Whether we like it or not, we’re all being affected by advancements in technology. But one area seeing a big shift is healthcare. And such is the demand and importance of healthcare delivery around the world that changes with any level of significance need to be taken seriously. In this article, we outline five aspects of healthcare delivery that are being affected by advancements in digital technology.
We’re hearing a lot about wearables. Fitbits are appearing on wrists all over the world. In fact, the 200,000 Fitbit units sold in 2011 had risen to 10.9m in 2014, a massive 5,350% in just three years. But are these high-tech little gadgets just trendy or do they have an actual impact on the health of those who use them? Well, there are different ways of looking at that question.
For the user, wearing a Fitbit or similar device will have no effect whatsoever if the data is ignored. The sceptical amongst us might think that taking a lot of steps means it ‘okay’ to eat something you shouldn’t – and I speak from personal experience. Others might position things slightly differently and point to the fact that the individual has a wealth of data about their own habits that they can use to change their lifestyles for the better. Used as intended, therefore, wearables can help to improve health. But exactly how many are used ‘correctly’ is not clear.
Companies are also chomping at the bit to collect data from wearables. This, they claim, will help them analyse truck-loads of statistics and develop products and services that foster healthy lifestyles for the benefit of all. Health insurers are a good example of organisations that are keen to take on this challenge.
Following on from the wearables argument is the use of BIG data to improve healthcare delivery on a number of fronts. In the context of this article, BIG data is the collection and harvesting of data collected in a number of ways – wearables, smart devices, medical records (where allowed), surveys and so on.
All this data does – and will – allow adverse trends to be identified and strategies implemented to counter their effects. If lifestyles in a particular part of the world are becoming more sedentary, for example, measures can be put in place to speed people up (so to speak).
Think too of breakthroughs in medical procedures. How will someone in Norway know, for example, that there is a highly effective new treatment for tennis elbow that’s been developed in Singapore? BIG data can ultimately help with that. But it relies on combining computer systems around the world, and allowing data to be effectively mined and distributed in an easily consumable way.
It’s a powerful thing social media. The likes of Facebook and Twitter might be used for telling people what you had for tea but these channels are also used for an awful lot of other things besides. The ability for stories to quickly go viral means information can be seen by millions in a matter of days. This can help to reduce the burden on healthcare systems by the distribution of health-related information: healthy eating ideas, fitness programmes and diet plans, for example. This can be countered, of course, by bogus health related information such as unhealthy diets and virals about new wonder drugs that are nothing of the sort.
Many hospitals and clinics too are using social media channels to garner customer feedback. Whilst this can expose the medical provider, it does allow them to identify when things are going wrong and put in place procedures to correct the situation.
Insurers too have the opportunity to monitor feedback and keep tabs on medical providers in their networks. A potentially useful independent barometer of performance.
We’re all busy so the thought of taking time out to visit your doctor for an appointment can be enough to put you off. And the more remote you are, the worse it gets. Introducing Telemedicine, or virtual care. This technology allows patients to speak to a medical professional via their PC or smart device. Certainly, you’ll probably have to pop along in person for an initial diagnosis but thereafter you can have check-ups in the comfort of your own living room.
What’s more, your conversation can be recorded and played back at a later date. Prescriptions can also be sent electronically and printed at home for added convenience.
Telemedicine isn’t mainstream yet but it’s becoming increasingly popular so watch this space!
Genetic Testing and Engineering
Do you want to know if you are susceptible to cancer or dementia? Now you can find out through genetic testing. And needless to say, it’s a highly controversial business.
Health insurers have a big interest in the subject. The argument goes that they can put in place a programme of prevention for the client to reduce their risk of contracting a particular disease. This helps the client and reduces the chance of hefty claims pay outs down the line. Conversely, of course, there’s the risk of insurers pricing people out of policies at renewal if a genetic test reveals a potential issue. It’s fair to say that the jury is out on whether the development will ever become mainstream.
Genetic engineering, is also controversial but does seem to present us with many important healthcare benefits. Viruses, for example, can be genetically modified to fight disease and genetically modified mosquitoes are being introduced in an effort to fight the Zika virus.
While technology isn’t all good, it is bringing many positives to the human race. Healthcare delivery is one area that has been hugely impacted by advancements in technology on a multitude of fronts. The health insurance industry is leading the way on a number of fronts to embrace developments and change the way they engage with the medical sector, usually for the benefit of their customers.