A brave, smart new world of healthcare

Where is healthcare heading? Where will the new smart technology take it? Here are some answers by Research Professors Minna Pikkarainen and Heikki Ailisto and Principal Scientist Eero Punkka.

Is the world moving towards a day when new materials, micro-sensors, and data analytics and networks will become combined and we no longer refer to smartphones, smart cars or smart homes – instead, we have a world in which intelligence is a natural, seamlessly built-in and integral element?  This still lies at the end of a long development path, but it is the direction we are inevitably taking and will shape the future of healthcare.

There is a buzz among healthcare providers. Many companies have realised that a billion-euro business lies in personalised and preventative healthcare and the related services. New technologies are enabling us to measure and monitor people more comprehensively. If only we could affect people’s behaviour and prevent even some of their chronic illnesses.

The MyData model (a healthcare data management model suggested in Finland) enables individuals to share data which is currently stored in silos. Otherwise, this would often be difficult due to data protection provisions. In any case, utilising data from various sources such as shopping behaviour, bank services, healthcare or from personal trainers will require reliable technology free of major data security risks.

Continuous digital ‘health monitoring’

The hospital sector is also aware of the potential for using data as part of the hospital services of the future. Based on data and ‘smart’ technology, a care management system and continuous digital ‘health monitoring’ are being designed for patients. This would provide the individual with personalised guidance from healthcare professionals or, say, digital coaching or hospital services.

It looks as though healthcare is undergoing the same transition as bank services once did. Most services will be offered as home-based digital services, with just a fraction being provided from a doctor’s office in the traditional way. Hospitals are also planning to reduce their bed numbers, sending most patients home to be monitored remotely. Operations are more commonly being performed on an outpatient basis. This means that rehabilitation, physiotherapy, follow-ups and patient guidance are moving into the patient’s home.

Home-care services will require easy-to-use and reliable, medically approved devices such as sensors integrated into rooms, furniture, textiles or care robots, combined with the new communication technologies offered by Internet-of-Things. Data produced by sensors will be transferred to decision-support systems, based on which a status report and the best treatment alternatives can be offered to the individual, nurse or doctor.

In addition to the application of a broad range of technologies, the health care of the future will require cooperation between companies from the ecosystem, to ensure that personal data is gathered, processed and transferred easily and securely. Technological development is one of the drivers of this change, but let’s set the goal of ensuring that the brave, smart new world of healthcare enables preventive, personalised, effective and safe treatment, as well as leaving room for a human touch.

Minna Pikkarainen VTT

Minna Pikkarainen, Research Professor

Eero Punkka VTT

Eero Punkka, Principal Scientist 

Heikki Ailisto VTT

Heikki Ailisto, Research Professor
Twitter: @HeikkiAilisto

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