Health tech is advancing fast: Meet Dr Robot
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Health tech is advancing fast: Meet Dr Robot

Travelling with a robotic driverless car is said by some to be safer than sitting in one driven by a human as robots are less likely to make mistakes. But, does the same apply to medicine? Can we expect to be treated by robots any time soon? Automation and artificial intelligence is already doing a lot to help doctors treat patients.

Health-tech is a fast developing industry branch that uses technology such as wearables, applications or databases to improve healthcare. Its possible uses are almost endless, ranging from online diagnostics to developing new drugs and from personal devices helping manage chronic medical conditions to robotic nurses.

New technologies to save costs

The development of health-tech is of high impact as there is a great potential of lowering costs due to the telemedicine. As Lorenzo Biasio, a Healthcare Equity Analyst in International Wealth Management at Credit Suisse, says: "Spending on the healthcare system has been growing steadily since the Seventies. Now it is about 10 percent worldwide and 20 percent in the USA. If we keep the current growth in spending we may spend about 70 percent of GDP in a hundred years' time on the healthcare system. It's clear that we need to lower the costs. And technology can help keep them in check."

The bulk of the population seems to be willing to accept the new solutions in the field of medicine. Despite problems like transferring data cross border, privacy issues or hacker attacks being likely to arise, demand for telemedicine solutions is steadily growing: According to a 2015 study by Pew Research, 52 percent of Americans do not mind actively sharing their medical records by uploading it on their doctor's office website.

Health monitoring device in your pocket

The fastest growing branch of health tech currently is telemedicine and remote monitoring. Thanks to the widespread availability of smartphones, health apps are going mainstream and cover virtually anything from managing diabetes to spotting flu foci in the neighborhood and diagnosing food intolerances. A huge increase in the global mobile health market can be observed: According to Deloitte this was worth 2.4 billion US dollars in 2013, and they estimate it will reach 21.5 billion US dollars by 2018.

Make yourself at home

For patients living in rural areas and for those who just do not feel up to leaving their home, telemedicine is the ideal solution. It allows for patients to be tested without admitting them into a hospital. These days Holter monitors, for example, arrive by mail with easy-to-follow instructions, which enables the patients to attach the device themselves and immediately stream the data from the heart monitor to the specialists who can quickly spot any abnormalities. Less money, less stress, fewer restrictions for both patients and medical personnel.

Furthermore, it sheds new light on the way we manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes. According to Accenture, not only billions of dollars might be saved annually if patients in the US used remote monitoring systems instead of going for frequent check-ups at the doctor's office, but medical problems could be picked up at an early stage by monitoring a patient's behavior and vital signs and entering them regularly into a mobile device. Sugar levels, activity during the day, sleeping time and food diary can be streamed to the doctor or nurse who can give feedback instantly. "It allows you to pick on problems relatively early and cut costs caused by the visits in ER," Biasio says. "Whenever the patient starts to develop issues you can start to intervene early on." This should also result in fewer complications.

Easy delegation to e-personnel 

The human factor in medicine is necessary. However, some duties can be easily delegated to robots. Besides telemedicine and health apps, the support of data collecting, mining and processing by artificial intelligence offers interesting opportunities (see text box). This should come as another game changer when it comes to cost reduction.