Will autonomous vehicles transform the health care industry?

As driverless technology continues to develop and the mass production of autonomous vehicles (AVs) becomes an increasingly likely reality, health care providers might find that many of their most pressing issues could be served by automation. A reduction in car accidents would dramatically reduce the number of people that require emergency health care each year, while driverless ride-sharing services could help bring health care to in-home patients and remove much of the strain on service providers.

Both health care workers and patients will be the beneficiaries of these changes; less pressure on workers will enhance the quality of care they can provide, allowing them to devote more of their time and resources to those that require greater attention.

Safer roads mean fewer health emergencies
Hospitals and health care workers could indirectly benefit from the widespread use of driverless vehicles. Car accidents are one of the leading causes of death and injury in the U.S. Annually, car accidents injure around 3 million people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As driver error plays a role in many car accidents, AVs could substantially reduce the number of people that require hospitalization each year. Health facilities will thus have more time, resources and personnel at their disposal to care for other patients, substantially boosting the quality of health care they're able to provide.

Health crisis forces change
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened new opportunities for ride-sharing companies to move into pharmaceuticals, possibly setting the stage for future developments in automated health care. The large-scale closures and lockdowns that followed the outbreak of the pandemic forced many high-risk individuals to stay inside their homes, necessitating the delivery of essential items like medical supplies and pharmaceuticals.

Ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft expanded their service to include the delivery of these items, allowing at-risk people to stay at home while health care came to them. As these companies continue exploring the efficacy of self-driving vehicles, it's clear that they could find themselves at the nexus of automated health care.

Paramedics could better serve patients aboard driverless ambulances.Paramedics could better serve patients aboard driverless ambulances.

The future of health care
Western countries are facing a range of health care challenges due to their rapidly aging populations. Rural Health Information Hub states that there are currently more than 46 million American adults over the age of 65, a figure that is projected to continue growing at an exponential rate. So far, health care service providers have been unable to absorb the resulting increase in demand, hurting their ability to respond to other patients' needs.

AVs present new opportunities for in-home care. In addition to the delivery of prescriptions, the rise of telemedicine means that in-home patients could quickly and easily request medical attention through a variety of different apps or other smart technology, and health care providers could readily deploy automated ambulances in the event of an emergency. Depending on the type of health care the patient requires, paramedics could treat them right at home, saving vital hospital resources.

The steady implementation of automated ambulances could also boost the quality of health care. AVs would reduce the number of service providers needed in an emergency situation and allow paramedics to focus on patients en route to the hospital.

The applicability of this technology goes beyond immediate in-home care, too. Both older adults and people with disabilities often rely on health care professionals to complete daily tasks, but the use of AVs to deliver essential items like food, clothing and cleaning supplies could allow them to retain their independence for longer periods of time than they would have otherwise, according to HealthTech Insider. Greater independence for higher-risk individuals could significantly reduce the pressure on retirement homes, assisted living complexes and other health facilities.

AVs are here to stay
Along with several other industries, health care stands poised to transform enormously from the introduction and implementation of AVs, and the timing couldn't be better. The raft of new challenges presented by aging populations combined with the health-related anxieties that are sure to become a fixture of life even after the pandemic ends could be best met by the solutions provided by driverless vehicles and automated care.

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