The digital patient is social, virtual and self-reliant

Is this personalized digital healthcare ready for tomorrow? The technology seems ready.
Vincent Defour

These are exciting times!

For the first time in human history, we are being simultaneously inundated with various disruptive technologies. Real game changers such as 3D printing, robots, virtual reality, big data and the Internet of Things are all on the edge of the breakthrough to the general public, while others such as mobile and social media are already established. You read everywhere that the impact on the healthcare sector is enormous, but in practice how tangible is it today? I will just zoom in briefly on a few of these trends.

Wearables and apps are being integrated into our daily activities. Even today, steps are being measured, sleep patterns logged and sporting activities are increasingly “appified”. There are also startups that focus on real health issues such as chronic diseases, the elderly and promoting the “patient experience” are springing up from the ground and are sought after by Tech investors. Apps that measure your health in real-time and send this to the healthcare provider, that predict health risks and optimize home rehabilitation are just a few of the apps on offer. For instance, consider the dream of Walter and Sam de Brouwer with their company Scanadu from Silicon Valley with the motto “check your health as easily as your e-mail”. You put their device Scout against your forehead for 10 seconds and you get measurements of your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and oxygen saturation on your smartphone. The basic data that a doctor would check, but in pocket size and always accessible. It is easy to make a comparison with the Tricoder from Star Trek.

Traditional models of providing healthcare are based on face-to-face interaction between doctors and patients. But as the traditional customer relationship evolves within organisations, the patient-doctor relationship is also changing with regard to “omni-channel”, “commitment” and “self-service” and will take place more virtually and outside the walls of health facilities.

The power of omni-channel communication via social media is demonstrated today by leading hospitals in the US such as the Mayo Clinic. By providing accurate information through various channels they encourage patient engagement and help other hospitals and healthcare professionals worldwide. The Mayo Clinic has:

  • its own social network: Social media health network with the aim of encouraging social media training and the sharing of knowledge within the healthcare sector with other institutions and professionals;
  • performs a groundbreaking role with its blogs in which patients and staff talk about their experiences;
  • is the most popular medical channel on YouTube with more than 1,000 videos: For instance, in a short video doctors talk about what questions they would ask a patient during a consultation to increase the quality of the consultation and to proactively manage expectations;
  • 450,000 followers of its twitter account 300,000 connections on its Facebook page, 22 boards and 800 Pins on Pinterest, where it shares all kinds of information and in which it actively listens and interacts with patients and the like-minded.

A social world that our Belgian institutions have hardly explored.

Wearables, sensors, social media, .. actually they generate all one thing: data, a lot of data, that is rapidly changing and coming from everywhere. This (large amount of) data is the secret weapon to bring the doctor-patient relationship to the next level. Linking these data sources will enable the healthcare sector to give the patient a central role and to provide a customised patient experience from start to finish. Traditional policy information supplemented with these new insights will create a whole new set of critical success factors for the management of hospitals.

Is this personalized digital healthcare ready for tomorrow? The technology seems ready. But as always, technology is only one component of the solution and is in essentially only a steering mechanism. Thinking that technology on its own will be the solution is like assuming that pills are the only solution for a healthier life.

Even so, these are exciting times!

Thanks for reading

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