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The 6 biggest innovations in health care technology in 2013

This year we’ve witnessed amazing innovations in technology with everything from wearable tech like Google Glass or Nike+ to the recent introduction of Coin, one card that stores all your credit cards, debit cards, personal accounts, business accounts and other cards typically filling your wallet. The healthcare industry was no exception to the rise in […]

This year we’ve witnessed amazing innovations in technology with everything from wearable tech like Google Glass or Nike+ to the recent introduction of Coin, one card that stores all your credit cards, debit cards, personal accounts, business accounts and other cards typically filling your wallet. The healthcare industry was no exception to the rise in disruptive technology changing the way people are impacted. What are some of the most influential healthcare technologies you’ve seen appear this year?

Without a doubt the pace at which new technology is impacting our everyday lives is increasing at lightning speeds. As of today, 29% of Americans say their phone is the first thing and last thing they look at everyday which is a telling sign of how connected we are becoming to technology.

These technologies are starting to allow healthcare practitioners to offer cheaper, faster and more efficient patient care than ever before, which is certainly a step in the right direction. The healthcare industry has long been overburdened by a slow moving innovation due to the complexity of the medical ecosystem, but due to this technology the industry has finally seen some far reaching changes.

Everything from new artificial hearts to electronic aspirin, the healthcare industry is slowly but surely becoming more agile, effective and cost-effective for patients looking for care.

Of the many disruptions reaching the masses this year, here are the some of the biggest innovations in healthcare technology with far reaching impacts. Our inspiration for this column was an infographic by Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD.

1. Microchips Modeling Clinical Trials

The potential to streamline, improve, and perhaps transform the current healthcare system is huge. That’s how microchip modeling clinical trials came into use because there was an open opportunity and a need to innovate on the way clinical trials are conducted.

Microchip modeling clinical trials aim to replace the use of animals in clinical trials to more accurately test the safety and efficacy of treatment for human patients and spare the lives of countless animals typically used in testing.

These microchips are smaller than a human thumb, can reconstruct the complicated interface between organs and capillaries, which is similar to the idea of microfabrication, the process of making structures on a micrometer scale.

By eliminating animal models in certain circumstances, scientists and doctors have been able to reconstruct organs like the human lungs by focusing on the use of complicated systems of microchips to emulate these bodily systems.

In many instances, animals pass as adequate human stand in’s but in many cases they do not help drive accurate results on how human’s would be affected by the same procedures, diseases and treatments. Microchips more closely resemble live tissue, cell types and realistic three-dimensional interactions occurring in the human body than do other forms of clinical testing to date.

2. Wearable Technology like Google Glass

Wearable technology is still in its infancy but has already started to have widespread influence across many industries. Dr. Rafael Grossmann was the very first surgeon to use Google Glass or wearable technology in general while performing a surgery.

As wearable technology continues to improve to better meet the needs of its users, healthcare providers continue to hope that its use will impact both the experience of patients and practitioners to better receive and administer care.

Dr. Grossmann believes that Google Glass and wearable technology of a similar nature will help improve the way healthcare providers interact with patients and a patient’s relatives, increasing the satisfaction of patients and making doctors and other providers more effective at doing their job because of the added level of communication between parties.

He sees this new technology as allowing a doctor to someday interact with a patient, while simultaneously pulling up their medical history using Google Glass. The surgery performed using Google Glass could serve as an example of real-time education for medical students and other professionals alike.

There are even telemedicine opportunities with Google Glass as well, allowing doctors and other medical professionals to provide clinical care in certain capacities from a distance. The practice is already in use by doctor’s providing medical advice via the phone or email in many instances across the United States but, it’s the technology that limits how effective this approach can be when it comes to what level of care is able to be administered.

This is so important because according to Grossmann, many don’t survive a medical condition or emergency each year because the right patient needs to be at the right place at the right time and this isn’t often the case since up to 30% of the U.S. population doesn’t live near a trauma center if they happen to live a rural area for example.

Grossmann has used Apple’s FaceTime to discuss crucial patient crises as well as virtual examinations with patients in various locations across the country, able to severely impact the outcome of their care. He argues that with the continued adoption of wearable tech like Google Glass, more lives will be saved since communication between medical professionals and patients will continue to improve to the next level.

3. 3D Printed Biological Materials

There have been many widespread uses of 3D printers today from guns to models of the Empire State building, but the medical uses are extremely practical and overtime could really solve ongoing health issues once it’s figured out how to accurately apply them to people.

Here are seven applications of 3D printers in healthcare that could have an important impact in the future:

-Embryonic Stem Cells: These cells have already been successfully printed in a lab and could be one-day use to create tissue that could help test drugs and assist in the growth of new organs.

-Printing Skin: There have been many advances in the areas of developing skin to help burn victims and skin disease patients, 3D printers can help further jumpstart these advances with the addition of laser-printed skin cells.

-Blood Vessels & Heart Tissue: Organovo is a company that has already successfully printed blood vessels and sheets of cardiac tissue that actually beat along just like a real heart.

-Replacing Cartilage & Bone: 3D printers have also helped scientists and doctors create stem cells that could eventually develop into both bone and cartilage in the long-term.

-Studying Cancer: Printing cancer cells is a way of growing these cells on tissue in a lab to study, test drugs on and to eventually find a cure for.

-Patching a Broken Heart: Printing cells with a 3D printer proves useful in a recent study of rats that had previously suffered heart attacks and were given these patches of cells to help slowly help improve their heart function overtime.

-Replacement Organs: Printing new part for organs or entire organs all together will help solve an ongoing medical need and help save hundred of thousands of people every year waiting for an organ donation to come thru.

4. Optogenetics

A new technology has jump-started the technique in neuroscience known as optogenetics where neuroscientists target a single neuron in the brain of a mouse merely by turning on a light.

This is done by using a light activated gene and inserting it into the genome of a mouse to be able to easily identify when the particular neuron is firing in the brain.

Optogenetics is a hot topic amongst the medical community today, surrounded by both praise and criticism. Its purpose is to control a brain’s activity with light. This could have far reaching benefits with humans to help better understand the complex network of neurons that make up the brain. A stronger understanding could help humans better grasp how we create thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

Identifying these neurons may sometime help people detect flaws or deformities in the various neurons in the brain that cause devastating mental disorders like schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and depression. By controlling the activity of specific neurons, neuroscientists will begin to learn how each type of neuron contributes to the overall functions of the brain.

The firing of a neuron through lighting may someday be a technique to finding the answers to some of the many open questions mankind has wondered about themselves both medically and physiologically since the dawn of time or this technique may not be able to work with humans due to its invasive nature in its current applications with rats.

Time will tell as to whether this approach is effective, but nevertheless, the study of the human brain using light will help neuroscientists on the path to better understanding the neurons and how they work across this complex organ.

Read the 5th and 6th biggest Health Care Tech innovations on referralMD’s Blog