What is digital health? Here's what you should know
9 min read
Digital health is a multidisciplinary field encompassing a wide range of concepts and applications at the intersection of healthcare and technology.
This article examines the significance of digital health, its applications, and the numerous ways patients and healthcare organizations stand to benefit from it. Additionally, due to the occurrence of related terminologies with overlapping meanings, we aim to define them to help our readers better understand the digital healthcare landscape.
What is digital healthcare?
Digital healthcare is a multifaceted and interdisciplinary idea encompassing the intersection of technology and healthcare. It employs digital transformation in the healthcare industry by integrating software, hardware, and services.
Mobile health (mHealth) applications, electronic health records (EHRs), electronic medical records (EMRs), wearable devices, telehealth, and telemedicine, as well as personalized medicine, are all part of the digital healthcare landscape. The stakeholders in this field comprise patients, healthcare providers, researchers, application developers, and medical device manufacturers and distributors. Digital healthcare has become increasingly critical in the healthcare industry today.
Data analytics and artificial intelligence are also used in digital healthcare to improve disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention accuracy and speed. This includes using predictive models and personalized medicine to assist healthcare providers in tailoring treatments and interventions to individual patients based on genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.
Overall, digital healthcare has the potential to transform the delivery of healthcare by making it more accessible, efficient, and personalized.
Digital healthcare terminology
Digital healthcare is an expansive field with a plethora of terms and concepts associated with it. In the following, we will provide explanations for several common terms used in the realm of digital health.
This refers to any technology that is used to support health and wellness. Health tech includes various technologies that support healthy living and wellness, such as fitness trackers, nutrition apps, and meditation apps. Health authorities do not necessarily regulate health tech.
Med tech, on the other hand, refers to medical technologies used to diagnose, monitor, or treat diseases or medical conditions. This can include medical devices, diagnostic tests, and other technologies regulated by health authorities to ensure their safety and efficacy.
Healthcare IT refers to the use of information technology (IT) in the healthcare industry, such as electronic health records (EHRs), telemedicine, and medical imaging technologies. It is focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare services, mainly through the use of technology.
On the other hand, digital health is a broader term encompassing IT and using digital technologies, mobile devices, wearables, and other tools to improve healthcare. It includes not only the use of technology by healthcare providers but also the use of technology by individuals to manage their own health and wellness.
This broader term encompasses both med tech and health tech, as well as other healthcare areas involving digital technology. Digital health includes telemedicine, electronic health records, remote patient monitoring, and other digital healthcare technologies.
This is another term that is often used interchangeably with digital health. eHealth refers explicitly to the use of information and communication technologies to support healthcare delivery and services.
Wellness apps are digital applications, typically designed for mobile devices, focused on promoting and supporting health and wellness. These apps provide users with tools and resources to help them achieve their wellness goals, such as improving fitness, managing stress, or getting better sleep. Wellness apps come in various forms and functions, from simple tracking tools to comprehensive health and fitness programs.
Digital prescription therapeutics
Digital Prescription Therapeutics (DPT) is a new class of digital health tools approved by regulatory bodies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for treating specific medical conditions. DPTs are software-based interventions designed to be used in conjunction with other forms of medical treatment, such as medication or behavioral therapy.
Examples of digital healthcare
Digital health advancements are crafted to save time, increase precision and productivity, and integrate novel technologies into healthcare. These innovations can amalgamate medicine and the internet of things, mHealth and IoT, medicine and augmented reality (AR), as well as blockchain and EMRs.
Telemedicine involves the use of video conferencing and other communication technologies to provide virtual consultations between patients and healthcare providers. This is particularly useful for remote areas or patients who cannot travel.
Electronic medical records (EMRs)
Healthcare providers use electronic medical records that are contained within a single healthcare organization, such as a hospital or clinic. A patient's medical and treatment history, including diagnoses, medications, and test results, is stored in an EMR designed for use by healthcare professionals within the organization to support clinical decision-making and patient care.
