Links to the Future

Health care is constantly changing — from new technologies and methods used by doctors, to legislation and policies that shift the entire landscape of medicine and health insurance. Within Highmark’s culture of innovation, new ideas are constantly being created, reviewed, discussed and implemented. With that in mind, this Links to the Future series will highlight some of the many fascinating articles and studies we come across, with a focus on the research, technologies, and practices that will change and save lives in the near and distant future.


Vision Test Completes Trifecta of Concussion Detection Perfection As with practically all medical conditions, early detection of concussions is vital in reducing the risk, assessing the damage, and improving treatment outcomes. That’s why researchers from New York University and the University of Florida hoped to improve the current standards of on-field concussion testing of athletes, and it seems they’ve struck gold. Evaluating 217 athletes across a range of sports, the researchers report that by combining vision, cognition, and balance tests, they successfully diagnosed 100% of on-field concussions in an 18-month period. If accepted and used widely, this triple-test system could be a great step forward in keeping athletes and others safe and healthy.

New Nanotechnology Could Take the Hassle, Risk Out of Maintenance Medicine If you’re one of the one in four adults suffering from chronic pain, you know that taking daily doses of medication can be a pain in itself. Making sure you have your pills when you need them, taking them on time, remembering to get your prescription filled — the “maintenance” part of taking maintenance medication isn’t just annoying, it also can create challenges that lead to less effective results. That’s just one reason to get excited about a new, biodegradable, thin film that can deliver a steady dose of medication to the body — in some cases for up to a year! Another reason? Because the film can be applied near the affected area — thus eliminating the full-body treatment of oral medications — this method could drastically decrease the risk of side effects.

Doctor and Student Develop iOS App to Help Ease Patient Pain A Duquesne University student and an Allegheny Health Network (AHN) doctor have teamed up to create an app designed to help doctors ease the pain of their patients. The app, known as “Palliative Care Fast Facts,” provides information on a wide variety of conditions and treatments, which doctors can use to treat patients. According to AHN sources, since its release, the app has been downloaded more than 1,000 times and has been well received by the medical community.

Ambitious Design Aims to Revolutionize Prosthetic Movement Through Memory, Imagination This “future of health care” may be far into the future, but researchers are working to develop a prosthetic arm controllable through memory and imagination. In theory, a memory in the user’s mind would be enough to get the prosthetic arm to perform an action. For instance, to pick up a fork, you would need to remember what it was like to pick up a fork, and use your imagination to replicate that action. Big challenges must be overcome in the sending, receiving and translating of electrical signals between the brain and prosthetic arm, so a functional model is still a long way off, but researchers believe this kind of technology could be within our reach.

Contraceptive Microchip Could Make Starting, Stopping Birth Control as Easy as Pressing a Button At present, even long-term contraceptives like IUDs and implants have to be replaced every few months or years, and deciding you want to start a family can require a doctor’s visit or procedure first. A new contraceptive microchip looks to change that, however, allowing women to activate or deactivate the delivery of hormones with a wireless remote. This gives women more complete control over starting and stopping their birth control regimen, allowing for easier family planning.

Allegheny Valley Hospital Launches PA’s First EMS Telemedicine Program Allegheny Valley Hospital, part of the Allegheny Health Network (AHN), is now the first (and only, at this point) hospital in Pennsylvania to offer a pre-hospital, EMS “Telemedicine” program. The program, which employs live video streaming technology, allows patients at home to speak directly to emergency room physicians, letting EMS providers assist patients who may not need or want to go to an emergency room. As AHN’s vice president of pre-hospital care states, this innovation not only serves the needs of patients today, it “is just the beginning of how we will be using telemedicine in our health care system in the coming years.”