Published: 21 August 2014
Those sage heads who predict next year’s trends declared that 2014 would be the year healthcare went digital, a prediction that is coming true in a big way.
As anticipated, the summer headlines have been grabbed by Apple and Google with their respective launches of Healthkit and Google Fit, frameworks that will allow smartphone users to record their activity, monitor their bodies and be guided to a healthier life. Never mind the Internet of Things, we have entered the age of The Quantified Self.
This pace of change is the result of consumer technology reaching a point where it can tackle many of the issues facing the healthcare sector. Mary Meeker summarises this in her report Internet Trends 2014
, initially outlining the current state of health care in the US:
- Spending on healthcare is gargantuan - in the US it’s 17% of GDP!
- This is a wasteful industry - 27% of spend is excess
- Individual costs are rising - more than 25% of family income goes on healthcare
- Chronic conditions account for more than 75% of the spend
- Patient behaviour - e.g. smoking, not taking medicine - is root cause of many conditions
Meeker finds that faced with these problems digital technology is providing reason for optimism and below we will look at some of these key areas of progress:
EHR (Electronic Health Record)
It’s been a long time coming but moving patient data away from antiquated systems and into cloud databases is the first step to a single view of a patient, the holy grail that gives us the possibility of real-time data records, controlled by the patient and easily shared with healthcare professionals, family and carers. The offering is still fragmented but private initiatives such as How Are You
have come to market far quicker than anything the NHS could roll out.
Wearable technology and monitoring apps have been with us for a while, but the introduction of Apple Healthkit and Google Fit is a step change that takes them from useful to truly compelling. With the launch of iOS8 in September data from devices and apps such as FitBit, Withings Blood Pressure Monitor and Nike+ will be integrated into Apple’s own Health app, giving users an unparallelled view of their health profile.
Mary Meeker highlights that as many as 50% of patients with chronic conditions aren’t taking their medicine as they should. Apps such as Mango Health
are making a huge contribution in this area, reminding users when a dose is due, motivating them to keep on track with rewards and triggering reminders when repeat prescriptions are due.
As any first aider knows when a medical emergency occurs rapid expert intervention is critical - that’s why you dial 999 before administering cardiac massage. With constant digital monitoring we have the potential for early warning systems that increase the likelihood of treatment within the ‘golden hour’ following an incident. For example, the Mayo Health app is being developed to monitor a user’s blood pressure and alert authorised healthcare providers automatically in the case of an emergency - it’s therefore possible for a doctor to know a patient is in danger before the patient themselves. What’s more, Apple’s Healthkit provides an Emergency Card that can be viewed on the lock screen of an iOS device giving first responders immediate knowledge of any conditions, allergies or medication.
Much of what we have seen so far could be classified as ‘nice to have’ (calorie tracking? Sleep monitoring?) and as yet we haven’t got to the ‘killer app’ that, in medical terminology, becomes endemic. But as real patient need is met by commercially-driven solution that tipping point is not far off.