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How tech can help patients and clinicians reap the benefits of an improved, sustainable and proactive healthcare system.
Can digital health bring about the changes that experts believe will transform medicine?
“Imagine a model of healthcare that’s always available and driven by data, so you’re continuously collecting data off your body, about your environment, your nutrition and activity. …Then it delivers back to you personalized healthcare throughout your whole life. You don’t have to be in a brick-and-mortar building to get it, and you have access to the world’s best experts.”
Those are the words of Leslie Saxon, the executive director and founder of the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing.
Globally, healthcare is changing under the pressure of ever-rising costs, a growing middle class, aging populations and disruptive digital innovations. The status quo is challenged, and many experts express with certainty that new developments will have major effects on healthcare delivery in the near future — a future that may look like the one described by Leslie Saxon and is often called digital healthcare.
In 2016, the global digital health market was valued at $179.6 billion. This number is expected to grow at a 13.4 percent CAGR between 2017 and 2025, reaching $536.6 billion.
This movement for digital health is believed to be inevitable and expected to:
This will happen through the use of everyday technologies. Smartphone sensors, cellphones, data analytics and cloud storage are already enabling such activities today. The popularity of these tools facilitates digital health research. Traditional paper-based models are being replaced by electronic data capture (EDC) solutions, leveraging tools such as the smartphone, and researchers are reaping the benefits.
The capabilities of EDC solutions vary and can be used throughout the different phases of clinical trials. Some may only include basic standalone databases, used to enter data in a single-site trial. Others are far more complicated, facilitating a multisite collection of clinical trials. EDC solutions enable remote monitoring, real-time data and tracking, validation, reporting and quick entry and analysis. As such, they can be used to collect, report and manage a wide variety of clinical data such as lab results. Over the years, these solutions will likely evolve from a single smartphone or wearable to actual smart citizens, meaning that a range of common tools monitors everything constantly.
Such research and the ability to continuously monitor, track and analyze in real time provides many possibilities and improvements. An ongoing understanding of one’s health status and early disease predictions with a clear overview of the individual specific causes are two of them. That information, in and of itself, can likely lead to individual behavior change. On a large scale, this could mean a healthier population, decreasing required treatments and reducing or even eliminating system costs.
This is crucial. All over the world, we see debates about the waste involved in health services, triggered by high costs. In the United Kingdom alone, the National Health Service wastes over 2 billion pounds per year on unnecessary or expensive treatments. This is often a consequence of the late discovery of diseases. But the developments described above are likely to get a handle that. Digital health may also cut the number of unnecessary treatments.
Two-way communication between healthcare providers and patients, together with the continuous monitoring and exchange of data, could significantly decrease the number of needed primary care visits. Rather than a patient contacting their doctor when they feel ill, it would become standard for a doctor to contact the patient after being pinged by a system that spots abnormalities in the data. The care provider might draw a direct conclusion once it is obvious and then tell the patient the steps they need to take on their own. Or the physician might call that patient into the office.
This is a powerful way to eliminate waste and advance patient-screening techniques, boosting effectiveness and efficiency.
For other areas of healthcare, these developments can lead to remote monitoring and out-of-hospital care. This makes healthcare less evasive and less expensive.
Likewise, the digitalization of individual health supports personalized medicine. As the specific physiology of each individual is different, so are their responses to medication. One might need more, while the other needs less. One response might be good to a certain type of medication, while another does not take well. The data derived from continuous monitoring can be compared with other variables and analyzed via artificial intelligence. We can derive fundamental information and provide the proper type of medication, in the proper dose, needed for the specific individual. Again, eliminating waste in a meaningful manner.
Digital health may also improve access to information through devices and research. When patients can compare providers, quality and prices, they can make informed decisions based on value. As in any market, this arrangement improves productivity. Consequently, as this additional information arises and becomes more accurate, innovation will accelerate.
Knowing all the above, it is no wonder that the digital health market is experiencing such growth and popularity among experts. Nevertheless, it is not mainstream enough. As people, we want to be healthier. We are experiencing all the new disruptive technologies around us and the current struggles healthcare is facing. What we are not experiencing, however, is true digital health. Most people have not heard about it and are in the dark as to what it may mean for us.
We need a high level of coordination and interoperability across the various components and sectors of healthcare. We need a strong narrative as to what the future will look like. We must trust that it will be better, and we must design a global digital health frame of mind. If we achieve this, we can reap the benefits of a sustainable, improved and proactive healthcare system where we all partake — while we are individually important.
A regular Healthcare Analytics News™ columnist, João Bocas is a wearables expert, a top 100 global digital health influencer, and keynote speaker. He possesses more than 25 years of hands-on experience in professional sport and corporate environments, working with senior management, boards and executive teams. He has worked in healthcare, financial services, media, sporting, and third and public-sector organizations.
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