Healthcare is a constantly changing environment.
As new technologies and capabilities boost abilities for doctors and researchers, patients benefit with new treatments, monitors, and medicines.
Here, a glimpse of what you can expect to see in new technology in the medical field in 2018.
Inhaled corticosteroids and bronchodilators are the cornerstone treatments for asthma.
The first medication helps control inflammation while the second provides immediate relief when symptoms flair.
Inhalers are efficient when they’re used correctly, but up to 94 percent of people who use them don’t do so in the proper manner.
“Standard of care works for approximately 90 percent of all patients when taken correctly and as prescribed,” Tonya A. Winders, president and chief executive officer of the Allergy & Asthma Network, told Healthline.
“On the other hand, studies show about 50 percent of patients with asthma are not well controlled, which leads us to believe more can be done to increase adherence.”
Enter Bluetooth-enabled smart inhalers.
These devices are designed to detect inhaler use, remind patients to use their medication, encourage proper use of the device, and gather data about a patient’s inhaler use that can help guide care.
Each time the inhaler is used, it records the date, time, place, and whether the dose was correctly administered.
“This will provide valuable insight to determine how adherent patients are to their controller medications, as well as help us understand the patterns of when a patient experiences a flare,” Winders said.
Add-on devices, which clip to existing inhalers and send data to a smartphone app, are available now.
In a clinical trial for Propeller’s add-on smart inhaler device, researchers found that participants used less reliever medication, had more reliever-free days, and improved overall asthma control over the 12 months of the study.
The first fully integrated smart inhalers should be available to consumers by the middle of the year, Winders said.
Blood flow restriction training
The biggest innovation in fitness for 2018 promises big muscle growth results while using as little as 10 to 20 percent of the weight you’d typically use.
How’s this possible?
Restricting your blood flow.
Blood flow restriction (BFR) training uses specialized blood pressure cuffs or bands to stop the flow of oxygen-deprived blood out of your limbs.
Once your blood pressure reaches optimal levels, you perform traditional muscle-building maneuvers, but you use smaller weights.
A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that BFR training increases muscles while using loads as light as 20 percent of your one-rep max.
Research suggests restricting the blood flow reduces the oxygen your muscles can access during the exercise.
Without oxygen, your muscles go into metabolic stress.
You don’t need heavy weights to shock them into growth when they’re in this low-oxygen phase.
Before you head to the gym with a band or strap, Dr. William P. Kelley, DPT, ATC, CSCS, with USA Sports Therapy, advises that you consult someone trained to properly perform BFR.
“You should absolutely only do BFR training with someone who is a certified BFR clinician,” Kelley told Healthline.
What could happen if you try do-it-yourself BFR?
It “can cause nerve or vascular damage if done incorrectly or without proper training and supervision and with subpar equipment,” Kelley said.
Smartphone apps and chatbots are making waves in the therapy scene, but it’s another technology that might actually bring mental health treatment back to a human-to-human interaction.
“Teletherapy, or delivering sessions by a video-enabled interface, is probably the most important tech development for mental health,” said Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Duckworth told Healthline that as society becomes more evolved about the role of mental healthcare in overall care, the greater the demand will be on therapists and psychiatrists.
However, the number of these providers isn’t growing to meet the demand of patients.
“The core problem with mental health is that the demand exceeds the supply. So the question is, how does technology work to deliver people those same services?” Duckworth said.
In almost every way, teletherapy is the same as traditional therapy.
You still sit face-to-face with a practitioner, and the two of you talk.
But instead of a couch and chair, you’re using Skype and FaceTime or another videoconferencing service.
The benefit of this web-based experience is that no one has to travel anywhere, and you can have a session from wherever you are, whenever you’re able.
“The no-show rates are lower. You might be able to have people on the East Coast seeing people on the West Coast at different times of the day,” Duckworth said. “You’re providing the same service, in a more efficient way.”
However, Duckworth said, the uptake for teletherapy is slow right now, but he believes it will quickly speed up as people become more familiar with the benefits, and as insurance companies begin paying for it.
“I think this is a cultural evolution and I think it’s going to take some time,” he said.
Precision meds for cancer treatment
In 2018, more than 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer.
Each of those people has more and better tools to fight the cancerous cells than ever before.
One such tool is precision medicine, according to Dr. Otis Brawley, MACP, chief medical director and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society.
