Why have digital health technologies not healed health care yet?

Posted on: 21.02.2019
Doctor looking at an Iphone

There has been significant technological progress in recent years. Patients can use mobile health apps, and artificial intelligence helps in clinical processes. Paradoxically, the new digital health solutions have yet to make health care sustainable, and the patient remains on the periphery of the system rather than at its centre.

Isolated bursts of innovation

No other sector of the economy puts as much hope in digitisation as health care. I have been looking at discussions on this topic for several years. Today we have tools we could only dream of before: we increasingly use artificial intelligence to support the clinical process and diagnosis. We have huge data sets, increasing numbers of patients have access to electronic medical records, mobile health apps are gaining in popularity, the sales of wearables are growing and, alongside them, new trends like the “quantified self”. We are entering the era of the Internet of Things, thanks to which modern fridges, smart beds and autonomous cars will watch over our health.

It is great that we have passed so many large technological milestones in a few short years. With our fascination for new digital tools and trends, have we lost sight of a much more important challenge, one garnering less attention from the media: How to transform the health care system, to prepare it for the new challenges associated with an aging society, growing burden of non-communicable diseases, and rapidly increasing costs of care? How can we strengthen prevention and move away from hospitals? How can we implement the principles of evidence-based medicine, coordinated and patient-oriented healthcare? And, most importantly, how can we achieve these goals in a smart way using digitization to give us opportunities that we lacked before? The answer is easy and complex: by creating the required coherent strategy, standards and global cooperation.

Rethinking health care

If the digitisation patterns could be transferred to health care, the sector could be disrupted by a single player by democratising access to information. Just as Uber, Airbnb or Amazon did. However, this did not happen, and will not happen quickly despite the technology available. In an ecosystem that places emphasis on local understanding of the patients' needs and legal regulations, as well as on drawing on the experience of others and best practices, then focusing on your business segment is a short-sighted strategy. The strategies in effect result in the system data being dispersed, non-interoperable and closed in silos.

As a pragmatist, I am not in favour of talking about the “mission” of health care - those specific actions to the patient’s benefit are much more important to me. Nevertheless, I think that companies operating in the health sector bear more responsibility than those in other industries. All the more so, the companies developing digital health solutions, working everyday with information and communication technologies, should operate in a creative, open, modern and integrated manner. That means participating in rethinking and improving health care through the exchange of experience, sharing of knowledge, and cooperation.

The common denominator of transformation

Digital health today offers new tools that can be used to strengthen health care. But these are only tools. Their good use requires a completely new strategy to achieve joint actions between the private and public sector, policy makers, academia and science, patients, healthcare professionals, insurers, IT companies, pharma industry, civil society, international organisations and start-ups. Only in an international, inter-sectoral network can we learn from each other and build digital health strategies together, to use the potential of digitalization. Such a platform of great ideas and cooperation, global knowledge experience and strategic approaches to digitisation already exists under the umbrella of HIMSS - Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Personally, I have learned a lot thanks to the many conferences, meetings and new friendships I have enjoyed in HIMSS.

We are facing an unprecedented transformation of health care. This Fourth Industrial Revolution will only succeed if we synchronise global health priorities with local initiatives, and integrate various ideas into coherent strategies and actions.

Artur Olesch

Artur Olesch

Digital Health Journalist

OSOZ Polska | OSOZ World