Digital Healthcare: What Are the Opportunities?

Author: Daniel Burrus, huffingtonpost.com

Much like every other prominent industry, the medical field is becoming inexorably digitized. Digital disruption and transformation within the healthcare profession is a Hard Trend — something that will happen, something we can count on seeing in the future. But these developments aren’t exactly futuristic, far-off advancements; we’re starting to see them in our everyday lives and they’re already improving the quality of healthcare we as patients can expect to receive.

The digitization of the healthcare industry will invariably advance the field’s transformation from the Break-Fix model of medicine — reactively treating maladies and ailments as they occur — to the Predict-and-Prevent model — an anticipatory combination of detective work and cutting-edge technology that addresses the root causes of health afflictions and focuses on staving off future issues by advocating major lifestyle changes, behavioral changes, or preventative practices.

We’re already witnessing the confluence of emerging technology with healthcare and an increasing awareness of our own bodies, and this trend will only continue to develop and expand.

The first, most rudimentary form of this idea is represented by wearable tech. Wearable pedometers and heart monitors have been around for years, letting people keep track of how far they walk on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis, further letting them track the amount of calories they’re burning when they exercise. These devices also let people monitor their heart rates, as most doctors advise raising your heart rate for a period of at least 30 minutes every time you exercise. Recently, the newly released Apple Watch, along with competing smart watches, has given wearers the ability to track an array of different types of health stats, generating huge amounts of data that can potentially be used in conjunction with medical records, doctors, and hospitals to provide a better, more personalized level of service.

There are, of course, more health-essential pieces of technology, like pain-free blood sugar monitoring devices for diabetics, autoinjectors for epinephrine to stave off diabetic shock, and naloxone nasal sprays that can stop a heroin overdose in its tracks, saving the victim within seconds of administration.

Better still, we’ve seen the recent emergence of a slew of health-related apps — programs that act as your own personal trainer, track and analyze your basic health and exercise data, provide you nutritional and dietary instruction while counting the calories you consume, offer a litany of brainteasers and games that improve cognitive and linguistic faculty, regulate your sleep cycle and help you meditate, and encourage productivity through incentives and gentle reminders.

And lets not forget new apps for the remote monitoring of chronic illnesses and apps for remote diagnostics to name a few.

All of this new technology, from apps that function as personal trainers to lifesaving pocket-sized devices, represents an enormous wave of digital disruption for the medical industry in its present form. If your phone is essentially helping you to predict and prevent medical problems, providing a more intimate, personal level of service than your doctor ever could, your need for basic medical services and consultation will likely decrease.

The overarching theme of this wave of digital disruption is that patients are increasingly taking control over their own healthcare, and these patient-friendly advancements will only continue developing in the near future. It’s a Future Fact that these advancements will increase, and soon; the medical industry can either capitalize on this Hard Trend, or suffer the looming round of disruption.

We’ll soon witness the next wave of personal technology tailored to our individual medical needs. Imagine you’ve just gotten a major surgery; you’ve been released from the hospital and are convalescing at home. With today’s medical system, you’d need constant personal monitoring — visits from relatives and nurses, trips to and from the doctor, and a host of inconvenient tests. What if, however, your smartwatch could track your vitals and transmit the data in real time to your surgeon, your primary physician, and the hospital at which your surgery was done? This data would be analyzed by smart software that could identify any extant or pending problems, and if something serious was likely to happen, you would automatically be scheduled for an appointment and sent a text letting you know when and where to come in for a check up. Aside from being hugely cost-effective for patients, it’s also extremely convenient. Why trouble yourself with going to your doctor for a checkup when you’re vitals and overall condition are being monitored in the comfort of your own home? The same idea can be applied to people with chronic or otherwise serious diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer: wearables and smart software can work together to alert your chosen medical professionals to any problems on the horizon, preventing catastrophe and saving you money.

Nobody likes unnecessary visits to the doctor, and that’s why so many now have the ability to text medical questions to a nursing or pharmaceutical hotline or customer service center, or an online hub with a chat window, like we see on so many companies’ tech support pages. You could refill a prescription using your smartphone, access your lab results, and use resources like instructional videos or health and wellness news feeds. And even if you do have to go to the doctor, you could register for an appointment online or via a mobile app.

We’re also going to see a tremendous increase in transparency as the medical industry continues to evolve. Interactive medical records are a great first step, sure — but soon, you’ll be able to shop around for products and services. Many individual hospitals are part of a larger chain, yet prices for the same procedures and products at these hospitals can vary wildly. Recently, innovative insurance companies, like Capital Blue Cross, are giving patients a mobile app that gives them the ability to compare prices and efficiently and effectively select procedures, products and services that fit their budgets. Many have asserted medical prices will only continue to increase, but this is a Soft Trend, meaning something can be done about it. When prices are made transparent to customers as Capital Blue Cross is doing, hospitals will have to offer competitive pricing, driving these prices down.

More and more, patients across the US and the world are taking charge of their own healthcare, and hospitals, pharmacies, insurance companies, and medical professionals, are finding themselves forced to adapt to this new wave of digital disruption or face losing patients and falling behind their competitors. And since everyone, without exception, needs healthcare, this is great news for all of us.

©2015 Burrus Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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