Solar-powered contact lenses, health-tracking tattoos, and new IBM Watson solutions are some of the major digital trends of 2015.
Starting with CES at the beginning of January 2015, TechRepublic has been covering developments in health-related tech all year. Later that month, we posted a list of digital health trends to watch in 2015. Here's a look back at what's happened in those areas this year.
Yes, people are still wearing fitness trackers like the Fitbit. In colors like coral and teal. And attached to Tory Burch bracelets. They're pretty much a fashion accessory now. But in October, we reported on security concerns associated with all the health and personal information that can be stored in these devices. One possible scenario: Information about your health risks can be stolen and sold, leading to health insurance rate hikes or even policy cancellation.
Despite security and privacy concerns still being worked out, new wearable devices are coming out all the time. In January we reported about all the useful devices on display at CES like smart hearing aids and diabetes trackers. Since then, Google has gotten a patent for solar-powered contact lenses that can track data, including body temperature, blood alcohol level, and allergens in the wearer's environment.
Other interesting wearable health devices introduced this year: the Embrace watch, which can be worn by people with epilepsy to monitor seizures and alert loved ones if a convulsive seizure happens, and tattoos that can sense and track temperature, heart rate, and hydration level. Could biometric tattoos be the new Fitbit? Maybe.
2. Predictive analytics
At the beginning of the year, we said big data is the buzzword in digital health, and that's still the case. We reported in September that IBM Watson's new Health Cloud can make sense of massive amounts of data, helping researchers do things like match patients to clinical trials and develop drugs.
In November, we reported on GE Healthcare's analytics platform, Predix Cloud. GE Healthcare CEO Daphne Jones said hospitals will be able to use Predix Cloud software to analyze data transmitted from machines to predict and reduce unplanned downtime and schedule staff around peak usage times.
Another cool big data development: Startup uBiome announced a partnership with the CDC to analyze the microbiomes of thousands of patients before and during hospital stays to study how hospital-related infections develop.
3. Telemedicine and digital health clinics
As 2015 comes to a close, most medical appointments still involve getting in the car and driving to an office, but we might be getting closer to virtual visits becoming more commonplace. In April, we reported on a digital women's health clinic called Maven. Nurse practitioners with the clinic can answer questions about birth control and pregnancy and, in some states, write prescriptions. Online visits with mental health providers are also continuing to become more common, which is good news for residents of rural areas where such services might not exist.
One telemedicine service that didn't work out this year: Google Helpouts. The service connected people with medical professionals, which is a great idea, since Google searches for symptoms leads to self-diagnoses. Helpouts never caught on, and Google shut down the service in April.
Good news for people googling their symptoms: In February, Google announced that it was putting reliable facts (verified by doctors) in its Knowledge Graph. So google any common medical condition and up pops all the basics you need to understand it.
4. The move to electronic medical records
While there hasn't been much news about the spread of electronic medical record use, there has been news about electronic medical record theft.
In November, we reported on former White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra's speech at the Louisville Innovation Summit, where he discussed the future of healthcare. He talked about his vision for a valet key (an electronic medical record of sorts) that each patient owns and can use to provide their data to healthcare professionals.
5. Outside talent to fix big problems
At the beginning of the year, we talked about outsiders coming into the healthcare industry to fix big problems. It looks like that trend might be here to stay.
In November, we interviewed Mina Hsiang, an engineer who was called in to help fix Healthcare.gov after the site got off to a rocky start in 2013. She's now working on health data issues, including making veterans' records more accessible.
Also in November, we reported on the huge need for cybersecurity professionals in the healthcare industry to fix the data theft problem that comes with the proliferation of wearables and electronic medical records.
Keep an eye on augmented reality in 2016
Augmented reality (AR) wasn't on the list of digital health trends at the beginning of the year, but it's an area that's growing. In June, we reported on a session at the Augmented World Expo that highlighted ways the medical world is making use of AR devices. The uses include: teaching surgery and anatomy, helping nurses and doctors find veins when drawing blood, and helping kids stay still in MRI machines.
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