The pandemic has changed so many industries, but perhaps no field has been more impacted than healthcare.

One of the most important changes has been exceedingly low-tech: increased awareness about the importance of hand washing, wearing PPE, and following basic hygiene rules. But along with these changes, recent technological innovations promise to propel the healthcare industry into a new and more prosperous era.

So what cutting-edge technology has hit the healthcare field recently? Let’s take a tour of some of the more amazing innovations in the industry.

Temperature Takers

Forehead scanners have become common sights since the beginning of the pandemic. They use infrared technology to detect body temperature without any direct contact with the patient’s skin. A close cousin of the forehead scanner, the wrist temp scanner can be even more accurate due to the number of blood vessels that are close to the surface on the wrist.

Thermal cameras are even more cutting-edge, proving a temperature reading when a person simply walks in front of the camera. The software locates the hottest area of the face, at the corner of the eye, and displays the corresponding body temperature. This technology is especially helpful in places like hospitals, enabling a large number of readings to be taken quickly, as people walk by a checkpoint.

Remote Diagnosis

Improved telemedicine has also made a huge shift during the pandemic. While it has existed for years, it was usually used only for people in remote areas and had many limitations. During the pandemic, many changes were put into place that made telemedicine a more viable option for many patients.

In the past, doctors licensed in one state were not allowed to see a patient from another state via telehealth. They couldn’t prescribe controlled substances based on a telehealth appointment, and they could only use the technology to see returning patients. Some health-related providers, such as physical therapists, were not allowed to use telemedicine at all.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed all of that. Now patients can use telehealth for a variety of purposes—if they lack transportation, are unable to afford child care, or live far from the provider of their choice. Some patients prefer telemedicine because they suffer from feelings of anxiety in medical surroundings.

There are still some downsides to telemedicine, though. Connectivity issues abound, and it can be frustrating for both the provider and the patient when the connection is dropped, when the sound cuts in and out, or when a rash or other symptom cannot be seen clearly. In addition, many parts of an exam, such as checking patient vital signs (for instance, monitoring heart palpitations), are impossible via telehealth. At the end of the day, however, we have only begun tapping into the benefits of this technology.

At a Small Scale

Nanotechnology has also taken off in recent years, allowing healthcare professionals to more effectively diagnose, treat, and prevent many different diseases. This cutting-edge technology allows medications to be delivered directly to the location where they are needed, which results in a lower dose of medication necessary, as well as fewer side effects.

For example, a patient with cancer who undergoes chemotherapy is exposing their entire body to a very potent drug, which can result in other parts of the body experiencing significant side effects, such as hair loss, nausea, and a decrease in immunity. Using nanotechnology would enable the chemotherapy drug to be delivered directly to the tumor, minimizing these side effects and improving the outcome of the treatment with a lower dose of medication.

Similarly, age-related macular degeneration is typically treated using monthly injections into the eye. Using nanoparticles, however, the injection can be done every six months, since the injected particles can stay in the eye and slowly release the medication over time.

Lab on a Chip

Closely related to nanotechnology is the innovation of “a lab on a chip,” a device that creates a laboratory environment on a microscale. Because of its small scale, it decreases the amount of reagents required, reduces the waste that will need to be disposed of, and minimizes exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Researchers can create this device by using microfluidic compounds to model parts of the body, such as a lung, a blood vessel, or an ovary. In fact, they can essentially create a model of the entire body the size of a Petri dish. This can help with drug testing and development, as well as help us better understand the mechanisms of a disease.

Truth or Science Fiction?

In the 1960s, science fiction was in its heyday, and the creators of Star Trek thought up some amazing futuristic inventions…many of which are already part of our lives today. But only the tricorder actually gave its name to the real thing.

On the show, the tricorder was a handheld device that could scan a person (or alien) to gather health data, detect health problems, and make a diagnosis. In 2017, a competition was held to try to find the best “tricorder” invention that can be made with today’s technology. The winner and several runners up are undergoing testing and working through the red tape, but it seems that production is imminent. 

These tricorders, some of which will be only a few hundred dollars, can monitor a patient’s vital signs, ask questions about symptoms, and let a patient know when medical assistance is necessary. This can be especially helpful for patients with chronic diseases or those who live in rural areas.

A Medical Siri

We have Siri and Alexa—two of many popular chatbots that help us set timers, follow a recipe, and check on the weather. Why not adapt that technology to improve the healthcare industry?

Medical chatbots are becoming more and more common, mostly in the form of healthcare apps. They can provide medical information, schedule appointments, collect health data, and handle insurance inquiries. Some can even provide basic mental health assistance. For example, Woebot provides CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) therapy, as well as mindfulness assistance.)

While today’s cutting-edge technology can be fascinating and definitely has its uses, one basic truth about healthcare is always current: Prevention is key. That means staying healthy through diet and exercise, using PPE correctly, and seeing a medical professional when necessary.

Written by Robert Brown