Digital health is the future. The benefits of digitizing the healthcare industry have mainly become apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. The use of COVID contact-tracing applications has equipped epidemiologists with a valuable tool that may hopefully prevent future outbreaks. Such an application merely scratches the surface of what digital health can offer.
What is digital health?
Digital health is a broad term. Some of the technologies it provides include mobile health (mHealth), wearable devices, robotics, telehealth, and electronic health records (EHRs). Over the last decades, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data have brought about significant innovation in the modus operandi of the healthcare industry. Simply put, digital health is the intersection of healthcare and information and communication technologies.
The healthcare industry has lingered behind in the adoption of digital technologies. Fortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the rate of this adoption. However, healthcare companies must realize that adaptability and agility are common traits of industries that have survived the digital transformation.
What benefits can it offer?
At a holistic level, digital health proposes to improve access to healthcare and increase the efficiency of health systems. And this includes cutting overheads and lowering the cost of healthcare.
Digital health can assist in clinical decision-making, reduce human error, and improve medical outcomes. It can also provide patients with precise, personalized medical treatments while helping medical professionals detect illnesses and intervene earlier. Additionally, it aims to improve pharmaceutical manufacturing and delivery processes by utilizing data to ensure that the supply meets the demand.
Medical professionals can also benefit from the digitization of the healthcare industry. The availability of remote, on-demand training courses and accreditations means that medical professionals can continue to add skills to their profile while managing their hectic schedules. For instance, emergency medical service (EMS) providers and paramedics can pursue a CE Solutions EMS course to sharpen their skillset.
Why is it essential in today’s era?
1. Patients want on-demand healthcare
The times have changed. Most people are juggling multiple jobs and have busy irregular schedules. They cannot afford to spend hours waiting for their turn at the clinic. Appointments must be convenient, and waiting times should be virtually nonexistent. With the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing, the call for on-demand healthcare has been amplified. According to a recent study, 59% of patients want to communicate with medical professionals on-demand.
Moreover, delivering a superior mobile experience is at the core of a modern digital transformation manifesto. The healthcare industry must follow suit. The deployment of mobile applications that allow patients to analyze their symptoms, communicate virtually with medical professionals, and book appointments are essential. It will reduce the need for patients to physically meet their doctors unnecessarily, reducing costs for both patients and the healthcare industry. MHealth is a remarkably effective technology because it is easy to integrate mobile healthcare services with the existing global communications network. Developing and deploying a mobile application is not costly, but the benefits are apparent.
Likewise, mHealth can improve access to healthcare services in developing nations. Over 70% of all global cellular subscribers reside in low and middle-income countries. Building and maintaining physical healthcare facilities in deprived areas may be difficult, but deploying a mobile application is not.
2. Wearables have great potential
The line between professional and consumer health technology has been blurred with the advent of fitness trackers and smartwatches. People aren’t necessarily tracking their daily step counts because ‘their doctor told them to.’ But instead, because it’s amusing to compare their step counts with their friends. This gamification may seem absurd at first, but it has helped thousands of people lead healthier lives – or at least try to. As patients demand detailed information about their health more frequently, wearables can continuously monitor vitals and provide information routinely.
It’s easy to forget how powerful wearables have become. Modern ones can check your heart rate, measure your blood oxygen levels, and track your sleep. Specialized wearables can even measure blood sugar levels through sweat and body temperature. And this means that healthcare companies can monitor critical patients’ vitals through their wearables and intervene as soon as an abnormality is observed.
3. Data is the new oil
Data is the new oil. In modern times, this data is not limited to a single channel. Instead, it comprises an extensive collection of data sets of varying types, sizes, and sources. Traditional databases cannot handle this type of data, and that’s where the concept of Big Data comes into play.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have come a long way. Together with Big Data analytics, these technologies can revolutionize the healthcare industry. For instance, medical professionals can analyze trends in medications, symptoms, and hospital admissions to detect medication or dosage errors. Pharmaceutical companies can unearth unknown side effects of newly released medicines in the same way. Similarly, HR managers can better estimate future patient admissions by analyzing past trends, which can help them allocate staff effectively and minimize labor costs.
4. The need for predictive health has been realized
Advancements in machine learning have allowed for the development of predictive algorithms. These algorithms can be calibrated and improved by utilizing large sets of data. Big Data can accelerate this process.
One of the ways that Big Data and predictive algorithms can revolutionize the healthcare industry is by flagging any sources of potential viral outbreaks. These sources can then be contained before the virus spreads exponentially and mutates, which may allow us to prevent future pandemics.
5. Electronic health records are feasible now
The conventional method of storing patient data usually involves maintaining a physical record. This painstakingly tedious method is inefficient, and documents are easily lost. Moreover, there’s no practical way of sharing these records between different healthcare facilities.
Electronic health records (EHRs) are digital versions of these patient records that promise to solve the underlying problems with physical records. An EHR includes everything from a patient’s medical history and prescriptions to their employment data and payment credentials. And that is what makes EHRs valuable to hackers.
With advancements in blockchain technologies, EHRs have suddenly become more critical. Blockchain transactions are secure, transparent, and traceable. Once blockchain-backed EHRs are widely adopted, transitioning between different hospitals and clinics will become significantly easier.
Digital health promises serval benefits for the healthcare industry. It can improve access to healthcare and make existing healthcare practices more efficient. It can assist clinicians in making informed decisions and help medical professionals polish their skills alongside their busy schedules.
The digitization of the healthcare industry is essential. On-demand healthcare is the future, and the coronavirus pandemic has proved that. The significant increase in the usage of mobile phones means that healthcare services can be made more accessible by utilizing mHealth technologies and wearables. Finally, Big Data and machine learning algorithms can (hopefully) allow us to predict future pandemics.