Precision medicine is an approach to cancer treatment that allows doctors to select medicines based on an individual cancer’s genetic makeup.
In other words, a doctor won’t just treat lung cancer. They’ll treat the type of lung cancer you have, down to the specific abnormal genes and proteins.
“Over the years, we’ve gained a greater understanding of what’s going on inside a cell as it becomes cancerous and once it is cancerous. Inside the cell, there’s certain molecular mechanisms, certain genetic mutations, that make it vulnerable for treatment,” Brawley told Healthline.
“Instead of a particular organ system cancer, we’ll be looking at the cancer and then what is the molecular thing that we can exploit in that cancer.”
However, as advanced as precisions medicines are, they aren’t cures. But scientists and doctors like Brawley see great hope in one day being able to tailor treatment to each cancer’s genetic traits and changes.
The hope, or the promissory note as Brawley calls it, is that precision medicines will become better and doctors will use them where they make sense.
“If we can get better at utilizing these precisions medicines, we’ll actually be able to cure some metastatic solid tumors,” he said.
Each year, medical technology companies are working to make diabetes more hands-off, end the never-ending cycle of checking and monitoring, and streamline the glucose-delivery process.
They’re closer than ever with artificial pancreases, also known as automated insulin delivery systems.
These systems, which are worn like traditional insulin pumps, are designed to automate blood-sugar management by monitoring glucose levels continuously and providing insulin that can stabilize blood sugar levels as they’re needed.
All of this is managed by an algorithm, or computer model, that connects your insulin pump — the artificial pancreas — to a smartphone.
“It can detect what your glucose level is, and it has an insulin delivery device that can deliver subcutaneous insulin instantly,” Dr. Robert Courgi, an endocrinologist and hospitalist with Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline. “That smart technology, it can change and vary as needed, instead of giving you that one fixed dose constantly.”
The first “closed-loop” system of this kind was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016.
It’s been available for more than a year, but newer versions are anticipated in the coming months and years.
These newer versions, said Dr. Mark D. DeBoer, associate professor of pediatrics in the pediatric endocrinology division at the University of Virginia, will hopefully deliver greater ease of use and satisfaction.
“What most children and adolescents are seeking in an artificial pancreas system is one that overall decreases the work that they put into their diabetes. The ideal system for patients with diabetes is to ‘set and forget,’ and we are not there yet,” DeBoer told Healthline.
“Patients still need to be aware of what their blood sugars are and what the system is doing, but we are hoping that more work and research in the field will keep moving toward wider use.”
It’s a marvel of medical science that took decades because of the complexities of how glucose delivery and monitoring work, added Dr. Gerald Bernstein, an endocrinologist and coordinator of the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
But even these advances have a long way to go before they truly replicate a human pancreas, he said.
“We got to the moon and have rocket ships that can go back and forth, all before we were able to create anything close to an artificial pancreas because of the complexity,” Bernstein told Healthline. “Now we have to see if the algorithm will hold up over time.”
Precision meds for rheumatoid arthritis
In 2018, treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will be more personalized.
RA is a common autoimmune disease. It destroys the cartilage in joints, can cause joint destruction, and may lead to disability.
Extreme cases of RA can damage internal organs and lead to vascular inflammation. This can result in premature death.
In 2016, Yale researchers identified a genetic mechanism that may increase an individual’s risk for rheumatoid arthritis. In their study, they wrote that the use of precision medicine could help target that gene and suppress it.
RA researchers have been investigating gene variants or mutations that cause some people to develop the disease.
Like precision medication for cancer, precision medicines for RA are designed to attack vulnerable genes or areas of the cell.
That can weaken the disease, improve symptoms, and possibly help reduce joint damage.
“Any time a medication can use targeted therapy or genetic profiles to make treatment more specific to the unique patient, I would think the greater chances of success,” said Ashley Boynes-Shuck, author, blogger at ArthritisAshley.com, and health advocate who was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at age 10.
Thanks to breakthroughs in precision medicine in all areas, not just RA, doctors and researchers are finding ways to create novel therapies and approaches that are designed around individual people, not diseases.
“No two RA patients’ medical journeys — or bodies — are the same. Despite having the same diagnosis (rheumatoid arthritis) and possibly the same set of symptoms, every patient is nonetheless bio-individually unique,” Boynes-Shuck told Healthline.