For the average consumer, this may manifest as advanced tracking algorithms for targeted advertisements or the newest smartphone that everyone has to have. In the health care world, this appears as new hardware, software and medical techniques that have the potential to save lives — if health care suppliers can keep up with the changing times, that is.
Computer Science and Molecular Biology
Molecular biology is a large part of the medical field and it’s changing nearly as fast as the human body does. From mapping the human genome to tracking diagnostic trends, computer science is starting to make an impact. When it comes right down to it, the human mind can’t hope to process the amount of information that a computer can. The only problem with that was that until recently, a computer had to be programmed with the exact information that the researchers were looking for. Machine learning and predictive analytics is changing that.
Machine learning, as its name suggests, relies on computers or programs that are designed to learn and grow based on their experiences, much like the human mind does. They have the same or even more processing power than their predecessors but they don’t have to be programmed to a high level of detail. The more information a machine learning program processes, the smarter it will become and the more accurate its answers will be.
With enough data, these programs may even be able to offer moderately accurate predictions about the future of an industry or location. In the medical field, this could be used to study patient information to predict disease outbreaks or determine who might be at risk for a particular diagnosis based on their information and other data gathered from patients both locally and globally.
A Question of Regulation
With any new medical technique or equipment, there comes the question of FDA regulation — how will this be regulated by the FDA if it is required, and will it affect the related quality of care?
The synergy of molecular biology and computer sciences is coming and it will be up to the FDA to learn how to regulate the products that are designed to exist with a foot in both worlds. Do they just need to regulate the medical side of things, or do they need to come up with a new form of regulation that works on both the medical side and the computer science side?
Connecting Doctors and Patients and Other Doctors
Machine learning isn’t the only new technology that the FDA will need to learn how to keep up with — mobile technology is becoming an increasingly valuable tool in the medical community to connect doctors with patients and to keep doctors connected with their peers and colleagues.
Mobile applications for patients can help educate patients by answering frequently asked questions to keep those questions from tying up your phone lines. Telemedicine or remote appointments conducted through voice or video chat can also be facilitated by the use of mobile technology — one study found that telemedicine appointments can save patients hundreds of dollars and hours of driving time. It also saves the physician money by reducing the number of cancelled or rescheduled appointments — people are much more likely to show up when they don’t have to leave their house.
It’s also an invaluable tool for keeping doctors in touch with their peers and colleagues — something that is essential in large and fast paced environments like hospitals. While texting patient orders are still illegal, that doesn’t prevent physicians from using these mobile applications to keep in touch with nurses and other doctors. Real-time locations systems can be used to keep track of doctor who might be on call, or to keep track of patients who might be prone to wander, such as those with dementia.
These mobile programs can also be used to enable patients to access their medical records. The possibilities are endless, as long as the programs are secured properly. The FDA may need a new branch — something related to cybersecurity — to make sure that these programs can be used safely while still protecting patient information and being in compliance with HIPPA.
The real trick with all of these advances is that the health care suppliers need to keep up with them. They may be more comfortable with tried-and-true technology, but all that tried-and-true equipment isn’t going to stay that way for long. These STEM fields will continue to intersect and create new and exciting ways to complete old tasks. It is quite literally becoming a case of keep up or be left behind.