Happy Thanksgiving! 5 healthcare innovations we're thankful for

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By Alex Card

Every Thanksgiving, Americans gather with family and friends to eat a savory meal, watch a little football, and reflect on the things for which they’re thankful.

Hopefully, when it’s your turn at the table to take inventory of your good fortune, you have plenty to talk about. But if you want to pad the list (or buy your cousin a little time to get their thoughts in order), then consider this selection of healthcare innovations that we can all be thankful for.

1. mRNA vaccine technology

When the World Health Organization first declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020, there wasn’t much light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. For months, the world weathered lockdowns, social distancing, and a “new normal” without any promise of a vaccine or cure, much less an end date.

But just 10 months later in November, Pfizer released the trial results for an experimental mRNA vaccine, and the world got its first glimpse of a path through the pandemic.

The technology behind Pfizer’s and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines isn’t entirely new—researchers have spent decades studying mRNA vaccines for the flu, Zika, and rabies—but COVID-19 is the first disease for which it’s been approved for use on a wide scale.

So how does the mRNA vaccine work? An mRNA vaccine uses messenger ribonucleic acid to teach human cells how to make a protein that triggers an appropriate immune response to a germ or virus.

Today, about 68% of the U.S. population is estimated to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, thanks in no small part to this innovative technology.

2. Wearables and remote patient monitoring

Doctors in the U.S. are chronically overworked and are spending less and less time with their patients. When a patient comes in with a health concern, a provider may only have 15 minutes to gather information and perform the tests necessary to make a diagnosis.

Wearable technology in healthcare is giving physicians the opportunity to collect critical biometric data and monitor patients’ day-to-day health without the need for office visits or invasive testing. By embracing wearables and remote patient monitoring (RPM), physicians can save time, money, and lives.

Heart monitors, glucose monitors, and even smart socks are all examples of wearable technology that can improve patient safety, support more robust telecare, and help physicians gather the data they need to deliver better care outcomes.

The latest in wearable tech may even deliver relief to the 10 million Americans who live with debilitating neurological tremors. Check out our podcast on bioelectronic wearables to learn why we’re so thankful for this emerging technology.

3. Virtual reality in medicine

Virtual reality (VR) is good for more than an immersive gaming experience. Healthcare professionals are increasingly turning to VR and augmented reality (AR) technology to train more effectively and treat patients in surprising ways.

For instance, the George Washington University Hospital is using a VR platform inspired by flight simulators to help surgeons preview upcoming procedures and practice their skills, walk patients and families through virtual surgical plans, and collaborate with their peers. Some providers are even using VR simulations to experience the effects of their patients’ health conditions.

VR and AR technology also support better patient outcomes: Early studies show that VR experiences can reduce anxiety and pain, making them ideal for use before or after surgical procedures, and in the palliative and hospice care spaces.

Need some more reasons to be thankful for VR in healthcare? The applications of VR and AR include improving memory and cognitive function, treating trauma via virtual exposure therapy, and using motion-enabled games to support physical rehabilitation.

4. CRISPR gene editing

In 2012, scientists developed an incredibly precise gene-editing tool based on certain microbes’ ability to capture segments of viral DNA known as clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs).
The scientists named the tool “CRISPR” after these novel DNA segments, and over the ensuing decade, researchers have used it to treat serious diseases and identify genomic targets for new drugs.

It’s hard to oversell the impact gene editing has made on modern medicine: CRISPR has been fundamental in the development of treatment for sickle cell disease and cancer, for example. In the case of blood cancers, researchers use CRISPR to genetically modify infection-fighting T cells to target cancer cells—a process known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR T) therapy.

CRISPR’s potential is massive. Researchers believe this technology could eventually be used to genetically modify mosquitoes to prevent malaria transmission, edit pig DNA to reduce cross-species organ rejection rates, and even prevent the influenza virus from replicating.

Unfortunately, there’s no indication that CRISPR can create a self-brining turkey.

5. AI in healthcare

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) continue to transform every facet of healthcare, from drug research and discovery to treatment to medical operations.

Some of the latest developments in healthcare’s AI/ML technologies involve artificial neural networks, layered algorithmic architectures that imitate the way animals’ brains process information. A neural network can analyze and “learn” from data, making unique, automatic correlations in a process known as deep learning.

Neural networks are being used to assess treatment outcomes, predict pediatric appointment no-shows, rapidly process and analyze medical imaging, select patient cohorts for clinical trials, and identify new treatment pathways for rare diseases.

We’re especially thankful for AI/ML technology, and our clients are, too—AI/ML is the foundation of our healthcare commercial intelligence platform that enables any healthcare organization to discover new market opportunities and make better data-driven decisions.

Learn more

Looking for just one more thing to give thanks for? Sign up today for a free trial of Definitive Healthcare’s commercial intelligence platform, and you’ll see why so many companies rely on us to successfully navigate this complex market. 

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