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3 Digital Health Innovations to Watch in 2018

By Tech Change on February 14, 2018

flying robots deliver blood in Rwanda

The digital health field is moving fast, and new innovations are affecting how healthcare is designed, deployed, and measured. We think there are three innovations in 2018 that are uniquely impressive and relevant for international development: blockchain (yes, really!), artificial intelligence, and flying robots.

We’ll be exploring these bleeding edge technologies, and more, in our new TechChange course The Future of Digital Health that starts on February 26th.

Register now to explore new skills, like how to structure a data models for an Ethereum blockchain smart contract, build a chatbot for a treatment protocol, or assess the usability of unmanned aerial vehicles in your work. Use the code “digitalhealth345” for a $150 discount.

We’ll focus on more than these three topics in the course, yet we wanted everyone to have a head start on the trends that will be game changers in 2018.


Can distributed ledger technologies improve the way we store and share electronic medical records? Jerry Gross of MintHealth thinks so. Jerry joined us for our course Blockchain for International Development this week to share how blockchain can empower patients to take control of their medical history and align healthcare stakeholders around the shared goal of patient empowerment and improved clinical outcomes, at lower costs.

What about blockchain for disease tracking? According to the MIT Technology review, the CDC, state and local health departments, could benefit from the data security and sharing features of distributed ledger technologies.

“As straightforward as this may sound, though, it’s a massively complicated data-management challenge. It’s also one that seems made for a blockchain”, according to Jim Nasr, chief software architect at the CDC’s Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is primed to have great impacts on remote diagnosis, patient care, customer service, and more within the public health arena, including:

  • Wysa, the compassionate chatbot for behavioral health that uses an ingenious AI-powered chatbot to help people understand and assess their own mental health.
  • IBM Watson will fight the opioid epidemic in the US by analyzing doctors’ handwriting and real-time data from smart devices, such as wearables, in conjunction with patient-risk models in order to identify the patients most likely to relapse.
  • Nutritional Early Warning System is using machine learning to process a constant flow of data relevant to food and nutrition and powers an early warning system to alert decision-makers to nutrition threats well ahead of a crisis.

We have a whole course dedicated to Artificial Intelligence for International Development coming up in late April so if you’re still trying to figure out the difference between AI and machine learning.

Flying Robots

We’re excited to take a deeper look at flying robot health delivery projects to see how scalable this type of delivery technology is for low-resource settings and the ethics of investments such as these over basic infrastructure improvements.

  • Zipline operates the world’s only drone delivery system at national scale to send urgent medicines, such as blood and animal vaccines, to those in need – no matter where they live. The company is currently operational in Rwanda with plans to expand.
  • WeRobotics has been testing a model for drone delivery of medical supplies in Peru. The WeRobotics model is highly localized and aimed at building local capacity in the form of community “flying labs” as opposed to Zipline which is a Silicon Valley venture backed startup.

We’ll dive deeper into in the relative merits of these technologies, consider timetables for adoption, and explore the many hurdles to implementation like connectivity, affordability, training and capacity, and more in the Future of Digital Health.

We’ve come a long way since the mHealth world of 2015 – join us to see the future today.

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TechChange provides online professional development in technology and social change for implementers in public health, emergency response, and monitoring and evaluation. TechChange connects them with relevant content, experts, and certification using their facilitated learning platform.
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