this technology is to remove the need for animals in medical trials.
- Wearable Technology – Devices like Google Glass are expected to improve communication between clinicians and their colleagues, patients, and patients’ families, as well as serve as an information access and educational tool. The Red Ribbon Blog recently mentioned a case in which Google Glass improved patient care. (Steven Horng, MD, saved a patient’s life with his ability to immediately access electronic medical records [EMRs] to choose an appropriate medication to stop a brain bleed without causing an allergic reaction.)
- 3D Printed Biological Materials – Consumer access to 3D printing has kept media and lawmakers buzzing in recent months, due to the ability to print virtually anything—from toys to fully functioning guns. The medical industry was quick to find ways to utilize the technology, as well. Researchers and engineers are now able to print embryonic stem, skin cells, blood vessels, tissue, cartilage, and bone.
- Optogenetics – The human brain is vastly complex, mysterious, and full of possibility. As referralMD reports, optogenetics uses a beam of light to target a single neuron in the brain, which helps identify when that neuron is firing, as well as the cause. Ultimately, optogenetics aims to control brain activity with light, potentially identifying the cause of such baffling neurological disorders as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.
- Hybrid Operating Rooms – While the rate of medical innovation is impressive, implementation tends to move at a much slower pace. Currently utilized technologies are complex and deeply integrated. Retrofitting or replacing them takes time and money. Traditional operating rooms can now be outfitted with new technology, giving physicians a broader skill set and greater clinical capabilities, without having to completely replace costly equipment, procedures, and processes.
- Digestible Sensors – Although approved in 2011, this innovation is still being researched and tested. Eventually, digestible sensors—pills that look like typical medication—will utilize the body’s energy to monitor bodily systems and transmit findings in real time to a clinician. This could be a dramatic step in the ability to detect diseases and conditions at the onset.
- Interoperability – referralMD reports more than $250 billion is spent annually to process 30-plus billion healthcare transactions. Vast improvements are needed to streamline communication between all players in the healthcare space. With the advent of EMRs and programs like OpenNotes—also recently featured in a Red Ribbon Blog post—connectivity between physicians and patients is beginning to improve. Electronic referral-management systems are also being introduced to better manage the physician-referral process through error reduction, payment process improvement, reporting, and time management.
referralMD also shares an infographic, “The Guide to the Future of Medicine,” developed by Medicalfuturist.com. It shows innovations already available, in progress, that still need time, as well as and their impact on providers and patients alike.