Advanced digitization through Big Data, AI and Co. has shown: The medicine of the future is data-driven, smart and connected. eHealth, also known as smart health or digital health, holds enormous opportunities for the entire healthcare sector. It is not just the treatment of diseases that will be made faster and more effective in the future through the use of smart technologies. eHealth technologies also have the potential to reduce healthcare costs. Which eHealth trends have already become established and which can be expected in the next few years?
Telemedicine has come to stay
Since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic at the latest, telemedicine as part of eHealth has been used more frequently, as it creates the possibility of contact between doctor and patient without them having to be physically present in the same room. Digital office hours enabled medical consultations and diagnostics during the Corona pandemic without exposing oneself to the risk of infection. Telemedicine communication takes place via electronic devices such as smartphones or laptops – a prerequisite is a stable Internet connection and software that enables video conferencing. Not only patients with more serious illnesses, but also those who have to travel long distances to see a doctor, benefit from the convenience that telemedicine brings.
The German Federal Ministry of Health also sees an opportunity in telemedicine to secure healthcare in rural areas in the long term. Due to the shortage of doctors in rural areas, there is a threat of medical underuse there in the coming years. According to estimates, the telemedicine market is set to grow globally to around EUR 430.1 billion by 2030. But does that mean that consultations with the doctor will only take place in the living room or bedroom in the future? The fact is that digital consultations as such cannot replace physical treatments entirely. Telemedicine therefore serves primarily as a supplement to conventional diagnostics and treatment and to relieve the burden on doctors.
All patient data at a glance
As of January 1, 2021, a patient will, in theory, be able to store medical information and disease histories in an electronic health record (Elektronische Patientenakte, ePA). This includes previous diagnoses, prescriptions and information about vaccinations and allergies. Ideally, the ePA will be provided in the form of an app by the respective health insurance company and can be filled with digital documents via smartphone. Centralized storage of data makes it easier to treat patients, especially when different doctors are consulted, and avoids repeated examinations, which unfortunately still occur frequently today due to a lack of health data. Initial concerns about data protection have been allayed by the Federal Ministry of Health: use of the ePA is voluntary, and patients can decide for themselves which data should be stored in the file. The data is stored in encrypted form and can only be viewed by cleared physicians or other healthcare providers authorized by patients. Access can be restricted at any time in terms of time and content. But it is not only the ePA that will digitally inform doctors about their patients’ state of health in the world of eHealth in the future.
Now comes the Internet of Medical Things
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) integrates medical devices into a networked infrastructure through which physicians can remotely track their patients’ health data. The market for health wearables in particular has boomed in recent years and continues to grow. Products like Fitbits and other smartwatches have become everyday accessories for many. In a short time, they have evolved from simple pedometers to devices that can measure a range of health metrics such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen saturation over time. Doctors can use this data, if authorized by the user, to accurately diagnose or detect diseases at an early stage.
Robert Havasy, senior director of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), says diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease often develop over a long period of time because of an unhealthy lifestyle. Wearables could therefore help prevent against these diseases.
eHealth and wearables of the future
Other types of wearables designed to provide health data, or even be part of therapy, are also expected soon. For some time now, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has been researching smart clothing that is intended to facilitate drug treatment for patients. Intelligent fibers in the clothing deliver the necessary active substances to the skin in a similar way to a pain patch. Another example is the “baby pajamas” created as part of a research project by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa). Babies suffering from jaundice after birth are treated with shortwave light. Researchers at Empa have now developed glow-in-the-dark pajamas that can replace the previous treatment of infants in the incubator under blue light and enable recovery with physical proximity to the mother. These are just 2 examples of what will be possible in the future.
NLP becomes part of diagnostic procedures
Another emerging trend in eHealth is Natural Language Processing (NLP), also known as computational linguistics, which has long been used in the automotive industry for voice control systems. It is a form of artificial intelligence that focuses on the analysis of spoken and written language. With the increasing use of electronic medical records and the large amount of information stored in them, deciphering the data and extracting actionable information is of great importance. However, according to ForeSee Medical, 80% of the data obtained via electronic records is unstructured, which slows down fast and reliable diagnosis. Algorithms can isolate the critical information in moments to aid in diagnosis. The use of NLP in healthcare is currently at an early stage, but is expected to grow in the coming years.
How do you connect eHealth with those who are not connected?
If eHealth can improve people’s health in the long term through more efficient diagnosis and therapy finding and their own influence on their health with the help of wearables, this could also help to significantly relieve the burden on the healthcare system.
The biggest challenge, meanwhile, is to make eHealth accessible to those who cannot operate the relevant technologies or do not have the electronic means in the first place. How, for example, can the older generation be introduced to the new technologies in healthcare and benefit from their advantages? After all, it is precisely this group that seems to be able to benefit most from an improved quality of healthcare through eHealth with regard to the increasing incidence of illness in old age. So there is still a rocky but necessary road ahead of connecting different generations and segments of the population with eHealth, as this is the only way the use of smart technologies in healthcare will continue to grow. But if this can be achieved, the prospects are promising.
XAI – one of the megatrends for magility in 2023!
XAI, eXplainable artificial intelligence or also explainable machine learning, is a neologism that has been used in research and in the field of machine learning since around 2004. XAI can be described as a technical discipline that finds and provides operational methods through which AI systems can be explained. XAI can make transparent how software, whether programmed dynamically or linearly, solves a problem. In this way, methods such as Deep Learning can become understandable and controllable by the user.
In recent times, the term XAI has not only become increasingly present in the media. XAI is also becoming increasingly important in the further development of eHealth applications and can provide models with high predictive accuracy for the diagnosis of diseases and even for the course of diseases.
magility, eHealth and XAI
At magility, we have in-depth expertise in eHealth and XAI and have the necessary technical know-how and the right experts to advise and support you in this challenging field. Many exciting scenarios are possible in the future through eHealth technologies and XAI, and are becoming realistic prospects as digital health innovations continue to evolve. Be curious about our further developments in 2023 in our eHealth business area.
What opportunities do you see for eHealth? Feel free to contact our magility experts for a professional exchange.