A healthy population is considered the foundation of a successful society. Healthier people contribute to greater economic growth as they are more productive workers, take fewer sick leaves, and impose a smaller burden on the country’s healthcare system.
Over time, the healthcare sector has gone through a drastic change. Mortality rates have gone down and the average human lifespan has increased. Healthcare systems have faced many challenges over the past few years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which sparked a period of innovation and led to the discovery of new ideas and technologies that will continue to help people years into the future.
Here are some recent trends in healthcare research and service delivery that are making it easier to improve patients’ lives:
1. Gene editing
Genetic diseases occur when the normal version of a DNA sequence becomes mutated as cells reproduce. They impact people worldwide throughout their lifetime, require numerous treatments and lifestyle changes, and are one the major causes of early mortality.
There are many genetic diseases, ranging from cystic fibrosis, which affects the respiratory system, to sickle cell anemia and hemophilia, which affects the patient’s blood cells. Many genetic diseases are either untreatable or require regular treatments.
Moreover, other disorders such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease have high heritability rates, which means people may be more likely to have these diseases if a parent or grandparent also suffers from them. In such cases, gene editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to directly change the faulty or mutated gene, treating the problem at its source. Many gene therapies are developed using a reverse complement tool which is used to design complementary DNA sequences, which are then used to precisely join different DNA fragments.
Although it is a promising intervention for genetic diseases, gene editing is still in the early stages of development and has a long way to go before it becomes a widely used treatment.
2. Precision medicine
Many diseases are caused by an interaction between the person’s genetic makeup and their environment. For example, someone’s genetic makeup indicates that they may have an increased likelihood of developing diabetes, as many family members have suffered from the same disease. However, they may not necessarily develop the same disorder if they eat a balanced diet and remain physically active. Similarly, people with no genetic propensity for diabetes may develop the disorder if they are physically unfit and their diet is rich in unhealthy carbohydrates.
Precision medicine takes these interactions between the genes and the environment into account and suggests medical decisions and possible treatments specific to the patient’s needs based on their risk factors and predicted response to the treatment.
A sub-category of precision medicine is pharmacogenomics, which predicts how patients will respond to medications based on their genes. This approach allows healthcare providers to avoid prescribing standardized treatments and improves patient outcomes by ensuring they receive treatments specific to their needs. It also improves the efficiency of healthcare systems by ensuring that patients do not receive treatments that are not beneficial for them.
3. Artificial intelligence and data analytics
Artificial intelligence and data analysis are becoming increasingly relevant to most industries with each passing day, and the healthcare industry is no exception. Medical records, lab results, and constantly updated vital sign values add up to a huge amount of data associated with each patient. Certain patterns in this data may not be easily detectable by a human, which is where artificial intelligence comes in.
Algorithms can now analyze large quantities of data and identify patterns, which can then be used to guide clinical decision-making. It can also alert healthcare providers regarding changes in a patient’s status or calculate the risk of them developing complications. AI can also be used to identify abnormalities in imaging or ECGs. Therefore, AI can improve patient outcomes and help healthcare systems become more efficient as it diagnoses diseases in earlier stages and takes over the mundane, repetitive tasks, allowing doctors and nurses to focus better on areas where their expertise is needed.
However, a successful algorithm requires accurate, unbiased data. It is important to address instances where data may be an inaccurate reflection of the real scenario before fully relying on AI-generated decisions.
4. Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring
Telemedicine refers to the remote delivery of healthcare services through digital means. It allows doctors to provide consultations without requiring an in-person visit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare delivery became severely compromised as hospitals became overburdened with sick people, and patients avoided going to the hospital for fear of contracting the COVID virus. Telemedicine became especially common in such circumstances, as it allowed people to get help without leaving the house.
Remote patient monitoring is a sub-category of telemedicine and involves using mobile health devices such as wearable technology and related applications to monitor a patient’s symptoms by collecting data regarding their temperature, blood pressure, and more. Telemedicine has increased the accessibility of healthcare by increasing convenience and reducing the time spent going to a doctor’s appointment or sitting in crowded waiting rooms. It can be especially helpful for people with compromised immune systems as it allows them to receive medical help without exposing themselves to contaminants.
Telemedicine can also be advantageous from an economic standpoint. It helps reduce healthcare costs by streamlining the process and increasing efficiency. Greater convenience in accessing healthcare can also indirectly reduce future healthcare costs by ensuring early diagnosis of certain diseases, resulting in improved patient health outcomes. Furthermore, telemedicine allows patients to maintain their health through mobile apps and patient portals. Patients who are more engaged in managing their health tend to take better care of themselves and are more likely to adhere to their treatment plans.
Developments in technology and a move toward data-driven approaches to providing healthcare are creating a notable impact on patient’s lives. Healthcare research and service delivery are going through a transformative period, and healthcare providers must embrace new trends such as telemedicine and precision medicine to provide more accessible and personalized care to each patient. Commitment to providing effective and efficient healthcare will make a positive impact and improve patient outcomes as a whole.