What Is Digital Healthcare? Five Things You Should Know
By Lori Cameron
 

The Centers for Disease Control report that 90 percent of the nation’s $3.5 trillion spent annually on healthcare is for patients with chronic and mental health conditions. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity are among the most deadly.

While politicians try to solve the problem of affordable healthcare, computing experts work behind the scenes developing tech that promises to revolutionize and streamline healthcare services.

These innovations, known as digital healthcare, will not only improve the diagnosis and treatment of chronic and short-term illnesses but help patients improve their physical and mental health. By encouraging good health and catching problems early, the exorbitant cost of healthcare could drop significantly.healthy eating

The goal is to make healthcare more proactive than reactive. Here are five things you should know about the digital healthcare revolution.

Related: Check out our recent digital health issue of Computer magazine.

Digital Tools Will Give You a Healthier Lifestyle

Instead of only worrying about disease, people can maximize their quality of life by eating better, exercising, avoiding cigarettes, and limiting alcohol. Healthcare technology can provide the information, motivation, and encouragement to do that.

The majority of health apps out there focus primarily on fitness and weight loss. But, in the realm of healthcare, there are apps designed to track your emotions, symptoms, and sleep patterns, while others will maintain your prescriptions and health records or keep your mind sharp with a plethora of puzzles and games.

Related: “Artificial Intelligence of Things in Sports Science: Weight Training as an Example”

Your Smartphone Apps Can Create Better Digital Health

Nearly 60 percent of smartphone users have downloaded a health or fitness app. The popularity of these apps in helping people monitor their calorie/nutrient intake and track their physical activity continues to climb. Developers see the opportunity to integrate health monitoring and disease prevention into a well-rounded health navigation system.

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In addition to promoting good health, these navigation systems can better assess chronic conditions like diabetes and epilepsy. Currently, patients rely on sporadic visits to the doctor where healthcare decisions are based on infrequent measurements. Digital tools allow patients and doctors to continuously monitor vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, weight, and blood sugar, making treatment more accurate and timely.

Digital tools can also help in case of emergency. Doctors can be alerted in real-time about changes in their patient’s condition. In addition, caregivers can intervene if, for example, elderly dementia patients begin to show signs of agitation and troubling behavior.

Related: “Agitation Monitoring and Prevention System for Dementia Caregiver Empowerment”

Mobile Devices and Wearables Will Transform Healthcare 

Digital health uses health informatics, wearables, mobile/ubiquitous computing, artificial intelligence, and other cybernetic technologies to achieve radical improvements in measuring health, diagnosing disease, monitoring and managing long-term conditions and, ultimately, transforming the care-delivery system itself.

For example, telehealthcare, such as video doctor visits, can be offered remotely using sensors and monitoring services. In addition, mobile health—or mHealth—and wearables can help users maintain good health and provide researchers with large-scale health data by which they can monitor population health statistics or contain disease outbreaks.

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Digital tools can also prevent dangerous drug interactions, help monitor the effects of medication, and allow doctors to adjust the dosage or change the prescription altogether.

Related: “Cloud-Based Artificial Intelligence System for Large-Scale Arrhythmia Screening”

AI Will Give You Better Health But Integration Remains a Challenge

Health analytics that use artificial intelligence are ideal for massive data sets like medical images and pathology test samples. They also provide a more accurate diagnosis and understanding of individual health or the health of large populations.

Additionally, digital health standards have been developed to create a single-identity electronic health record system, even though such integration will likely take a long time to achieve.

Likewise, mHealth and wearables compose a highly fragmented market, with each product or service contained within its own silo, limiting compatibility or connection to broader networks. Nonetheless, while digital health developers have a long way to go in building greater integration, the technology itself is flourishing.

Related: Read our interview with Scripps Institute’s Giorgio Quer on how digital health is transforming the healthcare landscape.

Unprecedented Innovations of Digital Healthcare Are Everywhere

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While some innovations are still in their infancy, digital healthcare promises some truly mind-boggling and promising advances.

For example, research is ongoing into how to develop 3D-printed hearts and other organs, but doctors are already using 3D printing for skin grafts and bone replacement. Doctors are also using virtual reality instead of medication to treat pain. Robots are being used to assist surgeons in performing operations with greater speed and accuracy. And, for the half-million children worldwide who are born with a rare hereditary disease, artificial intelligence promises to make diagnosis faster and easier.

Digital healthcare has a wealth of developers and researchers creating groundbreaking technology. If these innovations can be fully realized and integrated, there is no telling how many of our current healthcare problems we can minimize or eradicate altogether.

 

Related articles on digital healthcare in the Computer Society Digital Library: