What Are Digital Health Services & Technologies?

Increased proliferation of mobile and web-based technologies such as wearables, smartphones and apps, are not only changing the way we interact and communicate, they’re actively transforming the way we track and monitor our health and well-being.

By providing increased visibility of personal health data and access to richer information on patient and consumer health, these advancements are leading us towards a convergence of individuals, new information and insights, technology and increased connectivity to optimise personal health care and outcomes.

Digital health services and technologies comprise a wide range of categories including personalised medicine, telehealth, telemedicine, wearables, health information technology and mobile health (mHealth). Healthcare providers are now leveraging this new wave of health related technologies to create personalised programs of medicine for patients, increase the quality of care, reduce costs, enhance accessibility for patients and consumers and reduce inefficiencies. Today we’re exploring this rapidly expanding world of digital health services and technologies.

Digital Health: Going Beyond Web & Mobile

Mobile and web-based technologies play a pivotal role in the digital health ecosystem, but there’s way more to digital health technologies than you might think! From Virtual Reality applications that help sufferers of chronic pain, to 3D printed prosthetics and wearables that measure vital signs using artificial intelligence, the world of digital health services and technologies is as broad as it is diverse. And although these services and technologies are extremely broad in terms of scope, the common theme between them is the fact that they all rely on specific digital technologies to deliver services to patients and consumers.

Increasingly, these technologies are being integrated into existing health systems, enabling them to function with greater efficiency – and providing better access to vital health services by the patients they serve. Many of the health ministries throughout the WHO European Region are already investing significant resources in digital transformation and supporting member states to overcome some of the barriers and challenges associated with developing new health-centric digital products and services. This support is helping to bolster and strengthen existing health systems and to explore new approaches to digital transformation that directly translate into public health action.

Digital health services and technologies can be broken down and dissected into different areas that include: health IT, medical device data systems, mobile device interoperability, software as a medical device (SaMD), general wellness and cybersecurity. For the purposes of today’s blog, we’ll focus specifically on the areas of wireless medical devices, mobile medical apps and telemedicine.

Wireless Medical Devices

The definition of a wireless medical device is a piece of hardware used for medical purposes that performs at least one function that leverages RF (radio frequency) communication to support health and care delivery. These types of RF communication can include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and mobile/cellular connectivity. Functionality can be designed to include programming, accessing and controlling medical devices, remote patient monitoring and transferring patient data from one medical device to other platforms (such as a mobile device or wearable). As wireless telecommunications continue to evolve, these technologies will play an increasingly crucial role in the design, development and eventual uptake of wireless medical devices.

The market for wireless medical devices is thriving in terms of innovation. New products being brought to market include wireless medical emergency key-fobs, neuromuscular stimulators, blood pressure monitors, wireless thermal printers (could be used to track BMI or a child’s growth rate) and tens machines designed to stimulate nerves and relieve pain via an electrical current.

Over the past decade, the transition from hard-wired medical devices to wireless has been transformative. This transformation is only just beginning and the wireless medical device revolution, even in its earliest stages, is having a profound impact in terms of enhancing patient care and the acceleration of innovative new products being brought to market. There are many tangible benefits associated with this transformation. For example, many wireless medical products that were once reliant on being tethered to patients or located beside hospital beds are now completely movable.

Increased device movability creates two key benefits: firstly, it increases patient mobility, both in hospitals and at home. This means patients can leave their hospital bed whilst still having their vital signs (blood pressure, temperature etc) continuously monitored. The second core benefit is the fact that healthcare professionals now have untethered access to real-time patient data, enabling faster, better decision-making around critical care scenarios. This faster decision making leads to quicker diagnosis, and can reduce the amount of time patients spend in hospitals undergoing treatment and checkups, thus reducing the need to consume highly valuable, increasingly scarce resources and freeing up healthcare professionals time to react quickly to other, equally pressing patient care scenarios.

Mobile Medical Apps

Usage of mobile technology within a healthcare setting has exploded over the past several years. As a result there has been a vast influx of new medical applications designed and launched across virtually every single area of the medical spectrum. In an increasingly technologically sophisticated world, patients, consumers and healthcare professionals alike expect medical information on demand, at any time, from any location. In the interests of guiding regulation, the US FDA (Food & Drug Administration) created a regulatory framework for developers of mobile medical apps. The FDA also suggested that mobile technology has the capability to completely transform the entire healthcare landscape by enabling healthcare professionals to diagnose patients, often with critical and life threatening conditions, outside the confines of traditional healthcare settings.

