Here at FVI, we have two main divisions: technology (TechLaunch) and healthcare. People who come to us to get into healthcare careers are often interested in helping to improve peoples’ health — (arguably) the most important, personal part of our lives as human beings. Increasingly, though, web and software developers are beginning to play an important role in healthcare as well.
Over the past few years, small groups of developers and tech entrepreneurs have been building technologies that can help millions of people around the world. 2017 was a huge year for healthcare tech, and 2018 is set to be even bigger. Wearables are helping diabetes patients track their glucose (replacing the painful process of using needles every day), and heart patients track their heart activity (replacing the need for clunky EKG machines in doctors’ offices). AI is making huge breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of cancer, and in the prevention of blindness.
There are far too many healthcare tech breakthroughs to highlight in a single article. So without further ado, here’s our list of the top 5 Surprising Ways that Tech Is Advancing Healthcare in 2018!
1. Drug Distribution
CVS & Walgreens are worrying about Amazon. Pharmacists in the UK are quaking in their Boots. For when the world’s largest online retailer decides to wade into an industry, a wake of destruction is left in its path.
The pharmacy industry is worth over $450 billion in the US alone.
Right now, in order to get their medicines, most Americans have to actually get up and go to the drug store. Only around 10% of prescriptions are delivered by mail. Amazon could change this situation dramatically, by offering convenient, transparent drug deliveries. Filling your prescription would be as easy as ordering cat food on Amazon Prime.
As usual, Amazon is keeping quiet about its plans for a drug-distribution takeover, but reports have indicated that the internet giant has recently started hiring senior executives from the insurance, pharmacy, and pharmacy benefit management industries. And in late 2017, Amazon secured wholesale pharmacy licenses in 12 states.
Pharmacies across the US are beginning to offer next-day home delivery, a move that appears to be an attempt to preemptively compete with Amazon Prime.
Whether Amazon will make moves to take over the pharmacy industry in 2018 is unclear, but things do seem to be moving in that direction.
2. Diabetes (Glucose Monitoring)
According to the CDC, more than one third of US adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the USA.
Up until now, people living with diabetes have had no choice but to monitor their glucose through invasive means, like pricking themselves with a needle multiple times per day. This is obviously not a great situation. It’s painful, it’s invasive, it’s inconvenient, and it’s not very efficient. It’s little wonder that tech companies have been working on a solution to this problem for the past few years.
Google’s Glucose Gambit
In 2014, Google started working on a “smart contact lens” that sits in the eye and monitors the glucose levels in tears. It’s an exciting idea, but unfortunately the tech isn’t quite there yet.
While it has been successfully shown to measure glucose levels in tears, researchers have yet to find a reliable way to determine blood-glucose levels from tear-glucose levels. Unless Google’s researchers are able to figure that out, this technology may have hit a dead end.
Apple’s Ambitious Attempt
In 2017, Apple started building a secret lab to develop Apple Watch’s health-tracking capabilities. While Apple has been secretive about the operation, a few high-profile leaks have indicated that Apple hired between 30 and 200 PhD researchers to work on this project. Their goal, for now, seems to be focused on glucose-monitoring.
If Apple can develop a non-invasive glucose monitoring tracker, that would be revolutionary for the treatment of diabetes. It would be a real improvement in the lives of diabetes patients all around the world. Instead of having to prick their fingers with needles to get a measurement once or twice a day, they’ll be able to effortless, painlessly track their glucose levels all day. Whenever, wherever.
While this may seem like science fiction, the tech seems to be almost ready to come to market in 2018. Tim Cook was reportedly spotted wearing a prototype version. Meanwhile, PKVitality (a small European wearables company) has developed a working model called K’watch Glucose, which is slated to be released in 2018.
Kwatch Glucose monitors blood-glucose levels without the need for drawing blood. Its specialized sensor can detect blood glucose levels just by being pressed against the skin, and can be used an unlimited number of times per day.
