Digital health has become a significant part of the healthcare technology industry in recent years. How it’s impacted patients and doctors is similar to the rise of social media: it has made people more aware of their health and provided information on their needs at any given time.
Patients can access their health records and daily health tracking features. Whether it is a weighing scale that sends information to the doctor or a wellness app that monitors your heart rate, digital healthcare allows patients to take control of their health.
On the other hand, doctors can access patients’ activity and medication history anytime. They can also see if a patient’s health characteristics, such as blood pressure or cholesterol levels, are changing for the better or, the worse. Furthermore, physicians can send prescriptions directly to the patient’s phone, hold a video session, or ask a patient to come in and see them in person.
This guide will discuss these different aspects of digital health in detail and provide practical tips on using these features.
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1. What is Digital Health?
Digital health (or digital healthcare) is a relatively new concept that has emerged only in the last decade or so. However, it has become hugely important in recent years as more and more people are connecting to the Internet for information about their health.
Digital health is a broad definition of digital-enabled forms of healthcare delivery, from disease prevention and management to patient surveillance, predictive medicine, and personalized medical treatment. It involves using digital technologies and tools to improve patient and doctor communication and treatment outcomes.
Digital health applies across the healthcare spectrum, from public health to point-of-care diagnostics. The term “digital health” was coined in 2008 and has struggled to gain ground in the medical community. This is due to the long history of healthcare technology, from anatomical charts and medical illustrations to radiography, X-ray, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Digital Health Use Cases
Digital health combines physical and virtual, patient-provider communication, data collection and analysis, artificial intelligence (AI), and more. It covers a wide range of applications that improve healthcare delivery efficiency.
The following use cases will give you an idea of how digital healthcare can benefit patients and doctors.
Telemedicine facilitates remote patient monitoring, telesurgery, and video consultations. It uses electronic communications technologies behind the scenes to deliver healthcare to remote locations.
This technology allows doctors to communicate with patients remotely, which is especially useful for rural areas where patients may need a medical specialist, but there might not be one local. Telemedicine also allows patients to communicate with doctors, which is helpful for specialty treatments when the patient isn’t near a hospital.
Genetic screening, analytics, and other technological advances enable the development of personalized or precision medicine.
The goal is to create a digital medical record that allows doctors to accurately predict a patient’s treatment and provide the most appropriate care. Personalized medicine reduces the risk of adverse reactions and will enable clinicians to spot problems early.
Mobile health (mHealth) improves healthcare delivery, quality, and patient treatment. Primarily seen as the future of medical care, mHealth incorporates mobile technologies into medical procedures, making it easier for doctors to work with patients and patients to access their medical records via cell phones and smart devices.
It is a broad definition encompassing information technologies and knowledge management applied to healthcare.
Healthcare IT covers a wealth of technologies that create, manage and store health data and systems. Cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, and IoT are emerging technologies transforming healthcare information technology.
Healthcare analytics all about collecting patient data, understanding it, and applying it to improve healthcare. It is the core of digital health use cases.
Healthcare analytics systems use various information sources: clinical data, genetic data, and secondary studies (like pathology reports). The goal is to take online access to multiple tools and information and put it into a global digital infrastructure that can monitor and track patients in real time.
Point-of-care technology can measure and make diagnoses at the point of care. Examples include digital stethoscopes, wearable sensors, and rapid diagnostic tests. Doctors take specific tests and procedures at the patient’s bedside. This practice improves care because clinicians can more quickly diagnose problems with present symptoms, not just symptoms that come up later during a diagnosis process. It reduces the risks of infection and drug interactions, for example.
This list is not exhaustive and only includes some notable use cases. As the digital healthcare domain evolves, the list will undoubtedly grow.
Technologies Driving Digital Healthcare
The convergence of various technologies (Big data, 5G broadcast, and machine learning, to name a few) has allowed the rise of digital healthcare, and the tech landscape is continually evolving. Smartphones, sensors, and virtual reality are all playing a role.
Here are the most notable tech developments driving digital health and telemedicine forward.
- Low-cost sensor technology. Smartphones and wearables have allowed for the development of indoor and outdoor sensor technology that was previously only used by traditional healthcare companies. For example, smartwatches, activity trackers, and connected scales are digital health tools that collect and transmit patient data to a doctor’s computer in real-time.
- Connectivity. The emergence of IoT has enabled healthcare companies to create connected devices and applications and track and monitor data in real-time. The IoT has also allowed wireless technology to streamline communication between healthcare providers, patients, and their families.
- Cloud computing. Cloud computing has enabled healthcare companies to store and process vast amounts of data and analyze it in real-time. The cloud has also changed how digital health trackers collect and transmit data.
- Big Data and AI. Digital health has been driven by analytics and big data that help develop more efficient and effective medical treatments. AI helps medical professionals identify and diagnose various conditions using big datasets from sensors and other sources. Intelligent algorithms enable tracking health conditions, drug interactions, and even the effectiveness of treatment plans.
- Wearable tech. Wearables can collect data about patients’ health and let physicians study trends to diagnose problems. Wearable fitness trackers are one of the first gadgets digital health has become associated with.
- Digital imaging and radiology. The rise of digital imaging has allowed doctors to get a better view of patients’ conditions than ever before. Digital imaging is more accurate than traditional X-ray technology, and it’s more convenient since imaging devices are portable. This technology also helps doctors make diagnoses quicker because the images are digital and can be easily shared.
Digital Health Trends 2023
Digital health is here to stay, and there is no denying its implications for healthcare.
Here are a few predictions that could come true in the next few years:
1. Remote diagnostics will become the norm.
Physicians are currently limited to diagnosing a problem on-site. However, in 2023 and the coming years, remote diagnostics will become more common, allowing physicians to analyze issues from afar. This technology uses IoT and other digital health tools to measure a patient’s condition and send the data to a doctor’s computer.
2. Prescription apps will be a thing.
Many patients prefer to get their medical prescriptions delivered to their smartphones rather than picking them up at the pharmacy. Prescription apps will give patients that convenience while allowing doctors to provide more effective treatments by tracking patients’ reactions over time.
3. Patient-controlled healthcare will increase
Patients will have more control over their medical records and privacy in the next three to five years, as they can decide whether to share their health data with a hospital or doctor. These patients will also have the power to access their medical records and store that information in the cloud.
4. Medical devices will be more secure and reliable.
Continued innovation and improvements in medical IoT, sensor technology, embedded software, and artificial intelligence will increase the safety of medical devices. The tech behind those devices can help companies detect issues with a device before it’s implanted into a patient.
5. Digital imaging will continue to improve.
The development of more sophisticated digital imaging tools will become even more accurate, allowing doctors to detect more minor problems and better determine a patient’s condition.