Here are some examples of FDA approved mobile medical apps:

ResolutionMD

Resolution MD is a medical viewing product that delivers instantaneous access to radiology images and diagnostic reports via compatible smartphones and tablets. What’s very clever about ResolutionMD is the fact that all of the heavy lifting in terms of processing power occurs in the cloud, rather than on the mobile device itself, without any security risk in terms of leaking sensitive patient information. The application works by streaming data in real-time from a number of different imaging modalities, with off-premise cloud architecture enabling rapid visualisation on iOS and Android powered devices.

AirStrip ONE

AirStrip ONE is a comprehensive, diagnostic toolkit that seamlessly transfers sensitive patient data from medical devices, connected patient monitors and EMR’s (electronic medical records) directly into the hands of healthcare professionals and clinicians. What makes the application unique is the fact that medical data can be viewed in one place via a ‘single pane of glass’ on both smartphones and tablets. The app provides a plethora of clinical data including medical images, lab results, vital signs, medication information and much more.

BlueStar Diabetes by WellDoc

BlueStar Diabetes by WellDoc is an award-winning diabetes app designed to work across a variety of mobile platforms. The app provides users with guidance, motivation, education and accountability to enable them to succeed against their own personal health goals and objectives, delivering a highly personalised user experience by leveraging more than 25,000 tailored messages that are deployed based on the users own unique medical characteristics and traits. The application is simple to use and connects quickly with external wellbeing devices and trackers such as Jawbone and fitbit and can import personal health data at the touch of a button.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine is defined as: “the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology”. In the modern medical world, new innovations in telemedicine are occurring faster and more aggressively than ever before. As technology proliferates at an increasingly exponential rate, so too does the general accessibility and affordability to a wide range of telemedicine tools and functionality. The technology required for telemedicine to produce successful medical outcomes is already ubiquitous throughout most developed and developing economies. The vast majority of consumers and patients in the western hemisphere have already used apps such as FaceTime and Skype and already possess the necessary hardware to make dedicated telemedicine apps a tangible reality.

The origins of telemedicine are anchored in the need for health professionals to provide service and accessibility to patients living in remote areas. The other main driver of adoption here was the requirement for telemedicine to play a role in areas where there are mass shortages of medical professionals. In many cases, telemedicine today is still used to provide health and care solutions in these specific instances, but increasingly can be leveraged as a simple tool to solve and enhance day-to-day medical challenges and in some cases emergencies.

Modern patients are keen to avoid unnecessary time in waiting rooms and tend to expect instantaneous treatment for urgent but minor conditions. Similarly, healthcare professionals can leverage the capabilities of telemedicine to reduce congestion in waiting rooms and minimise the use of scarce medical resources. This is particularly profound in some countries against a backdrop of cost cutting whereby valuable medical resources and talent are becoming increasingly scarce.

Some of the major contributing factors impacting the onset and rise of telemedicine today are driven by new mobile technologies and apps. Nowadays there is widespread availability of consumer friendly mobile medical devices and mobile applications to assist in tracking a variety of health related metrics and vital signs (there is also a huge market for fitness trackers and wellbeing apps but these are considered to be a separate category to ‘health’). Mobile technology plays a crucial role in this equation. As consumers and patients become more familiar and adept in using technology to manage health and chronic illness, telemedicine becomes an increasingly convenient and trusted option.

Conclusion

New technologies have transformed the way patients and ordinary consumers monitor health and well being. Mobile and web-based technologies have had a transformative impact, but so too have new and emerging technologies such as AI, Blockchain, IoT, AR and VR. Healthcare providers can now leverage the awesome capabilities of these new technologies to create services, apps and technologies that enable faster, more effective decision making and provide greater insight for patients. This has led to the creation of personalised programs of medicine that can be finely tuned to the exact requirements of individual patients. Other key benefits associated with the development of new digital health services and tech include enhanced quality of care for patients, cost reduction, fewer inefficiencies and wider accessibility of services for patients living in remote areas. Waracle’s own experience has highlighted incredible results that can be achieved from clinical trial management and remote patient condition monitoring. If you’d like to discuss more about digital health and care, please contact us today.


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