Technology always seems to change things, doesn't it? We're happily enjoying our horse-drawn carriages when boom -- automobiles enter the scene. One day we're watching cable TV and then boom -- video streaming services arrive. Technology is changing the face of healthcare, too, such as via robots that can help surgeons perform surgeries. Here are three other ways that technology is transforming healthcare.
Brian Feroldi: For years healthcare providers largely avoided shifting to the use of electronic health records (EHRs) to manage patients' medical histories and instead stuck with their tried-and-true method of using paper charts. Even today, many providers still rely on paper charts and fax machines to send prescriptions and medical histories back and forth, which is a very inefficient process. This system may have worked well a few decades ago, but it's now completely outdated and it makes it difficult for different types of healthcare providers to access your full medical history.
That's all changing now, especially with the government's big push to incentivize healthcare providers to adopt EHRs. If your health records are not yet available electronically, then they likely will be soon as providers who do not shift to electronic record will see their reimbursement rates cut.
One company that's poised to benefit from the eventual transition is Cerner (NASDAQ: CERN), one of the country's largest providers of healthcare IT services and EHR systems. Its systems also help medical practices with mundane tasks such as scheduling and receiving payments. Revenue growth at Cerner has been terrific in recent years thanks to the big nationwide push to adopt EHR, and yet its stock has been stuck in reverse over the past year. Shares are still fetching a premium valuation, but considering that the company is poised to benefit from an undeniable long-term trend, I think that opportunistic investors might want to give this company a closer look.
Sean Williams: Arguably one of the most exciting ways technology is changing the healthcare space is through the use of 3D-printed biologics for testing purposes, and potentially even transplantation. One of the leaders in this space is Organovo Holdings (ONVO 0.66%).
Organovo's only commercial product at the moment is the exVive3D Human Liver Tissue assay, which is a test that allows hospitals, drug developers, universities, and research labs to test the toxicity of medicines on 3D-printed liver tissue. Think about this for a moment: Instead of running a costly phase 1 trial on dozens of patients, and also possibly dealing with adverse events, drug developers would be able to order Organovo's exVive3D system to test liver toxicities in advance to determine whether or not a clinical drug is safe. Organovo believes this could, over time, grow into a $100 million opportunity. The company is also working on a kidney tissue product it anticipates introducing for commercial contracting in the third quarter of this year.
But that's not all. In addition to assay tests, Organovo has lined up a number of partnerships that could yield promising bioprinted and transplantable tissues for the future. In late 2014, Organovo and the Yale University School of Medicine's Department of Surgery formed a collaboration to develop organs for transplantation. While a commercial transplantation business may be years off, this is a true first-of-its-kind collaboration that could completely alter the organ waitlist process.
Star Trek-like technology isn't developed overnight, but Organovo has just about the closest thing to it at the moment.
Selena Maranjian: Our overall health is not completely in our own hands -- many diseases or accidents will come out of left field and are not things we can really prevent. Still, much of our health is in our hands, and in recent years, technology has been making it easier for us to take care of ourselves.
Think, for example, of wearable fitness technology, such as the Garmin Vivosmart HR activity tracker that you wear on your wrist like a watch. It actually is a watch, but it also counts your steps, the floors you've climbed, and the distance you've traveled, among other things, praising you when you meet certain goals and vibrating to remind you to move if you've been sedentary a while. It tracks your heart rate and helps you meet the recommended goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, and it can monitor your sleep, too. There are many different activity- and heart-rate-tracking devices on the market today.
There are also lots of helpful and motivating apps you can use on your smartphone, such as ones that track the nutrition value of foods you're eating and ones that aim to get you from being a couch potato to running a 5K by giving you daily goals. Many wearable devices coordinate with apps, too. For example, some Garmin devices will sync with MyFitnessPal. Fitbit devices sync with the Fitbit app that lets you monitor your diet as well as your activity.
It's still largely up to us to get healthy and stay healthy, but these days, there's a wide range of wearable devices and apps that can help us do so. And stay tuned -- because they will only get better. One day, for example, many of us may routinely be sharing health data with our doctors automatically via our wearable devices.
Investors who keep an eye on how technology is transforming healthcare will likely encounter some terrific long-term investments along the way.