Over the last 15 years, every industry had a tech breakthrough star that turned the business on its head. Every so often, a new app would appear that could do the job better or faster, but healthcare seemed to lag. The way we were interacting with it did not add up to how the rest of the world was changing. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore.
Throughout history, challenging times, like wars or plagues, have helped move technology forward, and the Covid 19 pandemic was no different. Due to the extreme conditions it brought upon us, the industry’s stakeholders were forced to reevaluate how healthcare could adapt to a new reality.
Connected health was the term initially coined for the new practices around healthcare. However, it is mostly related to the use of virtual channels for the same in-person services, also known as telehealth. As solutions and technology continues to evolve, concepts on the integration of technology in healthcare is changing with them. Digital health, now, is what defines the whole range of products and services that incorporate technology to truly transform how we think about healthcare.
More people are using digital health solutions, as a result, funding and interest in companies dabbling with it have grown immensely. According to Mercom Capital Group, global VC funding for digital health businesses increased up to $15 billion in the first half of 2021. This represents an raise of increase of 138%compared to the same period in 2020, which has led to a proliferation of startups specializing in different aspects of the industry.
The influx of patients and providers to the ecosystem has greatly benefited its efficiency and productivity. As happens with most information-based industries digital healthcare needs a strong network of players to reach its full potential. And, as more people start using these solutions, others will feel encouraged to try them and service providers will have more data to improve their products.
As more stakeholders collaborate in the digital healthcare industry, it will provide better solutions for all involved. Key industry players’ input, like healthcare providers, regulators, researchers, or insurance companies, is fundamental to building a portfolio with more effective treatments, faster cure developments, and fairer access to the healthcare system for all patients.
This is the current state of digital health and where it will go in the coming years.
Better and More Accessible Healthcare for Everyone
When discussing digital healthcare, patients are usually advertised as the ultimate benefactors. However, it has proven to be of service to all of the industry’s stakeholders in different ways.
Overall, one of the great advantages of these types of solutions is that it has made healthcare much more accessible both in terms of availability and also in terms of affordability. The use of technology, although costly, can represent big savings in other costs associated with medical needs.
For example, it allows people to access a great number of services virtually, and, in some cases, there is even remote care available. For patients whose mobility is reduced because of a medical condition or that don’t have the support network they need to get to their appointments, this represents a potentially life-saving alternative.
In the same vein, people who suffer from rare diseases or live in rural areas were mostly stranded in their situation without in-person care. In most cases, travel costs made it inviable to regularly attend check-ups or see the required specialist. Whereas now, sometimes all they need is an internet-connected device.
From the customer experience point of view, digital health can vastly improve how logistics are handled to provide medical care. Certific is a startup created during the pandemic to make testing more efficient by providing a remote option. This innovation pairs up with advancements in data analysis software, which can cut waiting times while waiting for results.
In hospitals, digital health solutions have also helped to make services more productive. For instance, management systems that use automation and effective data management have augmented the capacity of hospitals and other medical institutions. This was particularly useful during the pandemic to manage staff and the enormous influx of patients, which can be still used even when the pandemic is over.
Also, electronic health records (EHR) pave the way for countries to have a universal healthcare system, in which medical professionals can share information seamlessly. This way, a patient could visit any doctor knowing that they have all of their medical history at hand. It saves the doctor the time of manually having to upload or send it to a different system each time.
In terms of device accessibility, LG Electronics and Amwell are leading the way with a collaboration that aims to bring a selection of Amwell’s applications to LG’s products, like smart TVs. The platform, which is in development, represents a step forward in bringing closer digital health solutions to people all over the world, through everyday devices.
Technologies Leading the Way
Thanks to its advanced development, artificial intelligence is perhaps the most used technology in digital health. For example, it has been applied in diagnostics, by letting a camera identify cancerous lesions on the skin, or in hospital management systems to help with operational tasks such as surgical scheduling or patient charging and discharging.
One of the more interesting uses, though, is in the development of new drugs. Thanks to the enormous amount of biomedical information shared across platforms by medical practitioners across the world, AI algorithms can cross-examine data to narrow down the useful components in a drug to treat a specific disease. This makes drug development much more efficient and precise.
On the metaverse front, startups like XRHealth transform physical therapy using VR technology for more fun and game-like experience with the patient. Licensed therapists work remotely with users through a headset which allows for personalized treatment according to the data the device gathers.
This type of technology is also a game-changer for medical training and the education of future doctors or surgeons. Using life-like situations using only a headset and manual tools, future practitioners can perform all kinds of procedures with simulators before interacting with real patients.
At the same time, patients are able to build twin versions of themselves thanks to wearable devices and trackers that gather all sorts of information, which is later used to build the avatar. This is helpful in monitoring a patient’s progress or trying a treatment before having to do it on the real person.
What to Expect in the Future
As technology develops further, organizations have to consider the ethical ramifications of their ventures, as subjects like privacy and transparency are major concerns of digital-savvy consumers, and health records are one of the most protected types of information.
We can expect to see a lot of growth in the preventive care sector as it has emerged as the main focus of most governments and world health organizations, to avoid needing medical interventions in the first place. In this sense, the wellness and medical industries intertwine with digital health solutions that apply to both.
Metaverse, VR and AR, machine learning, and AI are mostly customer-facing technologies. In the future, we can expect to see a greater focus on digital health in other areas like genetic altering, drug development and 3D printing of medical equipment as they become the norm in an industry that has changed for good.