Health 4.0: The Healthcare Revolution will be Digitized

The second wave of technological disruption is well underway. Like a tsunami headed for the shore, the fourth industrial revolution is not losing momentum. This second wave doesn’t seem as disruptive as the one before it, but it’s one not to be underestimated.

As mentioned in the previous post on Industry 4.0, optimization of computer systems and automation are at the core of this revolution. Bots now display abilities that simulate human behaviour with an intelligence never thought of before. Systems in manufacturing are also being improved, accelerating the quantity and quality of their output. Incredible, isn’t it? Not only can more be done in less time, but more can be done with less resources spent.

This revolution also sees a dramatic decrease in the cost of technology. With low-cost technologies, endless possibilities are at hand, particularly in the sphere of healthcare.

This leads us to a critical question, one that warrants our full attention.

How does Industry 4.0 impact the future of healthcare?

Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the automation of healthcare particularly with regard to medical device manufacturing. The ‘smart factory’, which some call the cornerstone of Industry 4.0, is what a factory in the future will look like.

Smart factories are said to look very much like the existing ones, except with optimized computer systems. Cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence play a major role in smart manufacturing. The factory of the future sees a different relationship between machines and humans. With processes decentralized, machines will not only be part of the assembly of goods, but the logical processes and problem solving that formerly relied heavily on the engineers. This may seem like a mouthful, but in a nutshell, the smart factory will have humans and machines communicating and collaborating with each other in real-time. What better way to optimize than to combine the unmatched cognitive abilities of man, with the precise nature of bots and machines.

Microelectronics are also paving the way for miniature equipment

Electronics are also decreasing in size and cost, meaning that the future for medical devices is not only promising, but the possibilities endless. A decrease in size means the days of big immobile devices are numbered. Smaller, portable and most importantly cost-effective medical devices prove that automation is at the very heart of future care.

These very principles are already in play in many sub-sectors of healthcare and medical technology. With our very own, proudly South African, truly booth-free portable audiometer, the KUDUwave, leading the way in the sphere of audiology.

The KUDUwave not only rules out the need of a soundbooth, it provides a high fidelity, cost-effective solution for the health practitioner who wants freedom without compromise on quality.

With Industry 4.0 revolutionizing the face of medical technology, soon the integration of multiple devices into one, will be the standard for medical technology. Imagine a device that can provide otoscopy, audiometry and immittance testing all in one portable device? Or one that could monitor and diagnose everything related to the cardiovascular system. In essence, having an all-inclusive stethoscope, blood pressure monitor and echocardiography machine in one miniature device. That is Industry 4.0 and some of the practical applications it can have for the future of medical technology.

Another aspect of manufacturing that is taking medical technology to the next level is additive manufacturing (AM). This technology involves the building of 3D objects by layering materials, layer upon layer, until the desired outcome is reached. A familiar aspect of additive manufacturing is 3D printing which is sometimes referred to as 3D-bioprinting in the area of healthcare. Over the years, the 3D printing of human tissues and organs has been helping scientists and researchers in the development of new drugs instead of the use of animal models. From reconstructive surgeries to dentures and implants, 3D printing is used as a cost-effective alternative that reduces the financial burden placed on the patient. 3D printing is also expected to revolutionize the future of implantable medical devices, promising a future of personalized healthcare at a fraction of the cost.

More specifically in the area of audiology. WHO reports that a staggering 466 million people around the world suffer from disabling hearing loss. 3D bioprinting would be a massive advantage to help decrease the burden associated with hearing loss. Though 3D-printed cochlear implants are still a thing of the future, scientists are successfully utilizing this technology to create customized patient implants and prosthesis to help improve their hearing. We are not where we should be, but we are well on our way. Industry 4.0 will revolutionized the face of healthcare much sooner than we anticipate.

However, there is no doubting the disruptive nature of Industry 4.0 in all sectors of society. The shortage of skills and manpower is also indisputable. But overall, the benefits outweigh the challenges. What we need now is for industries, governments and even SMEs to adopt these principles and tailor their business models and future plans around it.

The medical industry will never be the same again, and this movement is truly proving that the future of healthcare will be digitized.