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How to Use Technology in Medicine to Improve Your Practice
Technology has become an essential part of our daily lives. However, when it comes to technology in medicine, some new practices are radically changing the way healthcare operates today. New medical discoveries, the way we now perform surgery, and even the accelerated development of the COVID-19 vaccine, show just how far modern research, equipment, and treatments are coming.
For example, would you have thought 10 years ago that it will be possible for your operations to be assisted by robots? Well, it's not only possible but probably going to become more and more common practice over the coming months and years.
As well as dramatic changes like that, there are many small, everyday tweaks you can make to improve your practice. Simple changes are the best way to ease yourself into medical technology. It’ll keep your patients comfortable instead of scaring them off with radical upgrades, and many of these changes will help to attract and retain new patients long term.
Some examples of technology in medicine
There are many examples of technology in medicine that are frequently used today. This ranges from smart inhalers to robotics. Yet, all of these new methods help surgeons achieve results that they just wouldn’t be able to through human intelligence and interaction alone.
Here are a few examples.
Possibly the most complex version of new technology is the aforementioned robotic surgery. During such operations, surgeons can perform very delicate and complicated procedures that are otherwise either extremely difficult or even impossible.
Despite how it sounds, robotic surgery is actually performed by a skilled surgeon, and not entirely by a robot. Using the Da Vinci robotic surgical system, doctors are able to create much smaller incisions with precise tools and, although they’re looking through a 3D and HD vision system, they’re still completely in control.
Robotic surgery is less painful, leaves less scarring, means a quicker recovery, and results in a lower risk of infection. As technology advances, it’ll allow for even more possibilities and advancements that will ultimately go toward saving people’s lives.
Probably the most common example of technology in healthcare is healthcare wearables.
You may not have thought of this as medical technology, but, devices like Fitbit and other smartwatches can track your heart rate, calories burned during a workout, remind users to drink more, etc.
While fitness trackers take pressure off of healthcare systems by preventing common illnesses, prescription wearables enable doctors to gather more information and provide remote patient care. Blood glucose, ECG, and blood pressure monitors reduce the number of unnecessary clinic visits and, ultimately, increase the quality of patient care.
Drug development has always been a rather lengthy process but the COVID-19 vaccine was developed in less than a year which is unprecedented. Of course, this is partly due to the worldwide involvement and extensive funding. But it’s also due to the mRNA technology used to develop certain versions of the vaccine, such as Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
And now, purely through absolute necessity, we’ve been able to advance this technology and create a drug that will help the human race escape a global pandemic. These vaccines are now being distributed globally in the largest vaccination program in history and are a wonderful example of how far technology in medicine has come.
How can you use medical technology in your practice?
Sure, you might not be developing the latest vaccine version or remote-operating on a patient in Hongkong from your practice in Nottingham. But, you are fighting fires caused by the pandemic. You are trying not to burn out while saving everybody you can.
So what technology is out there for you?
There are plenty of simple ways that you can incorporate technology into your daily practice. So, here are a few tips on getting started with technology for healthcare that will save both time and money for you and your patients.
Online Appointment Booking
This is possibly one of the simplest ways to dip your toe into medical technology and open up your ‘digital front door’ to patients.
It’s also one of the small tweaks that will bring you the most results. 10to8 has been implemented across many NHS Trusts and consequently have been saving them 28 days per month.
There are countless reasons to switch to an online booking system instead of the traditional way of having patients schedule their doctor’s appointments over the phone.
Here are some examples:
1. No more long hold times
Nobody likes sitting on the phone, listening to dodgy music on repeat, or a robotic voice saying ‘You are 5th in the queue.’ for the last half an hour. Online appointment booking eliminates all that and allows patients to book their appointments with a few simple clicks. 80% of patients prefer a doctor who offers online scheduling.
2. It’s easier for patients
The majority of people still work the standard 9 to 5 job. This is also often the time that surgeries are open meaning people have to find time during their busy workday to sit on hold. With a patient scheduling system, people can book their appointments online 24/7, which is much easier.
