It may not seem obvious, but medical innovations impact each of us on a daily basis. Whether it’s the polio vaccine or laser eye surgery, innovations in healthcare improve the quality of our lives and help us live longer in countless ways. Now women with fertility issues can receive in vitro fertilization and cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was. Technological advances like virtual reality (VR) and 3D printing are paving the way for a new and improved healthcare system with better patient outcomes and colleges are working to keep pace in the classroom. In fact, some schools are at the forefront of healthcare innovation and have created specialized programs and degrees specifically designed to prepare students to work with new technologies and systems. From the administrative side of the field to working directly with patients, learn how healthcare is changing and growing and find out which schools are leading the way in innovation.
What Does Innovation Mean in Healthcare?
Innovation can be defined as a new idea, device, or method that improves the current state of affairs. In healthcare, innovation means developing new and improved policies, systems, products, and technologies that ultimately make patient care better. During this particularly fruitful technological period in the field, there are countless innovations that are improving the way clinicians practice. Here are 10 areas in which healthcare is currently innovating in important ways to improve the quality, effectiveness, efficiency, safety, sustainability, and affordability for patients around the world.
- Virtual & Augmented Reality (VR/AR)Virtual reality refers to computer-generated simulation in which a person interacts with an artificial 3D environment using an electronic device, like goggles with a digital screen. Augmented reality is similar to virtual reality, but combines some real-world components with the virtual environment. VR and AR are among the fastest-growing technologies today, bringing important innovations to the healthcare sector in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries and diseases, as well as patient rehabilitation for both physical and neurological issues. Colleges are universities are recognizing the need to train future professionals to use VR and AR as they become more widely integrated into the healthcare system. Programs like the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s EON Reality VR Innovation Academy are designed specifically to ready students for the use of these technologies once they enter the professional field.
- Stem-Cell ScienceStem cells can be thought of as the raw material from which the body generates cells that perform specialized functions. Stem cells play a key role today in research concerning the cellular, molecular, and developmental processes that control the development of healthy, new tissue (also known as “regenerative medicine”). Stem cells are already being used in bone marrow transplants to help patients repair and strengthen their immune systems by replacing cells damaged by disease and chemotherapy. Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology programs are in full operation on U.S. college and university campuses where doctors and scientists hope continued stem cell research will lead to a better understanding of how diseases occur and the development of new safe and effective drugs. Stanford University and the Medical College of Wisconsin are just two examples of schools who are incorporating these innovations into their healthcare curriculum.
- Electronic Health RecordsElectronic health records, or EHR, have become an essential tool in the modern practice of medicine. According to the National Academy of Medicine, 94% of hospital-based and 86% of office-based physicians have used EHR in their practices. This increased use of EHR, however, has resulted in a number of unintended problems, including increased inefficiencies, cognitive load, and increased burdens on doctors and staff leading to a rise in clinical burnout. Additionally, current EHR use has focused more heavily on administrative and billing functions as opposed to clinical decision making and patient care delivery. College and university programs, such as the EHR Classroom initiative at the UMass Medical School, are working to address these and other EHR optimization challenges.
- 3D PrintingInnovations in 3D printing are rapidly making their way into the healthcare world, primarily in regard to the manufacturing of medical devices and instruments as well as affordable prostheses and ortheses. On top of that, patient-specific 3D printed anatomical models are increasingly being used to provide clearer understanding and communication in the operating room between surgeons, surgical techs, and patients. And, maybe most exciting of all, researchers are pioneering the use of 3D bioprinting technologies in tissue engineering and even 3D-printed organs. Schools leading the way in healthcare 3D printing include the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Duke University School of Medicine.
- Precision MedicinePrecision medicine refers to the approach to disease prevention and treatment that takes into consideration the variability of genes, lifestyle, and environment of a specific patient. Put another way, the old approach was to group together patients with the same disease. With precision medicine, however, healthcare professionals are coming to an understanding that the form and behavior a disease takes varies significantly from patient to patient depending on the individual’s unique genetic and molecular makeup. Resulting breakthroughs in precision medicine research will allow healthcare professionals to create patient-specific treatment “tool boxes” to more successfully prevent and treat diseases. Schools with programs on the forefront of precision medicine research include Columbia University and the University of California San Francisco.
