Did you know that as of this writing, medical knowledge doubles every seventy-three days? The field of medicine is expanding and improving at almost the speed of light, and patients are seeing the rewards. One of the most exciting areas of medical growth is digital health.
Digital health is an exciting use of technology that allows doctors and patients to create better outcomes. Read on to discover some of the benefits of digital health and what tools are most popular in the field today.
What Is Digital Health?
Before we dive into all the benefits digital health provides, let’s talk some about what it is. Digital health is officially defined as “a discipline that includes digital care programs and technologies…[that] enhance the efficiency of healthcare delivery and make medicine more personalized and precise.” In other words, digital health is a field that leverages technology to improve medicine.
Digital health trends were already beginning to make their mark on the field pre-2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic sped up their growth.
Many people routinely attend virtual doctor’s appointments these days. Wearable medical technology is becoming more and more common. And almost all of us have some variety of health-related apps on our smartphones.
There are four basic types of digital health solutions: electronic health records, telehealth, wearable devices, and mobile health apps. Electronic health records, or EHR, are a digital form of your traditional health records. EHR includes all the same information your doctor would keep on file for you but in a digital format instead of a physical one.
When you go to your doctor for a routine checkup, they’ll input information like any complaints you may have or any bloodwork results into your EHR. If you visit a specialist, the notes about that visit will be placed in the same portal your primary care physician uses. If you go into the hospital, your doctors there will be able to see all the notes your primary care physician has made about you.
Telehealth is a tool that allows patients to consult with doctors no matter where they’re located. Instead of going into a doctor’s office for an appointment, you’ll get on a video call with your doctor. Depending on the situation, they may be able to perform a limited exam, diagnose you, and give you any prescriptions you may need.
It’s important to note that telehealth is not a substitute for any and all doctor’s appointments. For example, your doctor obviously can’t perform surgery via video call, and some exams may require in-person attention. But for routine checkups and certain mild complaints, a telehealth visit can get the job done.
Wearable devices are an exciting and rapidly growing area of modern medicine. As the name suggests, you wear these devices on your body to help you track your health or manage certain conditions. As computers get smaller, new potential for wearable device technology grows.
Current wearable devices can include everything from a FitBit to an insulin pump. Items like FitBits, smart watches, pedometers, and heart rate monitors help you track your health. Devices like insulin pumps and neural bypass devices can allow a person with chronic health conditions to return to a more normal life.
Mobile Health Apps
One step down from wearable devices in digital health technology are mobile health apps. These apps allow users to track various aspects of their personal health. This can include everything from what they eat and how far they walk each day to when their period is or how their mental health is doing.
Mobile health apps have merged with smartphone hardware to become something very close to a wearable device. Some smartphones can not only track your daily steps but also check your heart rate and oxygenation levels. Other apps simply allow you to put in your own information to track water intake, symptoms, and so on.
How Digital Health Improves Patient Experience
These four types of digital health can go a long way to making the healthcare experience better for patients. It can create better health outcomes, as well as building a stronger bond between patients and their doctors.
One of the biggest benefits of digital health is that it can improve patient access to healthcare. Some people who live in more rural areas may not have certain specialists in their area to help manage their conditions. Telehealth can allow these people to work with doctors anywhere in the world and get the treatment they need.
Digital health can also be important in improving access for people without health insurance. An uninsured patient may not be able to afford a full office visit for minor ailments or routine checkups to monitor a chronic condition. Wearable devices and telehealth may help to reduce some of these costs.
Addresses Problems More Quickly
Even at the pace it moves today, modern medicine can struggle to keep up with the pace of disease.
For instance, let’s say you come down with some sort of upper respiratory infection on Tuesday and you leave for vacation on Friday. If you could get medicine on board on Wednesday, you might be fine for your trip. But you may not be able to get a doctor’s appointment until the following Thursday.
Telemedicine can help to address patient problems more quickly, especially in the case of mild illnesses. Doctors can also watch patient recovery more closely through wearable devices and telehealth. This can help to head off any major complications before they get serious enough to be life-threatening.
One of the challenges of today’s healthcare system is delivering personalized medicine to every patient. The truth is that today’s doctors are overwhelmed with patients, and hospitalists even more so. Most doctors only have a precious few minutes to spend with each patient. That time isn’t always enough to get a full picture of their healthcare situation.
