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Digital health: the next frontier in healthcare

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In recent years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the use of digital technologies to improve healthcare, encompassing diagnosis, monitoring and virtual treatments. These technologies enable clinicians to monitor and manage patients remotely, while making patients’ lives easier. 

 

The digitisation of high-quality, granular healthcare data ranging from diagnosis and treatment to outcome has great potential. If we can gather in-depth information on patients, we can personalise healthcare—and improve clinical outcomes.

 

Healthcare systems in crisis

 

Health expenditure is increasing at a rate that is not matched by economic growth. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 75% of healthcare expenditure is now related to treating chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases. We’re also living longer, increasing the demand for healthcare. 

 

In view of this growing pressure, there is an urgent need for a healthcare system that takes the strain off overworked healthcare professionals and focuses on prevention rather than treatment.

 

Overloaded front-line healthcare workers can understandably be wary of introducing changes to their workflow, and may initially be resistant to new technologies. It’s essential that solutions are integrated into the existing workflow and implemented with minimum disruption to everyday work. Remember: digital transformation is not just technological, but cultural.

 

Remote monitoring: promoting a patient-centric approach

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers have learned to adapt to new ways of interacting with patients. Dr Albert Salazar Soler, Manager at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, says, ‘Telemedicine increased by 300% at our hospital because people were afraid to come to us in the early days of the COVID pandemic, and it is now here to stay, avoiding many unnecessary consultations in person.’ 

 

Remote monitoring technologies are particularly useful for patients with chronic diseases, elderly people and patients recovering from surgery. What’s more, individuals with limited mobility or those who live in remote areas can benefit from remote monitoring by eliminating the need to visit clinics in person.

 

Some remote monitoring technologies are already widely used: for example, heart rate and blood pressure monitors, glucose metres for diabetics, apps to monitor food intake, and wearables such as fitness trackers and smartwatches. These devices are becoming increasingly accepted as part of daily life and will be familiar to many patients. 

 

Using technology to empower patients

 

Patients already play an increasing part in self-managing their care, but technology can now provide the resources to do so effectively while making it easier for clinicians and patients to collaborate. 

 

The focus is on educating patients about their condition and treatment options, helping them to understand the importance of adhering to a care plan and the implications of not doing so. Interacting with a monitoring device can give patients a sense of increased accountability for their own health, as they can monitor symptoms from their own homes and feel more personally involved with managing their condition. 

 

What’s more, new technologies are beginning to incorporate patient feedback to drive personalisation and improve decision-making, taking into account patients’ opinions and experience with treatment plans. Software for patient monitoring systems can use various technologies, but devices generally have common components such as sensors, local data storage, a central repository and data analysis functionality. 

 

As with all tech advancements, confidentiality and data security are of vital importance when dealing with sensitive health data, so any new systems must be developed with ethical concerns and relevant legislation in mind. Transparency regarding the collection and use of clinical data is key to gaining patient trust, as well as for ensuring compliance with regulatory frameworks.

 

From tech giants to small start-ups

 

Whilst household names such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft have all invested in healthcare technology, the field has also attracted several start-ups. Whereas larger companies have the advantage of cutting-edge technology and large quantities of data, start-ups often have multidisciplinary teams combining scientific and business expertise and are able to develop highly specific solutions quickly.  

 

Although penetrating the healthcare market as a start-up can be difficult, these smaller organisations can make significant contributions to the healthcare system thanks to their powerful tech base, scalable solutions, agility and international talent. What’s more, start-ups are increasingly being supported through collaborations with larger corporations, facilitating their entry into the market.

 

In Spain, healthcare start-ups and initiatives include Veta Health, a remote care company that has developed a solution to specifically target patients with chronic heart failure, a condition which places great stress on the healthcare system. The platform is used to capture and manage the journey of heart failure patients outside clinical settings, with data collected and integrated from patients, clinicians and caretakers. 

 

Other examples in Spain include Top Doctors, a directory of private medical specialists; Mediktor, an interactive tool that analyses symptoms and directs patients to the appropriate level of care, and Psious, a virtual reality therapy platform for mental health. 

 

Digitised healthcare: the new normal

 

Digital healthcare is no longer confined to innovation projects, but is a core strategic element of the healthcare industry. Transformation of the sector and the incorporation of new technologies has led to greater efficiency in the design of healthcare processes, leading to cost savings. Most importantly, there is a clear trend towards shifting focus to the patient, increasing engagement and resulting in improved patient outcomes.

 

The Collider: looking to the future

 

The Collider is an innovation programme that makes meaningful connections between science, corporates and entrepreneurship. This venture-building project brings science and entrepreneurial talent together to build disruptive tech-driven start-ups. The Collider is powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, a tech-focused initiative that drives digital transformation to improve people’s lives globally.