- Artificial Intelligence We all know what artificial intelligence is and that it’s influencing practically every aspect of the world’s economies and cultures. It’s also rapidly establishing itself throughout the healthcare industry by automating rudimentary tasks that were previously handled by clerical workers, helping to more efficiently allocate medical and administrative resources, allowing for the effective sharing of the expertise of specialists with larger healthcare professional populations, and more. Of particular interest is the employment of AI (through the use of algorithms) in the prediction and identification of injuries and diseases in people before they actually occur, something that AI can do much more effectively than humans. Nevertheless, the potential of AI in the healthcare realm has only begun to be tapped. One program leading the way in AI in healthcare is the Institute for Augmented Intelligence in Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
- Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)The Internet of Medical Things is a term coined to describe medical devices used by individuals that are connected via the internet to healthcare provider computer programs and systems in order to collect, analyze, generate, and transmit information and data to provide better healthcare to individuals. Devices range from wearable sensors and trackers to sensor-equipped hospital beds and infusion pumps. Many colleges and universities are incorporating the study of IoMT into their healthcare administration and management programs. A few schools are even offering academic programs in the broader Internet of Things (IoT) subject itself. Examples of these programs include Florida International University’s fully-online BS in Internet of Things and Stanford University’s online Internet of Things Graduate Certificate.
- NanomedicineNanomedicine concerns the medical application of nanotechnology. That means the use of materials and devices on a tiny scale (1 to 100 nanometers) in medicine. What scientists have discovered is that nanomaterials can cross barriers within the body that larger materials cannot and that the therapeutic properties of those nanomaterials actually differ in terms of chemistry, physics, and biology from larger versions in ways that make them more effective. Nanomedicine has already begun to play an impactful role in several areas of healthcare, including diagnostics, vaccines, medical imaging, therapeutic systems and devices, and regenerative medicine. Postsecondary programs offering education and research opportunities in the field of nanomedicine include the Nanomedicine undergraduate degree program at Virginia Tech and the Nanomedicine and Nanobiotechnology program at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine.
- RoboticsRobotics refers to the technology used in the design and construction of machines that perform tasks previously done by humans. We all understand that robots are now widely employed throughout manufacturing, but many people aren’t aware of their use in healthcare. Examples of robotics applications working now in the healthcare field are robot-assisted surgical systems controlled by doctors (which allow for minimally-invasive surgical procedures) and robotic exoskeletons and prostheses. The potential uses of robots in medicine in the future are practically limitless. Robotics degree programs have become a staple of engineering departments at many U.S. colleges and universities. College programs specific to robotics in medicine include the Healthcare Robotics Labs at the University of California San Diego and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
- TelehealthOf all the innovations in healthcare, telehealth services may be the one we generally have the most personal experience with by way of virtual appointments with our doctors. Due to the pandemic, virtual physician appointments have become practically commonplace. But telehealth services encompass much more than just video visits with your doctor on your smartphone. Other important services include, eye exams, mental health counseling, remote patient monitoring, specialized videoconferencing that connects patients and their primary care physicians in remote locations with specialists located at major hospitals and clinics, and even virtually-guided physical therapy sessions. Practically all university-affiliated healthcare medical centers today offer a range of telehealth services. Two excellent examples are Cornell University’s Cornell Health and Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
Top Healthcare Schools at the Forefront of Innovation
As is the case in other fields, innovations in healthcare often originate in the classrooms and research labs of college healthcare and business departments. The ten U.S. colleges and universities listed below all feature substantial commitments to the various types of healthcare innovation discussed above in both their research and education programs, as well as their own institutional practices. Take a look at who’s leading the way in developing and advancing healthcare innovation in postsecondary education below.
New York University
Founded in New York City in 1831, New York University is a research university and the largest private university (by enrollment) in the nation. When it comes to commitment to healthcare innovation, you’d be hard pressed to find a more committed institution than NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine. The School of Medicine is home to an array of programs dedicated to innovative research and practice, including: the Institute for Innovations in Medical Education, combining informatics with education science to transform teaching and learning in healthcare; the Institute for Systems Genetics, employing a systems approach to medicine and human biology; the Tech4Health Institute, NYU’s hub for research in biomedical technologies and instruments; and the Center for Healthcare Innovation & Delivery Science, which focuses on redesigning healthcare systems to improve patient health and wellbeing.
