New Approaches to Old Problems: How Health IT Will Help

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DNA analyzer in a labAdvances in technology are driving remarkable changes in health care. Developments in robotics, discoveries in the human genome project, and the collection and analysis of vast amounts of health data have allowed doctors, researchers, and scientists to create products and processes that were unthinkable a decade ago. Take a look at how health IT is shaping medicine’s new approach to age-old problems.

DNA Analysis and Personalized Medicine

New DNA analyzers are already approved by the FDA. These devices can break down, sequence, and record a person’s entire DNA in the time frame of an afternoon, leading to extraordinary breakthroughs to treat conditions such as cancer and cystic fibrosis.

With cystic fibrosis patients, DNA sequencing lets doctors find which of the 139 gene mutations are responsible for the condition and further find out whether the patient’s mutation responds to known medication therapies. Oncologists are using DNA sequencing to identify which gene mutation is responsible for a particular cancer and shape personalized chemotherapy regimens.

Telemedicine and Remote Monitoring

As the baby boomers head into retirement, American demographics are undergoing a seismic shift. By 2029, when the last of the boomers reach retirement, there will be more than 71 million people ages 65 and older, up from approximately 40 million today. Researchers are already developing new technologies that will help seniors age in place and receive in-home care and monitoring for chronic conditions.

With the help of health informaticists and geriatric specialists, consumer health care companies have released health monitoring sensors and devices that can track and record vital signs, weight, medication dosage, and conditions in the home, such as room temperature or the opening or closing of doors and windows. This data is relayed to caregivers and health professionals who can spot potential problems and intervene before a health crisis occurs.

Robotic Prosthetics and Exoskeletons

For patients who have suffered paralysis due to a spine injury, stroke, or traumatic brain injury, the marriage of robotics and prosthetics is something of a miracle. Bionics companies have developed a robotic exoskeleton that is strapped onto a paralyzed patient’s legs and waist. With the aid of crutches, this device enables patients to stand and walk on their own, unassisted.

The bionic exoskeleton was originally developed to help soldiers carry heavy loads on the battlefield without fatigue. As the product developed and more physicians expressed an interest in the technology, the company realized its incredible potential for paraplegics.

3-D Printing and Regenerative Medicine

For years, researchers have created tissues and blood vessels in the laboratory using human cells, but creating an entire organ, such as a heart or liver, was out of reach. Advances in 3-D printing technology may be changing that notion. Bioprinting has already racked up impressive successes. In 2013, surgeons gave a 2-year-old born without a windpipe a new trachea that had been bioprinted using the child’s own stem cells.

Health IT is a dynamic and rapidly growing field that contributes in a major way to new approaches to treating patients’ life-changing conditions and improving their everyday lives.

Image via Flickr by konradfoerstner