Digital health has the potential to help people get the sort of one-on-one attention they need. For one thing, mobile apps and wearable devices can provide physicians with a more accurate picture of their patient’s day-to-day. Telehealth may also make it easier for doctors to check in with their patients on a more regular basis.
It should come as no surprise that the medical field is constantly looking for ways to reduce the number of errors made. The sad truth is that doctors and other healthcare workers do make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes cost patients their lives.
One of the biggest sources of error in the medical field is a breakdown of communication among care providers.
Electronic health records can help to reduce errors in patient care, especially when that patient is in the hospital. An attending physician will be able to see exactly what conditions the patient is dealing with, what medications they’re on, and what problems they’ve had immediately. They won’t have to lose time chasing down a bunch of health records that may or may not give a complete picture of the patient’s health.
Improves Continuity of Care
Continuity of care is another major source of error in hospitals and is, in fact, part of the reason medical residents work such long hours. If one person admits a patient and sees them through until the end of their stay, that person is more likely to have a better outcome. There are fewer opportunities for details to get missed and mistakes to get made with one care provider.
Once again, the EHR improves communication among healthcare workers in the same hospital. Nurses can record when medications were administered, and any codes can get logged in the EHR. The next attending to take over the patient’s care will come in with a complete picture of everything that’s been done up to that point.
Provides Better Diagnoses
Oftentimes, patients can get frustrated with how long and uncertain the diagnosing process seems to be. Doctors may run multiple tests, try a variety of treatments, and go through several potential diagnoses. Diagnosing is a tricky process, but dragging it out leaves patients suffering for longer.
EHR and wearable devices may help to cut down on the diagnosing timeline for patients. With EHR, the patient’s new doctor can see exactly what tests have been run in the past and what the results were.
Wearable devices can help to show doctors exactly what is happening in a patient’s body minute-to-minute. This can help to rule out some conditions.
Reduces Impact of Chronic Conditions
Living with a chronic condition, especially one that’s not well managed, can be a daily struggle for patients. Conditions like diabetes are manageable but can put serious limits on a patient’s lifestyle. Conditions like paralysis and chronic pain can impact every area of a patient’s life, from their personal life to their career.
Some wearable devices can make managing these conditions easier and more consistent.
Insulin pumps can keep diabetes better regulated. Neural bypass devices may allow some paralyzed patients to walk again. And telehealth and mobile apps can help doctors and patients to keep closer track of conditions to allow for better management.
In the last several decades, we’ve seen patients move from a more passive role in the healthcare system to empowered advocates for their health. Today, patients work with their doctors to find solutions, rather than just letting the doctor take charge. Digital health may be the next step in empowering patients to control their own health.
Mobile apps can help patients keep track of their own health and learn to spot patterns and problems. This can help motivate and educate them on how to better manage their health so they stay feeling good. It also gives them the knowledge that they can take to their doctor when issues do arise.
There’s truth in the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Unfortunately, many chronic health conditions come on slowly and, in some cases, might be the result of patient lifestyles. Detecting these problems early and starting to address them can make a world of difference in a patient’s outcome.
Telehealth checkups can help clue doctors into ongoing issues that, while small, point to a pattern of issues. Wearable devices can give doctors insight into what patients are dealing with on a very detailed level. And mobile apps can help patients to notice these patterns and changes themselves so they can bring them up with their doctors.
Fosters a Doctor-Patient Partnership
The doctor-patient relationship is incredibly important for creating positive outcomes. If a patient doesn’t trust their doctor, they’re less likely to follow through on treatment plans. And if a doctor isn’t dialed into what’s happening in a patient’s life, they’re going to miss details that are important for diagnosis and treatment.
Telehealth makes it easier to grow a partnership between doctors and their patients since they can check in more frequently. And the tools for patient empowerment that we discussed earlier can give them the confidence they need to engage with their doctors. This can help to build that doctor-patient trust and create better outcomes for everybody involved.
Learn More About Digital Health
Digital health is an exciting frontier in medicine right now and one that provides a lot of benefits to patients and doctors alike. Doctors can provide better diagnoses, address problems more quickly, and improve trust with their patients. Patients will see shorter diagnosis timelines, feel empowered in their healthcare, and learn to prevent chronic conditions before they get started.
If you’d like to learn more about digital health, check out the rest of our site at Health Analytics. We generate real-world evidence to support your product position, improve market access, and sustain growth.