Other healthcare innovation-focused programs at NYU include the Institute for Computational Medicine, the Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine, the Center for Human Genetics & Genomics, and the Helen L. & Martin S. Kimmel Center for Stem Cell Biology.
Stanford University is among a handful of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country, so it should be no surprise that Stanford is also among the most highly-regarded global leaders in healthcare innovation. Located on Stanford’s main campus in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, the Stanford Healthcare Innovation Lab bills itself as “building the future of precision medicine” by accelerating precision health technology research, development, and clinical adoption through the implantation of its unique “multi-omic, longitudinal baseline” approach. Much of the research at the SHIL focuses on the exploratory analysis of Big Data with the aim of developing breakthroughs in genomics, biological sciences, bioinformatics, biochemistry, and neuroscience. Current SHIL programs and projects include Integrated Personalized ‘Omics Profiling (IPOP), the use of biosensor wearable devices to detect Covid-19 infection before the emergence of symptoms, and the Genetic Bioinformatics Service Center (GBSC), which facilitates massive-scale genomics at the university.
Stevens Institute of Technology
Located in Hoboken, New Jersey, the Stevens Institute of Technology is one of the oldest technological universities in the United States. Its primary focus is on academic programs and cutting-edge research related to all aspects of the engineering field. Healthcare-related activities at Stevens are coordinated through the Center for Healthcare Innovation (CHI), a university-wide program that provides critical support for Stevens faculty-led and student-initiated programs advancing research in the areas of healthcare delivery and biomedical technology. Current CHI-supported research areas include drug discovery, delivery, and computational chemistry; tissue engineering: computational analysis, modeling, and transmission of biological and medical data; biosensors, biorobotics, and biomedical devices; and healthcare analytics. CHI is also home to the Biotechnology and Drug Discovery Laboratory, a facility devoted to partnerships between Stevens faculty and students, and external industry and academic collaborators.
Healthcare innovation-related degree programs offered by Stevens include a BS in Biomedical Engineering and graduate degrees in Biomedical Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Engineering, Robotics, Chemical Biology, and Computational and Medicinal Chemistry for Drug Discovery.
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona was founded in 1885, a full quarter of a century before Arizona became a state. Now one of the largest public universities in the U.S., the University of Arizona enrolls nearly 50,000 students in 19 colleges and schools, including the several healthcare-related colleges and institutes that make up UA’s Health Sciences program. Among these institutions leading the way in innovative healthcare research is the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation, which describes itself as a “creativity engine” for developing novel solutions to a broad range of unsolved problems in biomedicine and quickly moving its discoveries into practical, value-added healthcare applications.
Another UA Health Sciences program of note is the Center for Innovation in Brain Science, which employs state-of-the-art technologies for research in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, stem cell biology, aging, big date computational systems biology and machine learning, and much more. UA’s main campus in Tucson is also home to the Arizona Stimulation Technology & Education Center, a 30,000 sq.ft. facility in the Health Sciences Innovation Building that engages healthcare learners through the use of innovative experiential learning methods and high-fidelity simulation technology.
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley is the flagship campus of the prestigious University of California System. Berkeley’s academic footprint is massive, with currently over 180 academic departments and programs. Among the most active is its School of Public Health, which alone houses nearly two dozen institutes and centers conducting innovative research covering the full range of public health and health-related societal issues. Examples include: the Berkeley Center for Health Technology (BCHT), whose current focus is on implantable medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, and insurance benefit design to promote greater effectiveness and efficiency in healthcare; the Center for Healthcare Organizational and Innovation Research (CHOIR), which conducts studies concerning the organization and delivery of health services; and i4Y Innovations for Youth, whose mission is to catalyze practices, policies, and innovations to improve the well-being and equity for youth, both locally and around the world.
UC Berkeley is also home to five data science and technology research centers working collaboratively on research integrating high-dimensional biology with machine learning and causal inference to advance public health interventions.
