What is the future of Digital Health?
Published on June 17, 2021
When it comes to public health and supply chains, COVID-19 not only exposed many weaknesses amongst other things but also accelerated change towards a “new normal”. Due to the pandemic, many healthcare providers and patients were forced to find new and innovative ways to deliver or receive services. However, the pandemic is not the only force challenging long-term industry structures. Advances in technology and data and the evolving regulatory landscape have made the historically slow-moving healthcare industry interested in the fast adoption of innovation.
But still, while digital technologies have already transformed most sectors, healthcare is only beginning to realize the benefits through the emergence of electronic patient records, virtual primary care, wearables, and digital therapeutics. They not only provide healthcare organizations with the tools to improve efficiency. But, at the same time, “big data” also holds the promise of more personalized medicine, which is about individualized care. That’s why the digital health industry is booming, and the sector is valued at more than $500 billion by 2025, with an annual predicted growth of 27.7%.
What is digital health?
While there is not a universal definition of this concept, there are, however, some distinct patterns in all the definitions:
- There is an emphasis on how data can be used to improve care
- There is a focus on offering excellent healthcare rather than the use of technology
- What’s most important is the well-being of people rather than the caring of patients with diseases
So, if we must come to a definition, I would say that digital health encompasses the use of digital and technological tools to improve and manage the health and wellness of a population.
What are some of the benefits that digital health promises to offer?
Digital health investments were increased a lot in 2020. Total corporate funding for digital health reached $21.6 billion in 2020, up 103% compared to $10.6 billion in 2019, according to a year-end report. This increase in investment is explainable by the benefits of digital health.
- Reduced healthcare costs
Technologies can advance healthcare provided in and outside the settings of a hospital. Providers can tend to their patient’s needs remotely due to the user-friendly and cost-effective tools. However, this is only possible if companies strike a balance between innovation and cost.
- Improved health outcomes
Digital health promises to provide the tools to make more accurate diagnoses and develop better treatment protocols, which means improved patient outcomes and reduced medical errors.
- Value-based healthcare
When the patient care outcomes improve at a fraction of the current cost, that’s when we can move toward a value-based healthcare system. That will require an increased focus on patient education, coordination of care, prevention of diseases, and nutrition and wellness so that providers can deliver services more efficiently. For example, many physicians can use data from wearables to treat patients, provide them education and increase the overall quality of care.
- Reduced public health disparities
Patients who cannot access quality healthcare because of where they live or work, lack of transportation, or other social determinants can significantly benefit from telemedicine. Moreover, healthcare providers can monitor patient metrics and adherence to treatment protocols through different health apps.
- Increased patient engagement
Digital health technology empowers consumers and patients to have a more proactive approach to their healthcare. Different tools or platforms help them review medical records and interact with their physicians remotely. People who have more access to their health information are more actively engaged and, as a result, will have better outcomes.
What lies ahead for digital health?
If we want to have a successful digital future for healthcare, I believe that we will need to enhance the role and function of healthcare providers and not just replace human interaction. Technological tools will play an essential role in enabling better outcomes while fostering trust and keeping patients at the forefront of our thinking.
However, some changes are necessary to ensure society can reap the maximum benefit from the new technologies. A lack of technology experience among healthcare providers is one major obstacle, highlighting the need for digital training for all the staff. At the same time, challenges related to data security and privacy, governance, and interoperability need to be overcome.
About the Author
Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.
He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.
After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.
He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.
As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.
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