New technologies that can improve healthcare delivery in 2017
Providers are encountering many challenges as 2017 begins. Some are new problems that have gained wide recognition in recent months, such as the opioid addiction crisis, while others have existed for a while, such as the problem of hospital acquired infections. Increasingly, technology solutions are being offered to assist providers in dealing with these issues.

Annually, ECRI Institute studies some of the hottest emerging tech trends to see if they will truly make a difference in addressing the vexing challenges that providers are facing. Here is this year’s installment, from the organization’s Top 10 Hospital C-Suite Watch List. ECRI Institute works to bring the discipline of applied scientific research to healthcare to discover which medical procedures, devices, drugs and processes are best to enable improved patient care.
Liquid biopsies
Spurred by the interest in precision medicine, liquid biopsies are genetic tests that uses a patient’s sample of blood, plasma, serum or urine, rather than biopsied tissue, to identify genetic variants and mutations. The Food and Drug Administration approved the first liquid biopsy for cancer in June 2016, and more are anticipated. However, most researchers believe that the science that supports these tests “has far to go to produce reliable, reproducible results that will lead to solid clinical utility,” the ECRI report contends. Because of the early stage of this science, hospitals should be cautious about letting these tests drive treatment decisions.
Genetic tests for opioid addiction
New genetic tests are being designed in efforts to identify those who are at greatest risk for opioid addiction—if physicians could know that information in advance, they might not prescribe opioids in the first place or change an opioid prescription. Some tests are emerging, but because dozens of genetic variants are involved in vulnerability to addiction, the tests can’t identify them all. “Available tests are not thought to be ready for wide use, and many believe the science has a long way to go before a genetic test with real clinical utility is available,” the report states. Biosensors also hold promise in identifying those at risk for relapse episodes.
Presurgery preparation
This goes beyond just giving a patient information about a procedure—it aims at improving the presurgical health of patients. That’s because patients with suboptimal health before surgery have a higher risk of surgical complications and poor outcomes. To improve preparation, for example, the University of Michigan conducted a pilot program that combined a web-based advanced risk-assessment algorithm and interactive patient coaching, emphasizing diet monitoring, exercise, ways to improve lung function and stress reduction before surgery. The pilot reduced the average hospital stay by two days and average hospital costs by about $2,300 per major abdominal surgery patient.
Purchasing and implementation processes
Executives need to fine-tune capital decisions so that they’re building a facility that meets future needs, ECRI says; however, that’s difficult because little information exists to accurately predict inpatient cases 20 years into the future in major service lines. It may be time for hospitals to revisit and refresh capital budget processes. “Inclusive capital budgeting and technology assessment processes are critical for gaining buy-in from staff, patients and your board of trustees,” ECRI states.
Disinfection technology
To combat rampant healthcare-acquired infections, ECRI suggests a new LED disinfection option (its lists the last two years included devices using ultraviolet light and LED ceiling fixtures). The strips contain LEDs that emit light in the “deep UV” range that have greater germicidal effect. The strips are flexible and can be deployed in out-of-the-way surfaces. And manufacturers are developing LED lights for healthcare applications, such as devices like sanitizing wands and UV disinfecting cabinets for smartphones and tablets.
Humanoid robots
Pepper, touted as the world’s first humanoid robot, interprets body language to read emotions and respond accordingly, and it may be the first in a breed of robots that can support healthcare delivery. In June 2016, two Belgian hospitals introduced Pepper in their reception areas to support reception staff—meeting visitors, answering questions in any of 19 languages, collecting information and escorting people as needed. It’s still pricey—the robot costs only about $2,000, but the programming required for the Belgian hospitals’ applications raised the cost to about $34,000.
Operating room tables
As robotic surgery becomes more common, there’s a need for ancillary devices. In one advance, a new type of OR table has been developed that integrates with Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci system. In a partnership with Hill Rom/Trumpf Medical, the table is designed so that it’s linked by software with the robot system, enabling the table to move as the robotic arms automatically reposition during complex procedures.
Better lighting for endoscopy
Surgeons conducting endoscopy procedures now are taking advantage of fluorescence imaging techniques that ophthalmologists have long used to image retinal blood vessels and that cardiologists have used during angiography. Indocyanine green imaging is a method that’s proven to be an asset because it aids in visualizing malignant tissue that’s undetectable under conventional white light.
Immunotherapy and stem cell therapy for Crohn’s Disease
Two companies are developing stem cell treatments for the disease, while another is trying an investigational, personalized T-cell immunotherapy approach that uses antigen-specific regulatory T cells to treat patients with Crohn’s. Results appear promising, but more work needs to be done.
Vaccines to prevent or cure diabetes
By targeting diabetes-related immune cells, effective diabetes vaccines are expected to be safer for preventing autoimmune destruction of islet cells than broad-spectrum immunosuppressant drugs (for example, cyclosporine A, azathioprine) that can increase risk of developing infection and some cancers. “If any vaccines are approved, they are expected to be very costly; however, if they prevent, slow progression of, or halt T1DM they could offset a lifetime of costly treatment and complications,” ECRI says.
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For more information
The ECRI Institute report can be found here.