University of California, San Francisco
The University of California, San Francisco is the only UC System campus dedicated solely to the health sciences. It’s also home to some of the most highly-respected healthcare innovation research programs in the world, resulting in the development of over 2,400 patented products improving healthcare practices and delivery worldwide. UCSF’ Center for Digital Health Innovation brings together experts in data science, digital health policy, technical development and integration, and others to develop solutions in the areas of artificial intelligence, electronic health records, virtual care, and more. Other innovative programs at UCSF include the Clinical Innovation Center, focused on the acceleration of innovations in clinical delivery systems, and UCSF Innovation Ventures, which provides university faculty with comprehensive support in the development of innovative healthcare technologies.
UCSF also offers one of the most comprehensive selections of healthcare degree and certificate programs anywhere with over thirty graduate courses of study in majors such as Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Healthcare Administration, Neuroscience, and Rehabilitation Science.
University of Colorado
“Disrupting the status quo” could be the motto for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus’s various healthcare innovation-centered programs. At the heart of these programs is CU Innovations. Working with the UCHealth CARE Innovation Center and the Center for Innovation at Children’s Hospital (both located on CU’s Aurora campus), CU Innovations brings together investors, entrepreneurs, and industry partners to provide them with access to its extensive portfolio of clinical validation opportunities, biomedical technologies, and other intellectual property resources for startup development of innovative healthcare programs and products.
Among the many other innovation-minded programs located on the Anschutz Medical Campus are the National Mental Health Innovation Center, dedicated to supporting user-driven development and adoption for the improvement of mental health care; the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine, focused on stem cell and regenerative medicine research and application; and the Center for Surgical Innovation, providing state-of-the-art training and cutting-edge surgical technologies to operating rooms worldwide.
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a major public research university located in the city of Ann Arbor. It’s also a major powerhouse in the fields of technology and the health sciences, and home to the U-M Health System which sponsors hundreds of innovative health-related research projects. Anchoring Michigan’s healthcare research efforts is the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation (IHPI), which coordinates the work of health services research and health-policy groups across the entire campus. The IHPI oversees more than two dozen healthcare-related centers and programs, including the Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety, the Center for Precision Health Data Science, and the Michigan Integrated Center for Health Analytics and Medical Prediction.
Another of IHPI innovative projects is the Telehealth Research and Innovation program, dedicated to creating novel and cost-reducing approaches to enhance patient access and improve healthcare access. The IHPI additionally offers master’s level training opportunities to clinicians seeking to develop their research and leadership skills through its Advanced Training in Health Services Research program.
University of Texas at Austin
Innovative healthcare research programs and projects at the University of Texas at Austin can be found at both UT’s Dell Medical School and McCombs School of Business. The Texas HealthCo Lab at the Dell Medical School describes itself as a, “hub for product innovation and entrepreneurship,” with programs providing healthcare innovators with the support needed to commercialize products, collaborate with industry partners, or launch their own companies.
The Texas McCombs Health Innovation Initiative sponsors several academic programs for students interested in the business of healthcare, including an MBA with Healthcare Concentration that focuses on healthcare innovation, analytics, and ecosystems, and the Health Care Innovations Fellows program, whose goal is to promote impactful leadership in the healthcare industry. Another important McCombs program is the Value Institute of Health and Care which, in partnership with the Dell School of Medicine, works with organizations around the world to catalyze and accelerate innovation in healthcare delivery. The Value Institute additionally offers a MS in Healthcare Transformation program for students interested in becoming leaders in the healthcare services field.
Wake Forest University
The Wake Forest School of Medicine is another major medical school that has invested heavily in becoming a world leader in healthcare innovation research and development through the establishment of several institutionally-supported centers and labs. Of particular note is its Center for Healthcare Innovation which is dedicated to functioning as an “engine” for indentifying new healthcare ideas and solutions that do not require a traditional research process, accelerating their development resulting in faster clinical application to improve patient outcomes. To accomplish its goals, the Center partners with a number of outside groups, such as Wake Forest Innovations (with over 100 products currently on the market developed from its proprietary technologies).
Other School of Medicine institutions bringing innovation to healthcare include: the Center for Precision Medicine, moving basic and applied research in genomics, bioinformatics, and more, into clinical practice; and the Center for Biomedical Informatics, with a focus on improving healthcare, both locally and nationally, by advancing and promoting informatics, research, education, and practice.