With many people living increasingly unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles and our healthcare systems overburdened, could technology help to improve our health and how we access healthcare services in the 21st century? Here’s a look at the health-tech landscape…
Our zest for staying fit and healthy is nowhere more evident than on our wrists, with 38 million smartwatches and similar health monitoring devices sold in the four years from 2014 to 2018 [https://www.statista.com/statistics/538237/global-smartwatch-unit-sales/]. Fitness bands are able to monitor everything from step counting to distance, calories burned and heart rate. While not the most accurate, they’re good enough for use at a personal level for keeping track of fitness progress and achieving goals for a healthier life.
Our ready uptake of health apps and smart tracking devices has shown there is real potential when it comes to health monitoring outside of simply counting our daily steps. Specialist health monitoring devices help to remotely assess a patient’s health without the need for them to be in a clinical environment. It is facilitated by a sensor worn by the patient which measures and sends key data to their clinician. Like the Confirm Rx Insertable Cardiac Monitor (ICM), a world-first, these are increasingly being managed using mobile saas based apps. Not only does this allow patients with chronic diseases to live a fuller life outside of the hospital while still having their symptoms logged and assessed, but when the data is linked up with appropriate medical software, it can send updates and run analysis to suggest treatment modifications.
Something of a catch-all term, eHealth can apply to the range of developments which are helping to move traditional healthcare into the digital world. This can include the digitalisation of health records to secure, cloud-based databases; improved access to online appointment-booking services; and greater provision of free, educational resources for use by patients.
Increasingly, it also means the continued development and implementation of telemedicine. This is a digital means of accessing clinical care remotely, such as via video chat or robotics telepresence machines. The benefits are numerous, from allowing people to attend appointments from home or the office without having to make a trip to a doctor’s surgery, to cost-savings for healthcare providers. Telemedicine has already been in use for a while in remote locations, such as for crew at-sea, but with the proliferation of smartphone usage and increased government funding, it is expected to become increasingly common over the next couple of years.
It is clear that the seeds for a more data-driven, integrated and easy-access approach to healthcare and health monitoring have already been sown. What remains to be seen is how readily they will be made available for everyday use.