Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

—Arthur C. Clarke

Imagine a 19th-century nurse stepping foot in a modern-day hospital. Although knowledgeable for her time, this nurse would be at a loss for what to do with commonplace technologies like defibrillators, ventilators, and vital signs monitors. Medical culture would perhaps feel familiar, but every modern medical routine would seem like science fiction to our displaced nurse.

This is what being a nursing professional may very well feel like after the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), an ongoing technological revolution that’s blurring the lines between the physical and digital world. Society is changing, accelerating in response to 3D printing, autonomous cars, quantum computing, and other emerging technologies, and this is only the beginning.

At the Heart of Modern Medicine

Healthcare is a technology-driven industry, and innovations that can improve the quality of patient care are often rapidly embraced. Consider the disruptive nature of health information technology (health IT). The shift from paper to electronic health records enabled doctors to access patient information at all hours, share up-to-date information with specialists, and write out prescriptions electronically. This transition forever changed how nurses and physicians administer care, and it was well underway before the start of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The entire world is standing at the edge of the precipice that is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and healthcare may be the first field to go over.

Bringing New Meaning to Patient-Centered Care

The coming years will usher in a revolution in patient-centered care as medical devices are connected through the internet of things (IoT), wireless networks of devices that collect and share data. If you have an Apple Watch or Fitbit, you’re already familiar with how this technology can be used to track your steps and monitor your heart rate. However, the potential for wearables goes far beyond helping people achieve their fitness goals. The IoT will enable wearables to communicate directly with medical devices, sharing biodata that can be used to inform clinical decisions, reduce misdiagnoses, and predict disease.

For a look at how this technology can be used to find novel medical solutions, check out Abilify MyCite. Approved for the treatment of some mood disorders, this pill has a built-in sensor the size of a grain of sand that transmits data via a wearable patch to a patient’s smartphone, allowing them to track the ingestion of medication and their adherence to medication regimens.

Getting A Second Opinion

Most people will receive an incorrect or late diagnosis at least once in their life, and by one estimate, 12 million patients are misdiagnosed annually. Diagnostic errors can and do result in patient harm and death, which is why the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose disease is so promising. In a study published by the Annals of Oncology, researchers pitted 58 dermatologists from around the world against a deep learning convolutional neural network (CNN). On average, the dermatologists accurately identified 86.6% of melanomas. And the AI that was trained on over 100,000 images of malignant melanomas? CNN detected melanomas with 95% accuracy.

AI is no substitute for experience and empathy, but it’s an incredible tool that’ll assist medical professionals in ways that may surprise you. Chatbots have been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression, personalized medications are being developed by scanning patient health and genetic records with AI, and coma patients are being given a second chance at life thanks to AI that can predict when and if they will awaken.

Tinkering With Genetic Material

Biotechnology harnesses cellular and other biological processes to develop new technologies, essentially using living organisms to solve problems. Genetic engineering, the manipulation of an organism’s genetic material, is the most prominent area of biotechnology and consists of:

  • Gene therapy: replacing a faulty gene to cure or fight disease.
  • Gene editing: making targeted changes to a genetic code. 
  • Exon skipping: splicing a gene to skip genetic mutation.

Genetics are responsible for about 30% of pediatric and 10% of adult hospital admissions (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least). Long thought to be oversold, genetic engineering is now opening the door to new possibilities in medicine. For example, ADA-SCID is a rare, potentially fatal inherited immunodeficiency disorder that leaves children highly susceptible to severe infections. Through the use of an experimental gene therapy, researchers were able to insert a normal copy of the ADA gene into a patient’s blood-forming stem cells and restore lasting immune functions in 48 of 50 children. Genetic therapy and engineering may cure this and many other genetic diseases as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to unfold.

The Revolution Is Here

Medical innovations like those brought on by the Fourth Industrial Revolution may seem like science fiction, but they’re becoming more and more of a reality with each passing day. We take an in-depth look at this topic in Informatics and Innovation, an online course offered as part of The University of Texas Permian Basin’s online RN to BSN program.

Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), our online RN to BSN program is designed to provide aspiring nursing leaders like you with a deeper understanding of evidence-based practice and patient-centered care. Through our program, you’ll study essential topics in nursing, including the impact of technology on patient care, and in as little as one year, you can graduate with a bachelor’s degree and an expanded skill set that will prove invaluable throughout your career.

Ready to take your first step into a new era? Apply to UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BSN program to become a 21st-century nursing leader.