The future of health care must be digital – and the patient must be included

The future of health care is digital (photo: Nadya Peek)

The future of health care will not consist of more hands, but those who work in health care will be assisted by more and smarter tools. And the patient must be part of the solution, not just be seen as a problem.

What comes to your mind when someone talks about digital health? Many of us put an equal sign between digital health and gadgets. Activity trackers and health apps are common examples. And it is popular to portray us who are engaged in digital health as gadget crazy.

That may be true, at least when it comes to enthusiasts being the first to try out something new. But those who let the discussion end there are just looking at the most obvious – the stuff itself.

The future of health care will in the long run be more digital

The interesting thing is still not if the latest smart bracelet is better than the past, but what digital tools and sensors could ultimately mean for health care and for our health. It was not until the 1980s that computers that ordinary people could both buy and carry were introduced – and they were still quite dumb, very expensive and far from what we now call portable.

Today, the vast majority has a hyper-advanced computer in their back pocket.

What happens when digital health has taken a similar journey? What today is large (but not very large), expensive (or rather cheap) and cumbersome (or not) may just in a few years be part of a bigger solution.

The patient is not only a problem but part of the solution

But – it is not easy for health care institutions to take in data from individuals, sensors and apps. It is not obvious how a doctor could get any sense out of an activity tracker (or how he or she will have time to do it, or even have the right to do it). And it’s really not one hundred percent sure that the gadgets that measure, measures correctly.

Not yet.

We know that people in the western world live longer, and longer life means that many of us have time to collect several chronic diseases. At the same time, the likelihood that health care will get more money is minimal. Which – at least partly – means that we, as patients, must be part of the solution.

There is no standard for taking in patients’ own data

Already, we can see that simple blood pressure monitors – linked to an app – can predict stroke. Simple activity bracelets can show substantial variations in heart rate. Simple apps for diet and exercise contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

What these rather simple products display today are tendencies, but eventually some of them will be approved medical devices. We are moving in this direction, faster and faster.

Gadgets will soon be medical equipment

The opposite is unthinkable. “There will never be anything valuable in sensors and digital health” is an impossible thought. We must begin to discuss health care and our own health in this context.

And when a simple blood pressure monitor actually can show us that the patient will have a stroke in two weeks, then we, as a society, can’t shake our heads and say that “we don’t know what to do with this data.” That is nothing short of unacceptable.

So how do we solve this? Where do we begin? Please share your thoughts in a comment.

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