How modern technology is changing healthcare
30th April 2019

Have you been thinking about how eHealth is affecting nursing? Healthcare is undergoing a technological revolution, and it’s not always easy to know where to stand. Subjective and unconscious resistance to change closes our mind to opportunities and makes it harder to navigate the future emerging around us. But new technologies also bring new challenges, and it’s important to question the assumption that every human problem has a digital solution. Our task is to look at new tech with a curious eye and a critical mind.

For a healthcare professional in 2019, understanding digital health in Australia will be invaluable for your career and your community. This is especially true for nurses, who often bridge the lived experience of patients with increasingly automated institutions and processes.

Here are eight of the biggest developments in eHealth in Australia:


1. Trackers and sensors 

From step counters to heart monitors, personal medical information is getting easier to collect. Real-time and authentic data allow for better diagnosis and evidence-based treatment over time.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) chips have been developed that can track blood glucose levels in real time and send messages to an in automated drip which then administers either glucose or insulin depending on the readings. This device eliminates the need for patients to undergo frequent blood tests and removes the wait for laboratory readings.  

Trackers and sensors also help professionals intervene early in emergencies. Fall monitors are already widely in use by many older people living alone or in care. This is leading to substantial improvements in the quality of life and health outcomes of people vulnerable to falls.


2. AR

Augmented Reality (AR) is having extraordinary results for medicine. Unlike Virtual Reality, the goal is to supplement rather than replace the user’s sensory experience, and this allows for data updates that are much closer to real time. AR can give surgeons unprecedented access into the inner workings of a person’s body, making complex surgeries safer to perform. By helping a practitioner to synthesise multiple pieces of information at once, AR can reduce the scope for miscommunication and mistakes.


3. Better medical records

One of the most dramatic ways technology is changing healthcare is also one of the simplest: improving the collection and transfer of medical data. Consolidated medical records make diagnosis more rapid, treatment more consistent and mistakes easier to avoid. We’re already accustomed to the early stages of this. For instance, the national immunisation database gives nurses access to invaluable information and is being used to isolate and eliminate diseases. Data networks are especially useful for regional and remote communities that may have less access to health infrastructure.

However, the privacy and security of some big data eHealth measures are still up for debate. Some medical professionals have voiced their concerns with the Australian Government’s MyHealth database, which they say does not do enough to protect patients against warrantless access to their personal data by police and commercial third parties. New bipartisan encryption laws may also jeopardise the safety of Australian data. So, while these systems have exciting potential, the way they are rolled out could have huge ramifications. Often, as we have seen throughout history, it’s been nurses who have been on the front line advocating for the safety and autonomy of patients.


4. More effective scheduling and staffing 

Hospitals can be chaotic environments, but digital technology can help nurses organise their shifts and patient interactions more strategically. Programs like those created by GE Healthcare Centricity, Cerner Clairvia and registered nurse Joe Cavillo, are tailored to meet the specific challenges of scheduling nurses in 24-hour, high-pressure environments. Some of these programs can even be used on a smartphone. They allow nurse managers to organise shifts in effective, efficient ways, and give nurses easy communication channels to share their needs and preferences.


5. Genome sequencing

Genome sequencing is becoming cheaper, and before long, consultations will regularly occur at the genetic level. It’s important to be mindful that like many developments throughout history, gene technology is likely to be misused by the powerful. But the technology is coming regardless, and we shouldn’t let fear obstruct the ways that it can positively impact on people’s lives. From understanding allergies and congenital conditions to supercharging preventative medicine, technologies like CRISPR could save countless lives.


6. 3D Printing

3D printers are revolutionising healthcare. They’re already being used to create prosthetics at a higher quality and cheaper price than was previously imaginable.

With 3D printing, each implant can be designed, bespoke, for each patient’s body. Even bones have been 3D printed. In the Netherlands, surgeons custom-printed a plastic replica to replace the top section of a woman’s skull. The technology is also easy to decentralise and reproduce, meaning new innovations can be rolled out rapidly.


7. Quicker drug development 

Currently, the process of developing drugs is cumbersome and expensive: arduous searches that are further slowed by corporate competition and IP laws. But when you’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, a metal detector makes a big difference. Artificial Intelligence has become more and more adept at finding new and more effective medicines. Many of the breakthroughs that are taking place in areas as diverse as cancer and HIV are only made possible because of these advancements.


8. Robotics 

With their specific functions and aptitude to perform repetitive motor tasks, robots are perfect for patients going through rehabilitation. Robotics are also changing the nature of surgery – some procedures can already be performed by machines with lower risk than human surgeons. For instance, expert human radiologists and surgeons can inject tumours with anti-cancer drugs to an accuracy of a couple of millimetres. But a low-cost surgical robot designed by IRCAD can find and inject tumours with a precision of a tenth of a millimetre. As autonomous units like these become more effective and cheaper, they will revolutionise medical care all over the world.


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