Digital health is the convergence and use of different types of digital technologies (computer software, healthcare apps, virtual doctor’s visits, wearable technology) in the management of human health to make it more personalized and precise.
Perhaps you have heard of the term “digital health” or “digital therapeutics” and wondered what these terms mean. Perhaps, you have never heard of them at all. Whatever the case is, by the end of this post, you will learn what digital health is and why you need to care about it. Technology is rapidly transforming healthcare and how it is delivered.
There are now large hospital networks within the US that no longer have paper records for their patients. Healthcare providers put every record into computer software. It is becoming easier for hospitals and doctors to communicate with each other so that medical records for a patient are transferred from one place to another.
Companies like Apple and Fitbit have wearable devices that allow people to track their personal health and activity. Nowadays, companies want to be able to connect health and medical devices with external computer systems using 5G so that doctors can monitor their patients even if they are not in the same state.
In 2017 and 2018, investors poured $12.5 billion into the field. Digital health is no longer a futuristic idea. This is what healthcare is shaping up to look like: a world where health conditions are treated and managed digitally.
It is a world where going to the doctor might become obsolete since they will be able to “visit” you virtually and measure vitals like your blood pressure and temperature using remotely-controlled devices.
The benefits of digital health
- One of the biggest benefits that has been touted by health enthusiasts and innovators, is that it will make medicine more precise and personalized. Using wearable health technology for instance, doctors will be able to tell if a particular medication is working for their client’s condition or not. If it is not, the patient will not have to wait until their next doctor’s visit to get a new prescription. All the doctor needs to do is prescribe another medicine that they think will work better and the patient will pick it up at their local pharmacy. Such care could save many lives from a prolonged or exacerbated condition because of an inefficient medicine.
- Another benefit of digital health is a reduction in cost. While the technology itself may not be cheap upfront, the idea here is that with digital health, the costs involved in going to the doctor’s office or even having to rent expensive real estate for providers will be reduced. Additionally, patients will not waste their time and money on needless medical tests or medicine that is not working for them.
- Digital health proponents also talk about improved access of care to disadvantaged populations. This is an area that needs years of implementation and research to prove.
- Digital health will improve patient commitment to their own healthcare. It is one thing for a doctor to tell you to take care of your health. It is another when a person is self-motivated to get their health in check. Proponents of digital health offer that people are more likely to adhere to their medication regimen, fitness goals and overall health when they are active participants in the decision-making process.
A very clear disadvantage of digital health technologies is the issue of security. If everything is digitized, information can be stolen by hackers and used for nefarious activity. This is an issue that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has addressed on their website.
In their own words, “Threats and vulnerabilities cannot be eliminated, therefore, reducing security risks is especially challenging. The healthcare environment is complex, and manufacturers, hospitals, and facilities must work together to manage security risks.”
The FDA has regulations that digital health technology innovators have to adhere by in order to get approved for use. These regulations are designed to reduce the risk of hackers stealing information for instance but does not completely eliminate it.
What does this mean for you? If you are going to use a digital health technology, just like you are supposed to be educated on the adverse reactions that can happen when you take certain medicines, learn everything about the technology before you use it.
How this affects employee wellness.
Will digital health be adopted en masse like most innovators claim? Will all of the benefits be realized? Will it make medicine and the delivery of healthcare impersonal?
All of these questions are yet to be answered. One thing we can be sure of however is the fact that it is here to stay. You can implement aspects of it in your company to reduce health costs and improve employee health and wellness. If you are an employer or CEO, digital health is a subject worth studying.