Digital health is so much more than just booking a doctor’s appointment online. With exponential advances in technology, as well as the need for remote healthcare and accelerated digitisation of medical systems during the COVID-19 pandemic, digitally enabled healthcare is quickly becoming a reality.
This trend will redefine the way we connect with healthcare professionals and how we think about our own health. In this article, we will look at how specific digital health tools are personalising healthcare and reshaping the sector – as well as some challenges along the way.
What exactly is digital health?
Digital health encompasses a variety of tools and technologies. From video chatting with your doctor and accessing your health records electronically to ordering repeat prescriptions online and wearing devices that monitor your wellbeing 24/7, digital health involves any hardware or software used to enhance the delivery of care to patients from health professionals.
Apps are one example, which can be used to assess and regulate patient health. Germany is paving the way in this area, with an accelerated process for bringing more digital health applications to market – some used to manage conditions as diverse as tinnitus, insomnia, and agoraphobia. Paired with ‘wearables’ that monitor everything from blood pressure and blood sugar to oxygen and activity levels, apps can provide clinicians with insightful data around patient behaviour, allowing for more accurate analysis of their wellbeing and flagging any inconsistencies or potential errors.
Chatbots are also being used as diagnostic tools or even mental health providers, while VR is used to treat chronic pain as well as anxiety or PTSD. Meanwhile, for doctors, VR simulations are a valuable way to hone their skills.
Then there’s the use of AI for more precise healthcare, such as the development of personalised cancer therapies. By analysing cancer imaging, AI tools can make accurate diagnoses, predict drug combinations and customise treatment plans based on the genetic makeup or lifestyle of the individual patient.
What does it mean to personalise healthcare?
Digital healthcare promises to create a more personalised medical system. For one thing, the digital transformation of healthcare gives more power to individual patients.
By allowing people to monitor and manage their wellbeing from home via apps and wearables, digital healthcare can be very empowering and enable individuals to take a more active role in their healthcare. In this way, healthcare becomes more open and collaborative, and adherence to specific treatment programmes increases as individuals feel more involved.
The ability to use AI-enabled tools for health advice rather than turning to generic answers on Google saves people time and concern, and improves their health literacy.
AI and big data also make diagnoses and drug recommendations more personal with screenings and treatments tailored to someone’s unique DNA. By using data about a patient’s environment, including their lifestyle and biology, combined with genome sequencing, digital health allows for more personalised treatment.
What are the benefits and challenges of digital healthcare?
In addition to making healthcare more personal and engaging, digital healthcare has the potential to dramatically streamline medical processes, thereby cutting costs and improving clinical outcomes.
The digitisation of services – such as AI tools to triage patients in emergency care – makes healthcare more coordinated and efficient while analytics offer process insights. For example, data could be used to estimate hospital admission peaks. This allows teams to optimise their workflow and allocate staff and funding more efficiently during busy periods.
Then there’s the development of blockchain electronic health records, which are cheaper, more accurate and more efficient. Given the technology’s higher security levels, the chance of data breaches is also minimised.
Digital healthcare goes hand in hand with remote healthcare, enabling more regular monitoring of patients outside of a clinical setting. As well as putting the emphasis on preventive care and helping patients become more independent, remote care is less costly and more efficient.
AI and big data offer significant insights into patient health, allowing for more informed decision-making. It can minimise the avoidable use of healthcare services by highlighting who is at risk and who isn’t. Plus, its superior accuracy could flag and eliminate avoidable human errors.
However, the large-scale adoption of digital health initiatives is not without hurdles.
First, there’s the question of data security. Patients are concerned about sharing their data digitally, especially after high-profile data breaches by big tech companies. Establishing regulations to protect patient data and ensure their safety is crucial. And when it comes to AI-enabled medicine, there needs to be total transparency about which algorithms are being used and what data is being fed to them so patients feel included in decision-making.
Then there’s the issue of digital literacy within the medical profession. Integrating a new way of working can be complicated, and getting workers to upskill and embrace these technologies can be challenging. Learning new tools can cause a huge amount of stress, especially when software is constantly evolving and continuous training is required.
Finally, implementing digital technologies is a major investment, especially when it demands that everyone has digital access. Indeed, digital exclusion is another major problem. For older demographics or those lacking digital know-how, engaging effectively with digital services is incredibly difficult – yet they often have the most serious health needs.
Digital healthcare in action: Exheus
Exheus – one of the many successful ventures to come out of The Collider’s tech-transfer programme – is a platform that uses AI for gene expression analysis to improve health status and physical performance.
While standard genetic testing provides information about your risk for certain health outcomes, it doesn’t take into account environmental factors in the development of pathologies, such as nutrition or physical activity.
Exheus’ technology, however, analyses RNA sequences and uses artificial intelligence algorithms to determine those alterations outside the ‘normal’ boundaries. This monitoring of gene expression in real-time can prevent derived health conditions and avoid certain risks, as well as represent a far more effective and personal health experience.
The Collider: bridging the gap between business and science
We help bring game-changing science to market in the form of disruptive technology-based start-ups. The Collider is powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, a tech-transfer initiative that connects top researchers around Europe with corporations and entrepreneurs in order to transform society and improve life around the globe.