As technology improves every day, new developments are constantly infiltrating our lives. Whether it’s the way you shop, how you communicate with friends, the job you do, or the way you travel, technology is transforming the way we behave.
Take healthcare, for example. Breakthroughs in information gathering, research, treatments, and communications have given medical providers new tools to work with and fresh ways to practice medicine.
We put together a list of the biggest impacts technology has had on healthcare.
1. The Internet has become a main source of medical information
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in a 2004 survey of 8 million seniors who use the internet, only 66% said they searched healthcare information online. In 2009 24 million Americans reported the same.
It goes without saying that more and more people are using the Internet to research their medical issues. This means not only looking up symptoms, but exploring treatments and medicines on the web. While it is never a good idea to skip out on the doctor completely, the Internet has made patients more empowered to make decisions about what to do next.
2. Healthcare facilities are reaching patients using social media
It is easy to see how public clinics, doctor offices, and even research facilities can take advantage of social media tools to reach wider populations. And there is evidence that they are going above and beyond.
Healthcare facilities, particularly hospitals, are using social media to establish contact with patients, answer questions about practices, launch public awareness campaigns, and perform community outreach. Some sophisticated sites even offer instant chats with nurses and doctors about medical issues and reminders for people to get regularly needed tests and vaccines.
These projects have taken off on college campuses but are rapidly spreading to more mainstream institutions (Hey – even senior citizens are on Facebook now!). A detailed presentation on this trend can found here.
3. Better treatment and less suffering
This moving story of how new technology changed the life of someone who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is only one example of how lives are being changed in practical, every-day terms.
4. Improved patient care and worker efficiency
Information technology has made patient care safer and more reliable than before. Nurses and doctors use hand-held computers to record a patent’s medical history and check that they are administering the correct treatment. Results of lab tests, records of vital signs, and medicine orders are all electronically put into a main database that can be referred to later. And as more institutions are adopting electronic health records, patients have easier access to their own information so they too can understand what is being done to them.
These electronic databases are also consolidating large amounts of information that are used for medical research. With vast patient history, scientists can better study trends and causes of ailments. This means more breakthroughs to come.
5. Doctors are easier to reach and better at their jobs
With the touch of a smartphone doctors can access thousands of pages of medical textbooks. They can also use online medical databases to easily look up case studies and check out detailed patient history.
Technology has also enabled doctors to use e-mail, texts, videos, and conference facilities to consult colleagues from all over the world. This practice, known as telemedicine, is especially useful for doctors and patients in rural and under-developed areas. Without moving patients, doctors can consult experts from all over the world to diagnose, treat, and research conditions without needing access to a sophisticated hospital. Telemedicine was used effectively after the 2010 Haiti earthquake and will no doubt be refined for future use.
6. Online databases can accurately predict medical trends
By analyzing health information that users search for online, search engines such as Google have been able to accurately predict medical trends such as flu outbreaks.
Google explains its process on Google.org:
“Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world.”
This breakthrough will help medical experts respond to outbreaks quickly as well as take preventative measures. And as more and more people use the web to search for their own medical problems, these internet giants will have even more information to apply to scientific studies.