Scientific and technological innovation are at the heart of improving the way doctors treat illness and disease. Long defined by non-interoperable systems and inaccessible data, digitization of healthcare now elevates and innovates data usage and analytics  — which benefits patients, physicians, and hospitals.

When it comes to digitization, the healthcare industry is slowly moving forward, across a highly regulated field dealing with massive amounts of sensitive information about patients.

One of the most notable efforts in this area has been the more than decade-long push to adopt electronic health records, the digital version of each patient’s medical history. The current technology has still got a long way to go. According to a report released by PwC Health Research Institute, about 90% of hospitals have at least basic EHRs (Electronic Health Record), up from 9% a decade ago.

Healthcare providers and patients are getting increasingly connected to one another, and the amount of information that’s collected is growing all the time.

Let’s take a look at how digital technologies are impacting other areas in healthcare, along with some of the obstacles in the way.

The Internet is helping doctors connect with the resources and one another

With the Internet, doctors and medical students are more connected than ever to resources to help them learn and help their patients. And with that comes social media platforms and apps, such as Sermo and Figure 1, that connects doctors to one another, crowdsourcing diagnoses for difficult cases.

Through the app, doctors can submit cases that are difficult to resolve (with the patients’ approval), and others can try and help out. A single post can sometimes generate thousands of responses.

Smart medical devices will take readings, then deliver care accordingly without any human help

Medical devices — and fitness trackers in general — are getting more connected, allowing you to get everything from your heart rate to your blood sugar levels on your smartphone.

Closed-loop systems (e.g Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G which is an artificial pancreas) will become a lot more prevalent which essentially gets a reading, and delivers a treatment based on that reading without any human interventions.

The hope with these closed loop systems is to take care of some of the busy work so that doctors and patients can focus on more important issues as they arise.

Computers can now give your doctor a second opinion

In the medical world, machine learning and imaging seem to go hand in hand. For example, Watson Health partnered with more than 15 hospitals and companies using imaging technology to see how “cognitive imaging” works in the real world.  

GE partnered with UC San Francisco for the next three years for several healthcare projects. One of their projects aims to shorten the time between reading an X-ray and giving potentially life-saving treatment.

Pharmaceutical companies are using data to their advantage

With more information going into electronic health records and genetic data becoming more readily available, pharmaceutical companies are poised to take advantage of such advances to get better outcomes or generate more effective drugs. However, things are not at a fast pace because of how professionals in the healthcare industry get paid currently. 

Cheaper sequencing technology gives more people access to a new set of data — your DNA

In 2003, when the human genome was first sequenced, it changed the way we were able to study the body. At that time, it cost a massive $2.7 billion and took a total of 13 years to decode all 3 billion base pairs of our 23 chromosomes.

Now, the cost to sequence an entire human genome is down to just $1,000, in about 3 and a half days, thanks to powerful sequencing platforms from Illumina.