Technological advances in the health care industry statewide are leading to local growth for businesses involved in digital health care and biotechnology.

“Health tech is the most rapidly-growing sector of the U.S. economy, encompassing technological applications in health care, cybersecurity and compliance needed to protect industry, data management, diagnostics and treatment, and the list goes on,” said Tracy Turner, director of the Howard Tech Council. “In the Baltimore-Washington Corridor, we have the tech talent, the innovation and the world’s most respected medical institutions. The future of health tech is right here.”

In addition to serving as the headquarters for many digital health care companies, Maryland is also a notable host of biotechnology firms. Businesses in the state have mapped the human genome and developed the first rapid test for Ebola, as well as the first FDA-approved blood test for colon cancer.

Also, Maryland leads the world in adult stem cell production and vaccine development, and represents one of the largest life sciences clusters in the U.S., with more than 500 biotech firms, as well as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.

It’s the Location

The proximity to laboratories makes the Corridor a great place for biotech startups.

“Howard County’s location and educated workforce make it a prime location for the growing biotech industry,” said Lawrence Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. “We are situated evenly between University of Maryland Medical Center and Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, and the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda. Howard County’s location provides businesses with easy access to some of the nation’s largest medical research institutions, resources that are essential to industry growth and expansion.”

Eighty percent of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and more than 2,000 life sciences companies are within a two-hour drive in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce. Maryland is home to the top 20% of “influencers” worldwide in vaccine development, according to the Department of Commerce. More than 40,000 people in the state are employed in biohealth.

Within the health tech sector, startup companies are booming as well as entrepreneurs, as they develop companion software for medications, smartphone apps that let physicians monitor patients remotely, virtual health coaches, bilingual electronic health records and more.

Reducing Errors, Saving Lives

Health care information technology (IT) isn’t just about dry numbers, said Gloria Wren, a professor at Loyola University, as well as co-editor of the journal Intelligent Decision Technologies.

“Health care IT is saving lives by reducing medication errors to hospital in-patients using bar-code scanning,” she said. “The U.S. Institute of Medicine estimates that every year there are more than 1 million injuries and approximately 100,000 deaths directly attributed to preventable medical errors.”

The most prevalent cause of undesirable medical events is caused by errors associated with the administration of medications during in-patient hospitalization stays. Health care IT — in the form of computerized systems — can prevent up to 95% of adverse drug effects by, for example, monitoring medication administration and patient signals, providing decision support on medication management and reducing the severity in the case of a reaction.

“These systems require data for decision making such as those provided by bar-coding and scanning of medications,” Wren said. “When combined with robust decision support systems, health care providers can gather, analyze and interpret information and react appropriately to medication errors.”

Wren’s research with York Hospital, part of WellSpan Health, demonstrates that barcode scanning of patients and medications, combined with data-supported decision making, can reduce medication errors.

A New Wave

New pieces of technology are steadily being developed within the health tech sector, making patients’ lives better and adding jobs to the market that employers didn’t think would ever exist.

Robotic-assisted surgery is already here and growing as a technology, Wren said. A so-called “Internet of Things” involves placing small sensors on medical devices that report to a computer monitoring center.

There is also a new wave of code-writing focused on “wearable technology” for patients who want to monitor their health indicators. Real-time monitoring of health with mobile and social technologies is helping doctors and patients predict when someone is going to have an adverse health care condition.

Social and mobile technologies are also increasing access to professional human health care through a global network that finds physicians and other health professionals when and where patients need care — no matter where in the world they are.

“To me, health care technology is best when we consider technology as delivering and analyzing data for better decision making,” said Wren. “Biotech involves understanding processes at the cellular and even molecular levels, and using that huge amount of data to gain insights that can become actionable in the hands of health care professionals.”