Technology has revolutionized how people interact with each other and the companies from which we buy goods and services. Every major sector has been forced to reimagine how, where and when they deliver goods and services. Healthcare has been a rare example of a sector that has resisted this trend. The time for healthcare to catch up and embrace the opportunities presented by technology is here.
In the 20th century, healthcare evolved into a service delivered in very specific, specialized locations – clinics, pharmacies and hospitals. When you needed medical attention you needed to adjust your schedule and life to be available when convenient for the service provider. While technology completely forced a change in other sectors, healthcare – with few exceptions – has stuck to a model that is decidedly not consumer centric or responsive.
The opportunity to shift our thinking – and our practice – on this needs to be more than a “marketing initiative.” It needs to become a transformation of what it means to deliver health care. Technology now provides the ability to interact with our patients and support health in ways neverbefore considered. The appropriate use of technology can facilitate changes to how, where and when we deliver care – and do so without disrupting the quality and excellence that our patients expect and deserve, and at a sustainable cost. As one source so succinctly summarized the 2019 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference: “It’s the platform, stupid.” That platform is digital health.
The term digital health has its roots in eHealth, which is defined as “the use of information and communications technology in support of health and health-related fields.” Mobile health (or mHealth) is a subset of eHealth and is defined as “the use of mobile wireless technologies for health.” More recently, the term digital health has become a broad umbrella term encompassing both eHealth and mHealth,as well as emerging areas including“big data,” genomics and artificial intelligence.
This will mean more than telemedicine, or online algorithms for minor health concerns. It will mean the development and implementation of tools that allow for remote monitoring so patients do not have to be in a hospital for as long, or to alert providers of potential problems. It will mean thinking differently about the role of healthcare providers in maintaining health and preventing disease as well as the diagnosis, treatment and recovery from disease.
As we look to take advantage of the opportunities provided by technology, of course we need to balance entrepreneurial pace with an examination of the evidence base on benefits and harms. Enthusiasm for digital health has created an overwhelming diversity of digital tools, and a proliferation of short-lived implementations with limited understanding of their actual impact. There are many issues to be worked out – from efficacy of interventions, approval for clinical use, cybersecurity, interoperability and privacy concerns, to billing and payment structures. These cannot, however, be reasons why we do not push forward.
Rethinking how we connect with our community– and being open to evolving our care models – is our ongoing challenge. We must be proactive and engage our patients and their families more often and in more places. And technology must be part of the equation.