The world is facing unprecedented health challenges—steadily rising costs and budget pressures, ageing populations, rising chronic disease rates and growing expectations for more convenient, affordable, high-quality and personalised care.
Digital health, the intersection of healthcare services, information technology and mobile technology, has emerged in the last few recent years – also known as the 3rd wave on IT in healthcare – to be the driving force in confronting this matter. The integration of technology in the many channels of healthcare shows promising results in real-time data capture, communication among patients and clinicians and streamlining healthcare processes. With digital health, the goals are straightforward enough — higher quality, more accessible and cost-effective healthcare for everyone, everywhere.
Patient-centricity is now key part of effective healthcare services in today’s digitised world. For healthcare organisations, it is essential to put in place the tools, the infrastructure and the culture to support a single patient view and truly personalised case vision. This can be seen among the perspective of the community of delegates who attended the Digital Health World Congress 2016, held in London this past week (22nd to 23rd June 2016).
The delegates attended came from varied background – technology providers, entrepreneurs, market research analysts and all the way through clinicians and physicians. It is great to see a collaborative effort of interest from different stakeholders within this emerging industry as the digital health market would need these expertise to progress efficiently.
What was talked about
Topics ranging from the role of digital health and its potential transformation to opportunities that it can offer were presented. Discussion on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and genomics were particularly popular among the delegates and speakers of the conference. Health technology firm Babylon featured an app which is dubbed “everyone’s personal health service”. This app has a “Check a Symptom” triage feature, which operates via a Q&A within the app and claims that the artificial intelligence was as accurate as the assessment of a nurse and doctor. Dr Ali Parsa of Babylon mentioned that there is no question artificial that intelligence will diagnose better than a doctor eventually, and he is looking into diagnosing illnesses as the next step.
The topic of genomics was also widely discussed – speaker Dr Jelena Aleksic, CEO of GeneAdviser talked about the potential of genomics and its impact on diagnosis. Scientists have identified millions of locations where DNA differences occur in humans¹. This information promises to revolutionise the processes of finding DNA sequences associated with such common diseases as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancers. Combined with the power of data analytics and real-time technology in data capture, genomics can be used to give significant insights for curing diseases when looked deeper into patients’ physical health and environment.
Karthik Ranjan, the Director of Healthcare Technologies at ARM describes how we only see healthcare at the tip of the iceberg i.e. annual exam, emergency rooms and illness visit and fail to see the depth that goes into examining a patient i.e. sleep quality, resting heartrate, if the medication is working and so forth. A healthcare platform that gives a holistic view on the actual condition of a patient ranging from the physical environment to a genetic makeup is something that digital health industry can play a part:
Other topics of interest includes trends in internet of medical things and how connected healthcare is the new future. Medical sensors are now being integrated directly into mobile devices such as smartphones, which is used for health data management and elderly monitoring. This will allow patient to be engaged with their own health even more. These technology innovations will need a robust infrastructure to enable the digital health to progress. Platforms as a service such as Biotaware and Cumulocity were present and they give an example how the back-ends of the systems in this industry can function.
Challenges in digital health
There still remains a number of challenges in digital health care. From an innovation perspective, technology does not seem to be the main problem. Adopting the innovative technology appears to be more of the issue. Dr. Kyu Rhee, Chief Health Officer at IBM Watson, points out some of the main challenges in digital health are:
- Patients are not empowered to adapt to all the technology has to offer
- Big data without insights – the issue of “unstructured data” i.e. big data and raw data still needs to be made sense of
- Inadequate collaboration among stakeholders
- Behaviour of clinicians – clinicians has to trust the data
These points are also supported by David Champeaux, Managing Director, Health Strategy at Accenture where their Accenture Digital Health Technology Vision 2016 reveals five trends that prove winning in the digital age hinges on people – the patients and the healthcare workforce.
In addition to the points above, all these digitisation and healthcare going “online” is pointless without seamless connectivity. Telecommunications company like Vodaphone is investing efforts into digital health with a vision to a connect every machine to transform lives and business. The Department of Health reports² that significant increases in productivity can be achieved by equipping health workers with new mobile technology.
The doctor-patient relationship is changing. Patients, equipped with all manner of mobile healthcare app and the help of Doctor Google, are doing more of their health research online. The question we need to ask now is – do we have the tools yet to effectively engage patient? Are patient-centric IT solutions in the current digital health industry really ready for medical and wellness use and medically useful enough to become accepted for professional care?
We are at the tipping point of the digitisation of healthcare. Ultimately, it is all about being connected. Connected health means systematically applying healthcare information technology to facilitate the accessing and sharing of information, and to enable the subsequent analysis of health data across healthcare systems. But connected health goes beyond simply managing and analysing patients’ clinical data. It encourages communication and collaboration among all the stakeholders involved in a patient’s health to get to improved care – and better health outcomes – at lower costs.
A point to remember is that we, as stakeholders in healthcare, are not in competition with each other, we are in corporation with each other.
Recommended readings from the conference (all available publicly):
- Infographic: Accenture Digital Health Tech Vision 2016 Report (Infographic can be accessed here and the site can be accessed here)
- Reading: Eric Topol: The Patient Will See You Now
- Reading: The Digital Revolution comes to US Healthcare – Goldman Sachs
 Genomics and Its Impact on Science and Society." Oak Ridge National Library. U.S. Department of Energy Genome Research Programs, n.d. Web.
Data from Department of Health: Huge increases have already been recorded, while the duplication of data can be greatly reduced, freeing up clinical time by up to 92% and reducing travel time by up to 33%.