The digitisation of healthcare is moving inexorably, and excitingly, forwards. FDA’s definition of this trend is ‘digital health technologies use computing platforms, connectivity, software, and sensors for health care and related uses.
These technologies span a wide range of uses, from applications in general wellness to applications as a medical device.’ For the individual, digital health technologies can help us to better manage our own health and receive treatments that were impossible only a few years ago. It can also help professionals to collaborate with us to manage our condition with greater efficiency and less burden on both sides.
Since Covid 19 people have become more familiar users of certain aspects of the healthcare digitisation revolution: filling in online consultation forms to request a GP’s appointment, having telephone consultations, and using an online portal to request repeat prescriptions which they then collect directly from a specified pharmacy. Many already use digital technology to monitor things like sleep patterns, diet and weight or use internet-connected exercise equipment. In addition, some of us will have more intimate personal experience of healthcare medical devices and digitisation: pacemakers, insulin pumps, DBS implants or ingestibles.
Here’s an overview of how healthcare can benefit from digitisation:
Technologies are getting smarter by the day with the dual meaning of being more connected but also more intelligent. From monitoring heart rate to counting steps, the small handheld gadgets of today can log pretty much everything about the body via smartwatches or smartphones but also via a wide range of wearable devices.
The connection of these devices to your smartphone, and your smartphone to the Internet, will allow all vital data about your health to be transmitted to the cloud and read and processed by doctors in real-time. Digitisation will enable easier monitoring and identifying of potentially alarming situations, proactively.
Digitisation should make it easier for patients and healthcare professionals to remain on the same page. Luckily, the days when patients had to maintain a thick medical records file which they needed to bring with them to every medical appointment are gone. Digitisation has levelled this platform to keep both patients and their doctors well informed of every situation – every day, wherever they are.
Patients (as well as doctors) can create and maintain digital records of medical history, preferably uploaded to clouds or expert systems, where the patient decides who to grant access to. As with all traditional forms of record-keeping, it involves a little extra effort, but it pays off in the long run, offering a chronological history of medical visits, tests, and medications. This is particularly useful when a doctor not familiar with your medical history or patient profile is allocated your case, often in times of medical emergencies.
Both through traditional channels and through technology, doctors can now stay connected with their patients, offering medical support round the clock. This is particularly effective when the diagnosis of a medical condition depends on the way the patient’s body reacts to the suggested medications.
Google receives more than 1 billion health questions every day and Parade’s Cleveland Clinic reports that in the US 55% of women aged 25-49 admitted to taking health advice from social media.
This trend seems to be unstoppable and shows how much people care about their own healthcare situation, as well as how important it is to patients to have informed opinions about the prescriptions they receive, the treatments proposed and the solutions available. This new trend belongs to the concept of patient empowerment and it is proven that an empowered and informed patient will be more responsive to treatment; even the WHO defines empowerment as “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health” (WHO 1998). This shift is due in large part to the use of technology that facilitates increased patient access to information via the Internet, peer-to-peer sharing, consumer health devices, and mobile apps. The problem arises when a considerable proportion of the population would prefer to log on and consult the web for their symptoms rather than make a GP’s appointment, with all the inherent dangers of completely misdiagnosing a potentially dangerous condition.
Digitisation should enable medical practitioners and experts to reach out to this segment with authentic information. Communicating balanced, factual medical information through social media channels and enabling doctors to connect with their current and potential patients goes a long way towards re-establishing the appropriate level of communication, along with the added bonus of ultimately bringing healthcare costs down.
Patient Inclusion & Patient Compliance
We said it in the point above: there was a time when healthcare was a one-way conversation; the doctors would prescribe, and the patients would obediently follow their recommendations without question. We know for a fact that patient compliance, or the patient’s willingness to comply with the given protocol, influences recovery and well-being. Not only are they motivated to turn the tables in their favour but also are likely to go the extra mile for it, with immense potential in lowering the cost of healthcare.
The risk is when the new patient to doctor transition is turned into a retail-like business transaction. This places a greater emphasis on patient inclusion and patient compliance to ensure the overall patient experience is positive.
Data can radically change healthcare. In fact, healthcare analytics have the potential to improve treatments while reducing costs, predict outbreaks of epidemics, avoid preventable diseases, and overall improve the quality of life. Health professionals will be able to collect massive amounts of data and with the extensive use of Artificial Intelligence search for correlations to transform the data into valuable and actionable insights.
Where do we go from here?
Digital healthcare seems to have progressed in leaps and bounds over the last 10 – 20 years. However, for some of the professionals involved, the last 10 – 20 years have not breached as many frontiers as they had hoped. Humans, and the human body, are incredibly complex, and designing a digitalised medical device adds further complication to the stand-alone device. In addition, we humans can take time to accept radical change and new innovations. And this plays also on the professional side; healthcare professionals at all levels also need to be trained to understand what new technologies are about. We cannot criticise them – there are new innovations and breakthroughs being made all the time, so they need to continually keep abreast of new developments and their applications.
However, we can expect to look forward to digital technology that allows people to interact with healthcare systems much more smoothly than is currently possible. Clinicians should be able to focus on care and not be worrying whether they can trust the technology or the AI algorithm.
There’ll be a shift to more home care, especially for long term conditions – we don’t want people in hospital if they can be managed at home – through the use of devices that monitor vital signs and treatment adherence, devices that can automatically collect health metrics like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and more, eliminating the need for patients to travel or for patients to collect it themselves.
The effects on the health service of improved analytics in areas like diagnosis, for example, would be really powerful. We should have a healthier population with improved outcomes as well as financial savings for our healthcare systems. And in drug development, we hope that many drugs will have been discovered through using AI and digital technologies. We also hope that clinical trials will move from being, say, 50% successful to maybe 80%. Doing that will have an enormous impact on patients’ lives, especially those with chronic diseases for which, currently, there is no real effective therapy. Healthcare professionals are committed to working towards people being able to enjoy at least five extra years of healthy, independent living – with an emphasis on enjoyment.
It’s an exciting time…… But at the heart of it we need to be sure that this digitisation of healthcare is equitable, and that no one is left behind. Vulnerable populations, people who may not have access to the internet, or whose educational attainment may not be as high as others, must also be able to access these services. How do we take everyone with us? One way is by education; to harness the power of knowledge and understanding and turn it into a tool that will allow inclusion.
CommuniD’s mission is to help patients to remain up to date with current medical device solutions in an environment that is constantly evolving. The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the CommuniD website or articles.
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