You would have a hard time finding an industry that doesn’t use information technology (I.T.) in the 21st century. However, one industry that especially makes use of I.T. is healthcare. Whether you use a health app on your phone to track your exercise habits, or use assistive devices in your everyday life, technology is helping us take care of our health like never before. 

 

In this first post of our new Industry Spotlight series, we’ll be taking a look at some of the ways that information technology is used in healthcare, and how these might be used to improve the lives of patients, medical professionals, and other workers in the field. 

 

Development of medicines

The development of new medicines and treatments is a long and expensive process. Thankfully, recent technological developments have made this process faster, safer, and more likely to be successful. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to streamline drug testing processes and drastically reduce development times. As Belén Garijo explains on the World Economic Forum website, a benefit of AI is that it can quickly analyze huge amounts of data that would take a team of doctors days or weeks to process. In addition, AI can efficiently identify and test potential disease targets for drug candidates, which can optimise the drug discovery process further. By utilising AI properly, drug discovery and development can happen much quicker. This means that treatments may be developed sooner, which could mean that previously-untreatable illnesses or diseases might soon be a thing of the past.



Nanotechnology could also have a huge influence on medicine in the coming years. In 2018, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed an electronic pill that can be controlled with a smartphone to relay diagnostic information or release drugs into the user’s system. Additionally, in 2020 Graphael demonstrated its design of a smart patch that can monitor wounds and even stimulate their healing. As this technology develops further, we could see even more examples of nanotechnology being used in a range of healthcare areas, from surgery to at-home treatments. This would give patients a wider variety of treatment options, so the development of nanotechnology will no doubt be exciting to witness. 

 

Assistive devices

Assistive devices are a form of technology used by elderly people or people with disabilities to help them perform their daily tasks and live more independent lives. Some common examples include hearing aids, screen readers, and personal emergency response systems. Despite their usefulness, only 1 in 10 people who require assistive technology have access to it, due to issues such as high cost, low availability, and lack of trained personnel. However, there are hopes that these issues will be resolved in the near future as technological gains make assistive technology cheaper and more accessible for users. 

 

Assistive technology has seen great levels of innovation in recent years, which is set to continue well into the future and improve the lives of millions of users around the world. One example of this is through the development of robotics, which can help nurses lift patients and users with spinal cord injuries operate exoskeletons with their brain signals. Older technology is also being updated with new functions; for example, the iBOT motorised wheelchair is able to climb a variety of terrain types including stairs, which traditional wheelchairs are unable to do. With continued investment, assistive devices and technology can both improve their users’ lives and make the work of healthcare professionals less labour intensive. It will therefore be very interesting to see how this technology reshapes the healthcare landscape in the future. 



Patient data security 

One obvious connection between I.T. and healthcare is data security. Earlier this year, The Independent reported that thousands of NHS patients have had their private healthcare information leaked to unauthorised parties. In the spring, the Republic of Ireland’s health service reported a ‘catastrophic’ cyber attack that took months to recover from. Although the NHS makes use of its own Data Security and Protection Toolkit, there is still concern about the security of patients’ personal information in light of these recent events. 

 

According to Virtru, some of the biggest technological challenges in healthcare include outdated technology in hospitals and ensuring that  cloud and mobile technology used by healthcare professionals is GDPR compliant. Cyber attacks are particularly worrying in the healthcare sector because they can cause health and safety risks for vulnerable patients, so having strong security measures in place is essential to minimising the chances of any data breaches from occurring. Although physical security measures are important, cyber security training is also vital when confidential information is being accessed and shared. 

 

Telemedicine

Telemedicine is the practise of providing medical care remotely, either through telephone, email, or video calls. Many GPs and doctors have begun using telemedicine more frequently in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as a way to stick to physical distancing restrictions while ensuring patients receive treatment. In fact, The BMJ reports that in July 2020, as many as 6 out of 10 telephone appointments were conducted by telephone.

 

One advantage of telemedicine is that it improves accessibility to healthcare. Patients who are unable to attend a doctor’s surgery, for example due to distance or physical disability, are still able to receive treatment. Additionally, it can provide a lower cost therapy option while being just as effective. Technologies such as virtual reality (VR) can also work alongside telemedicine to improve its effectiveness. For example, the NHS has introduced a virtual reality therapy service for patients with social anxiety, which allows patients to work on overcoming their condition while reserving therapists for more urgent cases. As health systems across the world contend with growing populations, telemedicine may be the solution to providing faster, cheaper and more accessible healthcare services to patients. 

 

Final thoughts

The future of healthcare will require doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to embrace working with technology. As new technologies are developed and studied, it’s likely that patient outcomes will improve and healthcare systems across the world will become more efficient. With this revolutionary era in health technology upon us, it will be exciting to see what developments occur in the next couple of years.

Healthcare is just one of the many industries that rely on the work of trained I.T. professionals. At IT Career Swap, we have a range of courses for all kinds of technology interests, from cyber security to web development – and with a job offer guarantee upon completion of your studies, why go anywhere else? Take a look at our course catalogue here, or call us on 0203 982 7573 today to find out more!