Rising costs and increasing patient expectations have put real pressure on the healthcare sector to use technology whenever possible.
US citizens now live, on average, eight years longer than they did in 1970. We haven’t evolved into stronger beings in forty-five years, but our knowledge of what can lengthen and shorten our lifespan has increased substantially. In fact, there’s so much information online, some of us feel we have the necessary expertise to self-diagnose - leading many headaches and common colds to be feared as something far more serious.
However, You don’t need to look far to see that technological innovation can have a positive impact on healthcare. Seemingly simple transitions - like adopting electronic health records - have saved billions of dollars, and improved the security of patient information. New imaging techniques have also reduced the need for invasive surgery, allowing procedures to be more comfortable for patients, less time consuming and considerably safer.
Let’s take a look at five influential companies operating within healthcare.
In 2011, IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, went up against two of Jeopardy’s most successful contestants. Brad Rutter - who took home the show’s biggest ever paycheck - and Ken Jennings, were comprehensively beaten by Watson in an event which was deemed a breakthrough for artificial intelligence.
While an impressive feat, Watson isn’t a one trick quiz winning pony, and its impact on healthcare - particularly within cancer treatment - could be huge. Research around the disease is being aided by Watson’s ability to memorize data from a wide range of case studies, and is allowing new patterns to be found.
A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists showed that almost one-third of ‘older adults’ take eight or more medications daily.
If a patient has physical limitations, adhering to a strict medical schedule can be difficult. If a dose is missed, the patient might overcompensate with the next, and cause themselves harm.
With the elderly keen to make use of smartphone technology, Medisafe - an app aimed at improving the medication process - provides a management system that reminds patients when they are meant to take their medicine. The app sends out alerts and plans can even be made with relatives or friends to help the patient if necessary.
Beijing Genomics Institute
As the world’s largest genomics institute, the BGI is an obvious choice for this list.
The company’s mission - to develop a DNA library - is seen as a springboard for future drug discoveries. They now have many financial backers - including the Gates Foundation - and have the resources to take their DNA analysis a step further. So far, the institute’s main achievements include: sequencing the first ancient genome, and as part of the Yan Huang project, a diploid genome of someone of Asian origin.
According to the Financial Times, the BGI is one of the first Chinese companies to innovate off their own back, and not use ideas already implemented by Western companies.
Much of Google’s work around healthcare has been about prevention, not treatment. They have, however, also teamed up with Johnson and Johnson to build a platform for robotic surgery.
While robots have been used to assist surgeons in the past, new developments could allow for much needed improvements. According to Wired: ‘Real-world applications include removing cancerous tissue, performing hysterectomies, and bypass surgery. The smaller incisions enabled by machines mean smaller scars and less bleeding for patients’.
Google recently added Oscar - a medical insurance startup - to its healthcare portfolio. Business Insider reported that: ‘Oscar lets users talk to doctors on the phone for free, and it was the first insurance company to give fitness trackers to its customers to let them get rewards for walking a certain number of steps in a day.’
Google’s main contribution though, could be using data to make personalized predictions about a person’s future health by tracking lifestyle.
Like Medisafe, Ginger.io works exclusively through a smartphone. The company’s app is designed for patients and care providers, and uses real-time data to communicate when assistance might be needed. Ginger.io ‘watches’ patients, and alerts a doctor when a problem arises. The project is based on MIT Media Lab research, and has a simple interface which makes it easy for doctors and patients to get in contact with each other.
A current program - designed for depression - tracks mood, social interaction and movement. If there’s a problem, the extent to the patient’s depression can be put in to one of the following three categories; acute, stable, and at risk.
Ginger.io increases the chance of a problem being spotted early, something which is crucial to recovery and treatment.