3. Less pressure on administrative staff
If most of your patients choose to book online, your administrative task will receive fewer calls, emails, and voicemails. In addition, they won’t need to worry about administering appointments as they will automatically appear in the calendar. Less admin means less stress, a lower chance of staff burnout, and better patient care.
4. Fewer ‘Did Not Attends’
Did you know that patient reminders can reduce DNAs by up to 90%? Can you imagine what a difference this could make? Less wasted time, shorter waiting lists, more efficiency. Plus, since 10to8 offers voice reminders in addition to SMS and emails, even your elderly patients with landlines only will receive notifications.
In today’s digital age, people want everything done quickly and on demand. Instant online requests are becoming the new normal. For example, we all prefer next-day delivery, we all prefer our Pizza delivery to be on our doorstep within 15 minutes, and booking a doctor's appointment should be just as fast and easy as well.
Virtual appointments for remote consultations
As well as offering patients the ability to book their appointments online, many practices are scheduling remote consultations via the phone or virtual meeting software like Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
Remote consultations are rising in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic. For similar reasons to being able to book online, patients want their lives to be as easy and as flexible as possible.
Think about it, if people can visit the doctor from the comfort of their living room, then they won’t be clogging up your waiting area and challenging social distancing restrictions. If patients can speak to their GP via video call, they’ll have considerably less excuse not to show up and, if they do miss the appointment, the impact on your surgery will be smaller.
Virtual appointments are a lot more efficient and an incredibly practical way of using technology in medicine. They’re simple to set up, affordable, and appeal much more to patients trying to fit their doctor’s visits around their busy lives.
Clinical reporting tools
Cutting the red tape and collecting data more efficiently is a major initiative for the NHS and it is expected to save about £10m.
At a recent virtual conference, we asked NHS leaders whether they struggle to make change-driving decisions due to the lack of data insights. A staggering 12% said that they are still making judgment calls and base decisions on nothing else but a hunch due to the lack of reporting tools.
Even small practices can use this kind of medical technology. Often called ‘population health tools’, reports like this are often available on EHR (Electronic Health Record) systems and modern scheduling tools like 10to8.
Patient reporting tools use data from your local area to track patients’ well-being, make better treatment decisions for them and give you greater insight into the health of your patient population. They transform clinical data from complicated spreadsheets and lengthy documents into easy-to-read charts, graphs, or reports.
Data like this can turn out to be lifesaving. In the past, it’s allowed doctors to identify at-risk patients early before conditions worsen. For example, doctors can get in touch with patients with chronic conditions and health risks before the patient has a catastrophic outcome.
If you’ve ever accidentally double-booked yourself for something important, then you’ll know the importance of being able to easily change or cancel an appointment. The same thing applies to patients.
Managing appointments via the phone takes longer (both for patients and your staff) than going online and changing it. The lack of a patient portal means that they turn to an easier solution: simply not showing up to appointments. And there you have it, no patient portal just costs you an expensive DNA.
Patient portals allow people to easily log into a secure website, access their accounts, view their appointments, and move them around. Only unbooked slots will appear on the screen, so they can just check their calendars and see what works best for them based on your availability.
There are a couple of other reasons that using patient portals is an effective way to use technology in medicine:
- It shows patients that you are willing to adapt your medical practice to fit in with their busy lifestyle and provide a better patient experience.
- It helps modernize the patient flow and appeals to a great deal of the younger generations who dislike making phone calls.
- It gives patients the flexibility to manage their schedules and helps curb costly last-minute cancellations while increasing patient engagement.
Telehealth is the use of virtual healthcare sessions to provide a complete medical service or treatment from start to finish, encompassing virtual appointments, online booking, subscriptions sent to your door, and video consultations.
Whilst some conditions physically can’t be treated entirely remotely, counselling sessions, some forms of physiotherapy, dental care, asthma, and even regular vision checks can be carried out over the internet. This is especially useful for patients that live in remote areas or can’t easily access a surgery. Doctors can assess the conditions of patients, provide treatment recommendations, and even have remedies shipped to people’s doors entirely through online platforms.
