April 20, 2014
If there's one industry that has seen huge dividends as a result of technological development, it's the health care industry. From open heart surgery to 3D imagery to genetic coding, the health care industry today was science fiction just 50 years ago. There continue to be leaps and strides forward, with advances being made seemingly every day. And not all of the technological advancements benefitting the health care industry are used exclusively in the surgical suite.
From wearable technology to medical apps to software designed for health care applications, technology is benefitting the industry in a number of ways, across departments and disciplines. In many ways, these advancements are being used for everyday, routine tasks – not just life-saving operations. Make no mistake though; these advancements ultimately benefit you, the patient.
Wearable technology – Glass in surgery
With the advent of Google Glass, and its open development platform, the promise of wearable computing is finally here. Mock the design of Google Glass all you want – while it's true it may take some getting used to seeing Glass on the street, for tech and industry applications, the benefits it promises are clear. In fact, the aviation industry has already shown interest in the device, with a demonstration of its practical benefits recently put on by pilots from the Adventia European College of Aeronautics.
The same features that make it helpful in the cockpit – a hands-free interface, voice activation, a monitor just out of your sightline, and wireless connectivity for Internet access or phone calls – could make it helpful in the surgical suite. Google Glass could make it possible to bring up vital information during the course of a surgical operation through a simple voice command, or allow for virtual surgery, as recently tested by a team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Put simply, Google Glass could be the tool the industry has always wanted – the ever-present but unobtrusive resource that can guide an individual through a process, step-by-step.
It should also be noted that Glass is hardly the only wearable computing device that can provide benefits to the health care industry. Just the opposite is true; there are a number of wearable devices that have been designed specifically for health care purposes, from monitors to diagnostic tools to EEG/EKG equipment. All of these tools are designed to help improve the efficiency of treatment and the accuracy of diagnostics.
Apps and mobile devices – A connected medical staff
Today's cell phones are hardly phones at all. In fact, calling a modern cell phone a “phone” is a bit of a misnomer. Smartphones are really hand-held, pocket-sized computers with touch-screen interfaces that can access the breadth of human knowledge through a wireless cellular connection. And they also happen to make phone calls. Suffice to say, this immense computing capability has not been lost on the industry. As time moves forward, expect smartphones and tablets to become regular fixtures in the hospital setting.
But why is this? Well, one of the reasons that smartphones make such good health care tools, besides their computing capability, is that they are ubiquitous. Everyone has one. With manufacturers like Samsung and Apple producing ever-more-capable mobile devices every year, and data providers like T-Mobile offering free 4G LTE service for tablets, there's simply no reason not to get a smartphone or tablet these days. And this means that the nurses, doctors, and medical assistants at your local hospital or dentist office happen to be walking around with immensely powerful tools – they just didn't realize it!
So what kind of apps are available? They run the gamut, as a matter of fact, from apps designed for the professional to apps designed for the patient. There are health care apps available for electronic medical records, medical language translation, anatomy identification, procedures and simulation, clinical reference, nursing, EKG, EMS, radiology, lab values, and more.
The future is now
The health care industry has never looked brighter. In plain terms, we are, as a species, better able to treat illness and repair damage now than at any point in our history. While it's true that universal health care is still out of our grasp, and millions of people throughout the world don't receive the treatments they need, the technological developments cannot be discounted. Let us hope that these technological developments eventually find their way to hospital rooms across the world – and in your neighborhood.
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