The need for the COVID-19 pandemic has driven an unprecedented digital transformation in health care. As stated in the latest strategy paper from the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the measures needed to manage the impact of COVID-19 have in many ways proved once again that “data saves lives”.
Implementing health measures to reliably monitor symptoms of COVID-19 and reduce transmission rates is key to continually reopening society, and demonstrates how technology can be applied to manage health crises in the future.
Engineers are at the forefront of driving new ways of health technology, which will enable them to focus on patient-based health and well-being in the 21st century. Century. The key technologies in this unit will take the form of new generations of advanced portable devices, communication systems and surgical devices.
The rise of portable devices
Wearable technologies are already very popular for fitness and physical exercise, through laptops that can be accessed from multiple devices, or to meet general lifestyle requirements, such as connections to home systems.
However, portable devices continue to transform health care, a trend that will continue in the coming years. There has been significant growth in this area, specifically controlling for various health indicators such as respiration, blood pressure and temperature.
The proliferation of portable electronic health monitoring devices, from its inception in the 1990s to the present day, is a reflection of the individual’s desire for greater responsibility for one’s own health and well-being. These technologies have also brought patients closer to their health and fitness, as immediate communication is possible. In fact, patient data can now be continuously stored and communicated for direct monitoring purposes.
Advances in electronics
The basic enablers of affordable technologies have been in electronics and power supply, such as flexible circuits and high-speed wireless communications, and energy-efficient nanogenerators.
The configuration and cost of the technology that can be used is changing rapidly, in part as a result of user requests. Continuous reliable monitoring and communication requires a very strong energy supply. Traditionally, chemical cell batteries have been the best choice, but with greater technological demands, there has been a development in energy storage solutions for portable devices.
These include picking up from upper or lower limbs, for example, for walking. Harvesters can take piezoelectric or triboelectric forms, eliminating the need for chemical batteries to self-ignite functionality and opening up the ability to integrate harvesting capacity directly into the device structure.
As these technologies continue to evolve, the amount of data that can be captured and processed will grow. By acquiring various data streams, a complete health profile of a person can be constructed.
However, concerns have been raised about the value of data collected and the privacy of data collected by health professionals. These should be considered before health systems take over portable devices. However, the rise of portable health monitoring devices is likely to continue, with the introduction of new concepts and materials that will be integrated with faster and more reliable communications.
‘Big data’ and proactive health
With great confidence in portable devices, “big data” needs to be properly managed and administered for the benefit of patients. In fact, big data provides benefits, including lowering the cost of treatments and predicting outbreaks of epidemics much faster than in recent years.
Only a few parameters can be used to map patients ’health, their habits, diets, and overall lifestyle to map the overall profile of communities from a health perspective and to implement valuable strategies.
For example, there may be some geographical locations, with different employee levels. Or general trends in food consumption in a particular community that may increase the risk of cancer. Of course, there are limitations that must be addressed first, such as data privacy or slow technology adoption.
Future surgeries and childbirth
The focus today is on combining advanced mathematical algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to perform highly accurate operations that would not have been possible before with conventional surgical procedures.
The transition to mind-based surgery is based in part on the drive to deliver self-tailored surgeries to significantly improve outcomes. For example, deep learning can predict complications or surgical risk. Machine learning can be used to study diseases as well as provide anesthesia. These skills are invaluable and can help you develop the most appropriate action for the treatment and recovery of patients.
Considering AI, reports of robotics used to support and improve surgical procedures are becoming increasingly numerous. With rapid improvements in electronics, computational algorithms, and control, many recent developments have had real potential for future applications.
For example, invasive minimally invasive cardiac surgery with the help of robotic support has reported that patients can, in some cases, return to relative normalcy within two weeks to alleviate blood loss. Other reports confirm these benefits, including reduced risk of complications and reduced recovery time, as much smaller incisions can be made in the body. However, reports have been made that robotic-enhanced surgery yields only modest improvements in results. However, it is clear that these technologies will benefit all patients.
An exciting development in recent years has been the arrival of UltraSurge, a 6.1-million-euro multi-program program at the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds and Southampton in the UK, integrated with ultrasonic technology. The advantages include improved accuracy, reduced cutting force, cut tissue selectivity, and reduced tissue necrosis, thus improving patient recovery time. In fact, ultrasound-enhanced surgery is expected to expand in the coming years.
Needless to say, the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of health and the rise of data. The next challenge will be how to make sense of all this information and how to use it to our advantage.