Going back generations into the past, mankind has sought to use science and technology to improve upon existing medicinal practices. From the earliest crude implements to today’s advanced diagnostic machines, surgical robots, and software programs, machines and computers have led to tremendous breakthroughs in our ability to diagnose, treat, and manage a wide range of health conditions.
Now, thanks to rapid developments in data science and analytics, “machine learning” and automation, the medical field is in the midst of another revolution that promises to change the way we care for our bodies, minds, and spirits.
The Internet of Things
Humans are sometimes forgetful, irrational, stubborn, and prone to various biases and shortcomings. However, the explosion of powerful, portable, interconnected devices — the suddenly ubiquitous Internet of Things — has begun to fundamentally change how we both experience and give meaning to our world.
The extraordinary growth of “Big Data,” too, has altered the way we communicate and engage with ourselves, our loved ones, and our careers. Never before has so much data and statistical information been available so easily, and never before have we had the tools to employ that data in ways that compensate for our innate shortcomings and improve our quality of life.
Health Care Gets Smarter
In few settings is this change more apparent, or more potentially rewarding, than in medicine and healthcare. Both inside medical facilities and at home, the proliferation technologies is making it easier than ever to track patients’ medical data, assess their specific needs, and tailor care to the individual.
Patients who stand to benefit the most are the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, and those suffering from chronic, debilitating conditions. By taking advantage of new connected tools and efficiencies, people who otherwise may struggle to live full, independent lives are afforded opportunities and freedoms that were once thought impossible.
The Automation of Home Health
The form of home automation called “assistive domotics” focuses specifically on making it possible for the elderly, chronically ill, and disabled to remain at home where they feel most comfortable and secure, instead of relocating to a sterile and costly healthcare facility.
New, “connected” home healthcare options include:
- Automated devices that assist the elderly with managing and remembering their medications.
- Internet-enabled monitors and door locks that keep tabs on Alzheimer’s patients, alerting caregivers to any unusual or potentially concerning activity.
- Full smart home automation systems that provide simple controls and reminders for an autistic individuals to operate thermostats, prepare meals, and stay safe and secure at home.
- Inhalers, oxygen tanks, and other medical supplies that record when and how they are used and relay the data back to the patient’s doctor.
Together these and other developments in connected medical technology are creating a “connected” healthcare ecosystem that helps patients avoid hospital readmittance while being treated and assessed in their own homes. For anyone who requires frequent medical care and assistance, the Internet of connected things can help sustain their independence, provide new opportunities for personal empowerment, and allow for deeper connections to their caretakers and communities.
Continuing Shifts in Care
In addition to the short-term impacts, the growth of home automation devices also presents the possibility of a long-term shift toward moving care away from the hospital setting and into homes and assisted living facilities. With well over 40 million people currently receiving some form of daily care in the United States and an elderly population that is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, hospitals and other health facilities run the risk of being inundated with more patients than they can handle.
The ability for many of these people to remain in their homes or facilities without sacrificing the quality of care holds tremendous promise, not only in relieving the burden on hospitals but in allowing patients to stay in more comfortable and familiar environments longer.
Technology also has the potential to alleviate some of the staggering costs associated with health care, both by helping to prevent costly accidents and by connecting patient physicians to a wide range of data on medication usage, vital signs such as heart rate and oxygen saturation, important testing information including blood glucose and blood pressure, gait tracking, and more.
With a population that is at once aging and increasingly overweight and unwell, the health care challenges of the future loom large. But the promises of advanced computer automation and smarter medical technologies provide a path toward more patient-friendly care, and a way for individuals to become more actively engaged in managing their personal well being and broader lives in general.
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