Improving Accessibility Through Digital Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a large amount of fatigue as many people seek a return to normalcy. But not everything needs to return to normal, including health care which has benefitted from its new normal—one that is able to expand access to more people in more settings through technology advancements. The expanding use of digital health has been a boom for the health care industry, helping to focus on improving health outcomes by increasing access for a wider population. This shift in health care moves beyond more health care to achieve better health outcomes. And digital health is at the forefront of expanding these opportunities.
The pandemic’s disruptions present an opportunity to rethink health care delivery. Rather than simply replicating in-person care virtually, how can care be transformed to engage patients? By engaging patients in their own health, through devices they are already using like smartphones and wearables, digital health can be used to improve health care results. It also helps to increase accessibility by creating cost-efficient solutions for people who face challenges in access. Doing so requires understanding the needs and goals of people who are not well-served by today’s care.
For example, people struggling to manage diabetes, and who work in a gig economy, share both medical and social circumstances. Digital health solutions can address these patients’ needs with care that works in their lives. By envisioning a new type of health care delivery, with digital solutions and relationship-centered care, digital health can add to care delivery and shore up patterns of health and care disparities.
The expansion of virtual care has seen wide adoption across all segments of health care and specialties. During early pandemic lockdowns, virtual care options enabled patients to maintain essential care needs through virtual means. As adoption of virtual care has been maintained, its use has shown to tighten relationships by enabling people to be closer in touch and communicate more frequently and conveniently. Digital health is also used to strengthen relationships between patients and care team members.
Digital health makes it possible for care teams to include national experts. Previous care models relied on local expertise, but new virtual avenues enable state-of-the-art medical knowledge to be delivered locally for the patient. Models can include doctor consults to reduce disparities in care for patients in rural locations. Virtual care has contributed measurably to better health outcomes in several rural communities where major health systems have left or reduced care options.
With all the momentum in the digital health space, wider adoption of digital tools presents a bright future for continued innovation on care delivery models—especially areas that are focused on improving remote patient monitoring and increasing access to care, which received a record $6.4 billion in 2020. This growth is largely due to the value and improved access brought by digital health, and its ability to expand care to more patients, more areas, and in more locations outside legacy settings.
Digital health apps are enabling clinicians to monitor their patients remotely, especially those suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Many of these are replacing the need for in-office visits and expensive medical devices. For example, Biospectal uses a smartphone camera to monitor blood pressure by measuring the blood flow through your fingertip, eliminating the need to go to the doctor or purchase an at-home blood pressure cuff. Medisafe enables a communication loop between patients and their care team to ensure proper medication management, engagement, and compliance.
While high smartphone penetration provides some hope, to fully realize this mission, expanding broadband infrastructures present future growth opportunities to reach low-income and developing countries to improve access. This expansion also presents an opportunity for private sector investment and growth in digital health companies, which can have huge implications on how future populations receive medical care and engage with health systems and become active in their own health.
Past models weren’t working, and the time is right to embrace new technologies that expand access and improve outcomes. The adoption rates of digital health show that patients and providers are eager for a new format to deliver care that meets patients’ needs, enable greater connection among care teams, and support non-traditional care routes. Digital health is the health of the future, available now, and expanding access to more patients in more places, with the intent on doing more good.