For all of its ills, Covid-19 has supercharged consumerism in America’s healthcare system, offering tantalizing opportunities for companies interested in lowering health care costs and increasing access to quality medical care.
Speaking at CB Insights’s recent Future of Health Conference, Deepa Varadharajan, a senior managing analyst at the New York City-based research and analytics firm, explained that consumers can look forward to improved access and quality of health care, in addition to lowering costs–courtesy of artificial intelligence spurred by the coronavirus.
More than 170 startups are driving “anytime, anywhere care,” said Varadharajan, noting that she expects the trend to continue. In addition to providing a growth industry for those working to further AI, improving accessibility and lowering the cost of care could make the lives of time-crunched workers far more convenient–especially if the technology cuts down the time it takes to see a doctor or get a test done.
Here are the five trends shared by CB Insights that are affecting healthcare:
1. Bridging the gap between virtual and in-person care
Telehealth visits are lauded for their convenience, but a major limitation with virtual visits surfaces when it comes to manual exams. For obvious reasons, a doctor cannot perform a physical exam virtually which limits a patient’s full assessment–for now, at least.
Enter report monitoring devices. Digital health company Eko offers AI-powered stethoscopes along with a hand-held electrocardiogram, a test that evaluates a person’s heart health. A patient can, for instance, live stream their heart and lung sounds for their doctor during a virtual visit.
Together, the tools, which are proliferating after the pandemic proved a heightened need for virtual care, bring the medical field closer to completely remote checkups that supplement in-person visits.
2. Expanding lab test accessibility for patients
The pandemic is normalizing at-home Covid-19 rapid testing, and that could further other at-home diagnostics testing. Remote clinical testing company Healthy.io uses computer vision, artificial intelligence and colorimetric analysis so that patients can conduct at-home urinary tract infection tests or an annual urine test. Varadharajan expects that artificial intelligence will gradually edge out third-party laboratories, at least for certain types of tests.
3. Driving down radiology costs
Artificial intelligence isn’t just making radiology faster, it’s also driving down the costs associated with pricey scans and other imaging. That’s thanks in part to the use of AI-assisted computerized tomography (CT) scans, which grew in popularity for diagnosing Covid-induced pneumonia.
But looking to the next wave of artificial intelligence suggests that AI will go beyond diagnostics to improve patient experience, Varadharajan says. This could translate to quicker magnetic reasoning imaging (MRIs). In collaboration with the New York School of Medicine, Facebook is working to improve MRIs and aims to create new methods to expedite the scanning process. Varadharajan explains that hour-long visits could drop to just 15 minutes. And shaving off a patient’s time spent in an imaging device that emits radiation, such as with x-rays, can dramatically reduce exposure.
4. Picturing computer vision
Another unintended benefit of the pandemic: Computer vision is making inroads in specialty care. With computer vision, which is a form of AI where computers learn to recognize and interpret visuals, fields including physical therapy, where patients almost exclusively rely on the direction of a physical therapist, now see the promise of making virtual connections.
But as long as a patient is armed with a smartphone camera, they can now access care almost anywhere. Kaia Health, a digital therapeutics company in the musculoskeletal space based in both New York City and Munich, is using computer vision for motion and posture tracking which provides patients with real-time feedback on their exercises. And the Austin, Texas-based DentalMonitoring is providing AI-powered technology to dentists and orthodontists, which the company claims can reduce the need or frequency for in-person follow-ups.
5. Deploying passive monitoring technology
Apple Watches and Fitbits are some of the more classic examples of wearables, but the evolving wearables space is crowded. Too many options can become overwhelming for consumers required to keep track of different devices, charge them, and monitor separate applications that their devices use.
But AI passive monitoring technology may disrupt the wearables space by bringing technology that doesn’t require patients to wear a device around the clock. When Google entered the sleep and wellness tracking with its smartphone device, its mantra was: “nothing to wear or remember to charge.”
One newer approach to monitoring patients is using contactless in-home monitoring systems, which can keep track of a patents sleep activities and respiration with the help of a sensor.
“Big techs and startups are breaking ground here in passive monitoring and as this technology takes off, we’ll head towards more proactive intervention–especially in senior and acute care setting,” Varadharajan says.