We have been talking and hearing about digital health for years. Back in 2016, I went to the USA as part of my medical degree to explore Medical Innovation and Digital Health. I travelled to New York, Boston, San Francisco and Minnesota to speak with over 75 startups, accelerators and innovators. As you can imagine I had a vast array of learnings during this time; but none more important this:
We can have all the tech in the world, but it means nothing if we can’t make it work for real people, patients like you.
The Digital Health industry has had many technologists come in to try and ‘disrupt’ Healthcare in the same way tech has done in so many other industries. In reality though, Healthcare is a highly risk-averse environment due to the overarching need to prove the safety of any changes implemented. In the NHS specifically, there is the well-known sluggish cultural change to contend with too. The unfortunate truth is, Digital Health has promised a lot but delivered very little, especially to patients, who are who this is ultimately meant to be for.
Nowadays 3 in 5 people in the UK are using some form of app or wearable as a Digital Health solution; yet only 13% have experienced virtual care. The world average is 18%. We are lagging behind. As users and patients we have a tonne of potentially useful health data in our smartphones and FitBits but health practitioners are unable to do anything with it. Then there is the ongoing issue of Digital Health solutions not being interoperable: many of them have not always been able to talk to each other.
Finally though, the tide now seems to be turning. Video consultations with GPs are becoming more normal. And even more shapeshifting is that the NHS Long Term Plan and Topol Review emphasise heavily the need for Digital Health solutions, particularly those that are interoperable. It is definitely not just about being able to have a video call with your doctor though. The services have to be designed for the people who use them. Doctors need to have enough information at their disposal to make the safest and most effective treatment choices for patients. And patients need to have all of the relevant information to hand to make the most of their health and healthcare.
That’s why I have designed the systems at Hippocrates Lounge the way they are. We utilise accessible, everyday apps on smartphones to gather tonnes of actionable data that I as your doctor and you as a patient can both look at and devise personalised treatment plans together. When it comes to Digital Health, the past has certainly been more digital than health; but now positive changes are on the horizon and over the next few years it actually seems plausible that we will have a connected healthcare system, capable of making the best use of technology and data.
What Digital Health apps and wearables do you use? What would you change about them? How would you like your doctor to be able to use the data it provides?
Dr Dilraj Kalsi uses Lifestyle Medicine and Digital Health to empower patients to reverse disease via his online clinic Hippocrates Lounge. He is a Lecturer in Digital Health at the University of Warwick and publishes regularly on patient empowerment with colleagues from Oxford University. For all his latest health tips straight to your inbox, sign up here!