Future Forward

Anyone who has attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas can attest to the fact that the show is both informative and overwhelming. Last year (my first year attending), it covered 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space and welcomed more than 170,000 people. While it usually takes over most of Las Vegas, this year, like many large-scale, in-person gatherings, CES was held virtually. And as much as I missed the interactions with the other attendees and being able to walk the expo halls, the virtual format allowed participants to attend far more presentations than would have been possible in person.

Focusing my time on programs related to health and healthcare, I noticed a few trends arising that will likely influence our industry.

On a macro level, the impact of a national rollout of 5G technology is going to affect most aspects of our lives. Promising speeds as much as 10 times faster than the current 4G, 5G is expected to be a catalyst for connecting humans and machines in unprecedented ways—and healthcare will be no exception. It’s also anticipated that 5G will pave the way for truly smart cities and autonomous driving vehicles that allow people to live independently longer, which will no doubt impact how and where healthcare is delivered.

On a micro level, the trends and products visible at CES that are likely to influence our industry fell into several categories, including hospital at home, safely aging in place, health-related embedded devices, telemedicine, and app-based care.

Taking a deeper dive into two of those, I found some interesting ideas discussed.

Hospital at Home/Safer at Home—Remote patient monitoring, often paired with consumer-focused apps, was the goal of many new devices launched at CES this year. These devices offer a range of functions, including monitoring heart rate, heart rate variability, lung sounds, blood pressure, glucose, temperature, sleep, and oxygen saturation. They might also allow patients to send a continuous flow of data to their care teams, a solution that enables patients to make more informed treatment decisions as well as seek real-time advice. Some devices could even notify care teams or family members if a problem is detected.

Among the new products was a smart lamp from a Belgian company that’s designed specifically to help keep seniors safe at home. The sleek lamp fixture hangs from the ceiling and uses artificial intelligence to detect falls. If a fall is detected, it asks the resident if they are OK and can automatically call family members or emergency services. Air quality monitoring and fire and burglary detection are built in, too.

App-based Care—There continues to be a proliferation of smartphone mobile health apps geared toward improving quality of life and day-to-day care through digital interventions, including for specific medical conditions. These apps focus on symptom control, education, medication reminders, and connecting users to their care providers as well as a community of people focused on similar issues. These apps offer the potential for real advances in diagnostics, treatment, and disease management, if well designed and held to standards where outcomes are evidence based. This technology may potentially extend the healthcare environment to anywhere a person is at the time of use.

It’s been said repeatedly that COVID-19 accelerated many trends that were already underway, and our industry is no different. It’s an exciting time but also one where we’ll need to be thoughtful. As we plan out our next generation of care facilities, it’s not unrealistic to think that projects we have on the boards now will come to fruition in a very different-looking world than the one we’re in now.

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at delevin@healthdesign.org.

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