Connected Health: The Digital Transformation of Care Innovation
All around the world, across the spectrum of disease, IT is changing our approach to chronic conditions and how we approach connected health. Text messages remind people living with HIV to take their medication and keep their medical appointments. Smartphone apps diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder by analyzing a user’s voice. Online forums enable breast cancer patients and survivors to trade information related to every stage of their care.
Collectively known as “connected health,” these recent, IT-driven innovations represent the intersection of digital technology and care. They’re transforming not only the way people manage their own health, but also the way they interact with their healthcare providers.
Unintended, but welcomed, consequences
By and large, connected health is an adaptation of technologies that were originally developed for other purposes. Mobile technology started out as a voice communication tool. Instant messaging was an outgrowth of online chat rooms. Social media became a means for making new friends.
Now these technologies have evolved and converged in a way that is overcoming formerly intractable barriers to care. By minding the agenda of day-to-day care, for instance, they give people the opportunity to stay in adherence with their treatments even where clinical visits are impractical due to cost, distance or availability. And by helping patients preserve their privacy, make sense of their conditions, and learn from others with similar experiences, health IT can lift the stifling veil of stigma from disease.
The implications don’t stop with the individual. Connected health also helps people manage their own disease state so they don’t spread it to others. Across whole populations, it can allow interventions aimed at preventing chronic diseases, such as behavioral modifications that reduce the incidence of obesity.
Changing care innovation paradigms
In all these respects, connectivity is bringing to medicine a level of accountability and democratization that seemed unimaginable not so long ago. But it’s also dialing up the urgency of some unanswered questions. Among them:
- What information is appropriate to gather? Not all information has value in a healthcare setting.
- Will information remain proprietary? It’s unclear to what extent stakeholders are willing to advance the interests of the community ahead of the interests of a company.
- What would a sharing paradigm look like? If companies were to share information, they would need a seamless, cohesive way to do it.
- How will privacy and security be preserved? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are critical pieces of this equation.
- How will healthcare use technologies to create new models of care? Today’s applications are largely geared toward improving quality and outcomes of existing care models.
There’s no one-size fits all solution to these questions. Neither is care innovation strictly a technology issue. Technologists must collaborate with clinicians, patients, and patient advocates to take care coordination and operational efficiency to the next level in helping people cope with long-term diseases. A new, technology-powered paradigm—one that transcends existing constraints of time and resources—can bring a welcome transformation in the ongoing management of care coordination and the patient experience.