In the olden days (before December 2017), patients who needed electrocardiograms (EKGs) needed to take off their shirts and get hooked up to large machines in a doctor’s office. Today, not so much.
After extensive testing, the FDA has finally approved the Kardia band — a band that attaches to the Apple Watch, which measures the electrical activity in the wearer’s heart. This may seem too good to be true. Apple products feel more like toys than medical instruments, after all. But apparently, the Kardia band is just as accurate as those giant clunky machines at the doctor’s office. In order to get FDA approval, the band needed to pass through a rigorous testing process. AliveCor CEO Vic Gundotra put it simply: “We had to prove that our algorithms are effective as a board of human cardiologists.” Apparently, they did.
4. Patient Monitoring & Medical Research (at the same time!)
Want to track your heart rate? There’s an app for that.
Asthma symptoms? That’s another app.
Want to gather all your health data from multiple apps, send it to your doctor, and add it (anonymously, of course) to the largest treasure trove of medical data researchers have ever known? Apple has a kit for that. Actually, apple has three kits for that.
Apple’s HealthKit, CareKit, and ResearchKit are revolutionary frameworks for healthcare. HealthKit allows users to monitor their health data — everything from exercise time to glucose levels and BMI. CareKit allows patients to share this information with their physicians. ResearchKit allows researchers to create apps that monitor large-scale statistical trends in patient data, which can help to advance medical science as a whole. These three healthcare kits are designed to work together seamlessly for a convenient patient experience.
One current example of how this system works comes from the Apple Heart Study. Apple & Stanford are collaborating on a study to learn more about the causes of arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation. This study is built upon successful findings from a previous UCSF study, in which the Apple Watch (combined with some ingenious AI Machine Learning algorithms), was shown to detect aFib more accurately than conventional methods.
For this new Stanford study, users download the smartwatch app, which tracks their heart rhythms continuously. When the app detects heart rhythm abnormalities, it immediately alerts the user. It also allows the user to schedule a free consultation with a physician. Through this simple app, users can monitor their own health, share it with medical specialists, and contribute to cutting edge medical research, all at the same time.
5. Diagnostic Medicine
In 2018, we can expect Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning to take some of the burden off the shoulders of overworked doctors and nurses. While there are many large tech firms and Universities working on these projects, Google, to a large extent, is paving the way.
AI vs. Skin Cancer
In 2017, Stanford researchers used one of Google’s open source image recognition algorithms to train a neural network to identify benign and malignant skin cancers. They tested the AI’s diagnoses against a panel of 21 dermatologists, and found that the AI performed at the same accuracy level as the human physicians.
The team hopes to release an app in the near future that will allow anyone to take a photo of a mole, a spot, or a patch of skin, to instantly find out if it’s cancer or not. This will save human dermatologists a lot of time, freeing them up to focus on the actual cancer patients. It will also save patients and insurance companies a huge amount of time and money. All this, from a smart application of Google’s image recognition AI.
The app will still need to go through rigorous testing in order to get FDA approval. It may be a while before you’re able to download it on your smartphone.
Deep Learning vs. Breast Cancer
Image courtesy of Google
Google has developed some amazing deep learning technologies over the years. Google’s image recognition software is now so powerful that it can recognize cancer in breast tissue samples. In a recent study, Google’s AI achieved 89% accuracy in spotting breast cancer that had spread to lymph nodes. The researchers gave the same tissue samples to a human pathologist, who only achieved 73% accuracy. And that was after spending 30 hours analyzing the samples! This could be revolutionary for the field of cancer diagnosis.
Machine Learning vs. Blindness
Google’s image recognition algorithms have also been put to good use detecting diabetic retinopathy. DR is the fastest growing cause of preventable blindness in the world today. Google’s AI software has been shown to detect diabetic retinopathy at least as well as human ophthalmologists.
There are lots of ways that tech is advancing healthcare around the world. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a developer yourself, check out our courses at techlaunch.io!