Posted by Jane Irene Kelly on Friday, November 14, 2014 - 07:00
Most people dread even a routine visit to their doctor’s office. But if they considered for just a moment how much astounding innovation is happening in the healthcare and life sciences industry today, they might feel differently. Especially when they realize that most healthcare innovations are intended to help improve the quality of care for, and communication with, patients.
A few examples: Electronic health record (EHR) systems now enable patients’ health records to move with them wherever they seek care. Healthcare providers are turning to mobile devices to help guide patients along the road to wellness: Mayo Clinic, for instance, is using Apple iPads to supply patients with detailed descriptions of their treatment plans and to empower them to chart their own progress toward recovery. And photo booth-like clinic kiosks that feature streaming video and interactive tools could soon make it easy for patients to consult their physician virtually.
Charting innovation at hospitals
Some leading hospitals are making a commitment to innovation by re-examining their processes and developing new technologies. University Hospitals of Cleveland (UH), for instance, has a strategic plan for innovation and recently established a dedicated “Innovation Unit” where staff are focused on finding ways to improve how the hospital system delivers patient care. Lynnita Davis, a Robert Half Technology IT consultant, works as a senior application analyst on the disaster recovery team at UH. As a participant in our recent survey on innovation, she says, “Whether it’s dictation software for doctors or virtualized servers for storing patient data, if the ultimate outcome is to improve the quality of patient care, UH will figure out a way to make it happen.”
Future innovation is patient-centric, too
Some may not consider these innovative strides in healthcare and life sciences to be all that “astounding.” After all, we are accustomed to living in a world where digital, mobile and virtual innovation is so rapid. Advancements we did not have a decade ago, like tablet computers, now seem ordinary. But no matter how much healthcare innovation we may take for granted, it’s difficult not to be awe-inspired by nascent and emerging innovations like these:
- 3D-printed biological materials: Laser-printed skin cells, teeth, blood vessels and heart tissue, cartilage and bone, and partial or entire organs are just some of the potential applications for 3D printing that the healthcare industry is exploring. One company, Organovo, said it will begin selling 3-D printed liver tissue by the end of 2014.
- Microscopic robots that can ‘swim’ in the body: Scientists have designed a “micro-scallop” that could someday swim inside viscous fluids like blood (and inside your eyeballs) to deliver therapeutic drugs to specific areas in a patient’s body. Modeled after a real scallop, with two hinged “shells” that open and close, the tiny robot weighs just 350 millionths of a gram and is 300 micrometers wide.
- A ‘nanoparticle platform’ to detect cancer and heart disease: Andrew Conrad, head of the Life Sciences team at the Google X research lab, recently announced that Google is working to develop a nanoparticle-covered pill that would seek out “biomarker” molecules in the body. Biomarkers can signal the presence of disease, such as cancer. According to Conrad, patients who ingest the pill would wear a device like a smartwatch to “ask” the particles what they observed inside the body.
If we’re lucky, someday these futuristic healthcare innovations not only will be real but also routine, just like a virtual visit to the doctor may be. The healthcare and life sciences industry has a long history of introducing extraordinary innovations that we now take for granted — from the polio vaccine to artificial limbs to robotic surgery procedures. So really, if you do stop to think about it, we’re already pretty lucky.
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