Many health and IT professionals believe that telemedicine will become even more popular over the next few years. Furthermore, a recent survey found that a staggering 76% of people said they were highly likely to continue with telehealth after the pandemic has passed.
A survey by Medical Economics reported that one of the 44% of people liked how easy it was to book a telehealth appointment, and 38% noted how streamlined the follow-up process was. 49% also said they loved being able to choose their physician instead of being assigned one.
However, the survey also found that 30% of those over the age of 55 said that not having to download any programs or special applications will be key to their continued use of telehealth. Hence, web-based applications are the way forward.
Advanced ways doctors are using technology in medicine
Whilst there are many simple ways that technology can be adapted to fit into your medical practice, some serious advancements are happening all over the globe that are coming your way too. Here are a few examples.
The world of printing has advanced so much that now, as well as simply printing out a document, you can also print pills, blood vessels, and even artificial limbs.
However, this isn’t an entirely new concept. FDA-approved 3D-printed drugs have been a reality since 2015 but the idea was first published as early as the 1990s. In 2019, there was work developed to use 3D printing to print living skin tissue complete with pores and blood vessels. And, like all medical technology, over time this is only getting better.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence has the potential to completely reshape how we tackle common healthcare issues today.
The use of supercomputers and machine-learning algorithms can design effective treatment plans, access medical records, and even create drugs faster than we have ever imagined.
An example of this occurred recently when Google’s DeepMind created AI for breast cancer analysis that was able to spot irregularities sooner than traditional radiology methods could. This is just one example of the promise that using Artificial Intelligence brings.
Virtual Reality (VR)
These days, a VR headset isn’t just used for gaming. Virtual reality has slowly begun to revolutionize healthcare and is another type of advanced technology in medicine that may change the way doctors interact with patients, learn about the physiological impact of disease, or practice empathy.
VR allows doctors and surgeons to watch virtual operations as if they were performing them. Additionally, VR can allow them to experience life-altering physical changes such as losing a body part, or recovering from a heart attack, or even speed up physical therapy recovery for patients.
The experience for both doctors and their patients is improving through advancements such as this and it’s helping to train the next generation of surgeons to perform more outstanding care. In the future, when immersive technologies such as this become more affordable, VR will likely become common in healthcare around the world.
What are some positive impacts of technology in medicine?
There are many positive impacts of technology in medicine and the above examples are just scratching the surface of what we could achieve. Some of the benefits of adopting technology within your practice are:
Reduced overall costs
According to Science News, shifting from paper to digital records can cut outpatient costs by roughly 3%. Staffing time and costs can be reduced by switching to an online booking system and giving your patients the ability to cancel online can reduce costly no-shows by around 90%. For example, the NHS’s online prescription service has saved the organization a whopping £136 million in three years.
Reducing healthcare waste
Even something as simple as digitizing healthcare records can save so much paper per year, which is a step forward to saving trees and reducing our carbon footprint. This is just one of the reasons that the NHS wants to become fully digitized by 2024. Plus, it’s much easier for patients to be able to access their records at the click of a button.
Developing new drugs and treatments
Technology in medicine can help prevent issues like the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming such a major issue in the future. Or, we will be able to quickly develop solutions that help overcome such healthcare crises fastly.
Most importantly, medical technology can help professionals prevent the avoidable deaths of patients. Procedures like 3D printing organs and tissues and using AI to detect breast cancer can be stepping stones to saving someone's life. And that is the ultimate goal with all improvements in healthcare.
Overall, the significance of advancements thus far in the medical world and what we’ve already been able to achieve mean that utilizing medical technology is extremely important and exciting.
Bringing better, more efficient treatment to patients, improving patient care and wellbeing, and developing superior treatments that can ultimately save lives is exciting and will only continue to advance in the future.
So, whether you decide to start small and adopt an online booking system for your practice or go all out with virtual reality and robotics, adopting technology in medicine can change lives.