The Challenges and Questions that must be addressed before we embrace Digital Health

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Jainil Devani, a Second Year Medical Student at GMERS Gotri Medical College, Vadodara, India. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


As humanity still grapples to free itself from the chains of a lethal pandemic — that has changed the course of life as we know it — we now stand at the precipice of a new revolution in Healthcare: the advent of Digital Health.

         Digital Health is a multifold phenomenon that ranges from improving diagnostic techniques using Artificial Intelligence, to delivering quicker, precise and efficient care directly to the patient, individually tailored and accurate. In today’s day and age when technology is evolving at lightning speed, once it is integrated with healthcare, the possibilities of advancement become boundless.

         On a primary scale, Digitalisation of Healthcare has the ability to streamline documentation and conveying important patient information, logs and records with minimal intrusion — and a similar reverse channel for treatment instructions. Maintenance of long term patient records, data, medications and history can drastically reduce errors, and guide the doctor in the right direction to increase the efficacy of the treatment.

         On a larger scale, Digital health has applications that prove mighty useful to patients — monitoring their health, chronic conditions, having medicine be accessible and mobile in the most distant areas, among many other benefits. And, in turn, to healthcare providers, it aids in collecting data for important markers, symptoms and screening: which all help in building an immense, sprawling database for AI that gives an increasingly accurate result each time.

         Digital Health is altogether a medical product, a medical instrument, a research tool, and even medicine itself. It is constantly evolving and updating. But, while it looks almost incredulous on the surface, a myriad of challenges emerge as we dig deeper: challenges and questions that we as healthcare providers, citizens and governments need to think about before we dive headfirst into this new, unexplored vista. 

         First and foremost, it must be ensured that the digital revolution in healthcare isn’t dubiously flawed in one of its core principles — making healthcare accessible for all. As developing countries and communities with abundant resources and finances devoted to the health industry transition into a digital system, it poses the risk of furthering the already-existing divide in the quality of healthcare between different economic strata.

         Digital Health requires expensive equipment, and uninterrupted operations thereof. Governments need airtight plans to make sure that digital health bridges the gap between healthcare in varied economic strata as intended, not widen it. Large investments and proper allocation of resources is essential to ensure Digital Health doesn’t only benefit rich, urban clinics, but uplifts a country’s healthcare as a whole.

         Another challenge that must be overcome is the Question of Data and Privacy regulation. In today’s environment, when social media companies are struggling to reach a common ground with users about the way their data is stored and used: it must be carefully deliberated and decided how extremely personal and targeted data about health conditions and parameters are shared and evaluated.

         The final, and perhaps the most pressing question that needs to be answered is: Is it wise to place healthcare directly in the hands of a patient? How far is too far, placing controls and information at the reach of an untrained professional? Must there be a regulated boundary placed on the accessibility itself, for the safety of the patient? This aspect must also be microscopically inspected and tailored, to prevent any unwanted mishaps that could have dangerous results.

         But overall, Digital Health has prospects and applications that would’ve been beyond comprehension even just a few decades ago. Digital Health is a revolution that must be fully embraced, it is a step that will propel healthcare to a brighter, hopeful future. But at the same time, it is a new path that must be tread lightly, its challenges of economic disparities, privacy issues and unchecked use — they must all be addressed and regulated, as we move forward in this new era of Healthcare.

References

  1. USFDA. “What is Digital Health?” Last Modified September 22, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/digital-health-center-excellence/what-digital-health
  2. Best, Jo. “What is digital health? Everything you need to know about the future of healthcare” Last Modified February 1, 2019 https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-digital-health/
  3. Apple. “Apple and Google partner on COVID-19 contact tracing technology” Last Modified April 10, 2020 https://www.apple.com/in/newsroom/2020/04/apple-and-google-partner-on-covid-19-contact-tracing-technology/
  4. iPatientCare. “How Digital Health is Revolutionizing the Healthcare in India” Last Modified January 17, 2020 https://ipatientcare.com/blog/how-digital-health-revolutionizing-healthcare-in-india/

About the author

Jainil Devani is a Second Year Medical Student at GMERS Gotri Medical College, Vadodara, India. He is a member of the MSAI (Medical Students Association of India), under IFMSA. His recent article was featured in the Medial Students International Journal 43, and he has also previously contributed articles to The European Sting. He stood 1st in a National Anatomy Paper Contest, “iKAL” organised by Saveetha Medical College, Chennai. He has also been the Publishing Head of Indian Medical Association, Medical Students Network, Vadodara. Jainil is also a songwriter-producer and his music can be found at: http://www.jainildevani.com

Comments

  1. Through regular monitoring and tracking of symptoms, digital health technologies help patients in self-management of their health conditions. More importantly, it is a tool for detecting significant changes in a patient’s disease progression before lung health is irreversibly compromised. Thank you for this informative blog!!

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