During the past decade, we have witnessed how the relationship between medicine and technology has grown increasingly complex and mutually beneficial at the same time. These two fields of expertise have something in common: their ability to improve the quality of life of millions of people around the world. The benefits of the interaction between medicine and technology are well established and wide ranging, as this unique relationship has revolutionized the field of healthcare and brought benefits to healthcare providers, stakeholders, patients, and their families. However, by nature technology is always evolving and it is not easy to keep track of the latest developments and how their potential applications. This article looks at five amazing technological healthcare innovations whose truly trans-formative potential has been proven in areas as diverse as early disease detection, high-risk surgery, and healthcare management.

Wearable Technology

Smart Watch

According to UNICEF, the wearable tech industry is expected to generate more than $22 billion a year by 2020. Initially, wearable tech products were designed to be used for fitness monitoring purposes, but it soon became clear that they had potential multiple uses. The application of wearable technology to healthcare is relatively new, but the progress made so far has proven to be really impressive. For instance, Google Glass technology has been recently developed to facilitate communications, display complex data through a user-friendly interface, and record high-quality still and moving images. This technology has already been used in surgical settings by Dr Rafael Grossman, who has highlighted how Google Glass and similar technologies can improve medical teaching and training while being totally unobtrusive for the patient.

In developing countries, wearable technology could literally save lives when used as a means of carrying out remote diagnosis and telemedicine. In fact, we don’t even need to travel that far, as it is believed that 30 per cent of the US population lives in rural or remote areas and does not have easy access to a family doctor or to medical facilities. Other promising developments include asthma management wearables, “smart” contact lenses, devices that can monitor breast tissue health, diabetes monitoring wearables, and wearable ulcer sensors.

Digestible sensors

Pill

It is no secret that effective healthcare depends to a great extent on having accurate and timely information. This is precisely where digestible sensors can make a real difference to the medical industry and therefore to peoples’ lives too. These devices were granted approval by the FDA in 2011 and are able to relay a wealth of crucial information about a patients’ vital signs and organ function. Kits often include a sensor built into a pill, a sensor patch to be worn by the patient, and a smartphone-like device used by physicians to monitor the patient’s condition without needing to be physically present. Digestible sensors can not only save valuable time and resources, but could also become one of the most essential tools of 21st century medicine by allowing for faster and more accurate diagnostics, and by making access to healthcare truly universal. According to Proteus Digital Health, one of the key players in this burgeoning industry, digestible sensors could also be used to better manage chronic diseases and to support pharmacist training.

3D Printers

It was only a matter of time before the technology behind 3D printers would be put at the service of healthcare. 3D printed biological materials have a vast array of potential applications in this industry, ranging from the creation of stem cells to the printing of human tissue that could be used to regenerate the skin of burn victims and those affected by degenerative skin conditions. Tech experts at Melbourn TTP have already designed a 3D printer for the medical industry, and bioprinting technology company Organovo recently made a significant breakthrough in the field by developing 3D printers capable of printing blood vessels and heart tissue that replicate biological materials cell by cell. Other researchers have stated that the possibility of printing organs could be a reality within the next ten years. There is no doubt as to the huge impact that this could have on the long list of patients whose lives depends on receiving an organ transplant.

Hybrid operating rooms

Operation Theatre

Although innovative and life-changing technology is now available to healthcare professionals, finding a way of integrating the most successful technological advances remains a challenging task. Things have vastly improved over the past few years thanks to the development of hybrid operating rooms, which are now in use at medical facilities across the United States. Through the use of state-of-the-art technology such as robotic arms, surgeons can draw on real-time imaging that helps them make life-saving and data-driven decisions. Hybrid ORs are mostly used in high-risk surgery, including cardiovascular and neurological procedures, emergency care, and complex surgery involving extensive trauma. Being treated at a hybrid operating room also benefit patients, as imaging procedures are minimally invasive, do not interfere with the surgical process itself, and can facilitate a faster post-operative recovery.

Optogenetics

Since the first experiments took place, optogenetics has been the subject of endless debate as scientists and medical professionals find arguments in favour and against its use. Simply put, optogenetics aims to provide a way of controlling brain function through the use of light signals. Studies have shown that it is possible to target single neurons by means of this technology, which in turn could help us understand aspects of human behaviour and cognitive processing that have remained a mystery for centuries. Researchers claim that optogenetics could help the medical community gain valuable insights into mental disorders like Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or schizophrenia, since this new technology would facilitate the identification of the malfunctioning neurons that are responsible for these diseases. In short, optogenetics could be the future of brain research and a way of treating what until now were considered irreversible brain disorders.