Electronic health records (EHRs)
EHRs are more comprehensive than EMRs and designed to be shared between healthcare organizations. They contain a patient’s medical and treatment history and all the healthcare providers involved in their care, including hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies. EHRs are designed to support coordinated patient-centered care across different healthcare settings and providers.
Mobile health (mHealth)
The use of mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and wearables, to deliver healthcare services and information is referred to as mobile health (mHealth). It entails using mobile applications (apps), messaging services, and other forms of mobile communication to provide health-related services such as health education, remote patient monitoring, and disease management.
The mHealth category, which includes wearables, apps, and mobile technologies that provide access to healthcare support and monitoring, is growing in popularity, particularly for managing long-term chronic conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for wearables that monitor personal health, blurring the line between consumer and medical devices. Wearable device manufacturers added features such as heart rate variability, pulse oximeters, electrocardiography, and continuous glucose monitoring.
Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) technology uses digital tools and devices to collect health data from patients outside traditional healthcare settings, such as hospitals or clinics. RPM technology enables healthcare providers to monitor patients' vital signs, symptoms, and other health metrics in real-time by utilizing various devices such as wearable sensors, mobile apps, and telehealth tools.
RPM technology enables patients to manage their health conditions better, gives healthcare providers timely access to patient data, and aids in the early detection and prevention of health issues. RPM can also reduce the need for in-person visits, which can be especially beneficial for patients with chronic conditions or those who live in remote or underserved areas.
Health information exchange
Health Information Exchange (HIE) is essential to digital healthcare because it enables the secure and efficient sharing of electronic health information among healthcare providers and organizations. HIE allows for the seamless transfer of patient health data across disparate healthcare information systems, regardless of where the patient or provider is located.
HIE allows healthcare providers to access a patient's complete medical history, including test results, diagnoses, and treatment plans, regardless of where the patient has received care. HIE allows for more informed and coordinated care, reduces the need for duplicate tests and procedures, and may help to prevent medical errors.
HIE can be facilitated by various technologies, including health information exchange platforms, electronic health records (EHRs), and health information networks (HINs). HIE is governed by strict privacy and security laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect patient's health information.
Personalized medicine is not a technology in of itself, but rather a healthcare approach that uses technology to provide tailored medical care to individual patients.
Personalized medicine is the application of various technologies, such as genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, to analyze a patient's unique genetic makeup, lifestyle, and environmental factors to develop personalized treatment plans tailored to their specific needs.
These technologies help healthcare providers identify the most effective treatments for a patient, ultimately leading to better health outcomes. So while personalized medicine is not a technology per se, it heavily relies on various technologies to deliver personalized care.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning
AI applications in healthcare can improve human decision-making by automating and expediting traditionally time-consuming tasks.
AI-powered patient monitoring tools, for example, are used in various hospitals to generate real-time reports, allowing for timely treatment. In medical imaging, artificial intelligence (AI) can reduce the number of clicks required to complete tasks and suggest appropriate next steps based on the context. Digital twins, another AI application, can simulate medical devices and patients, providing insights into device functionality and patient outcomes under real-world conditions.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality (VR) is rapidly advancing, with a compounded annual growth rate of 30.3%, and has the potential to transform many industries, including healthcare.
VR has numerous applications in healthcare, including medical training, pain management, mental health treatment, rehabilitation, and patient education. Furthermore, researchers are constantly discovering new ways to use VR technology to improve healthcare and deliver more effective treatments.
With VR’s ability to provide immersive and interactive experiences that improve medical training, patient outcomes, and quality of life, the future of healthcare will likely benefit from its transformative potential.
Blockchain-based electronic medical records (EMRs) represent another noteworthy application that seeks to minimize the time required to retrieve patient data while enhancing the quality and interoperability of such data. Blockchain's benefits, such as data privacy, access security, and scalability, make it a compelling solution in the field of digital healthcare.
Why is digital healthcare important?
The healthcare industry is currently undergoing a significant transformation, thanks to the rapid growth of digital healthcare. The emerging opportunities for patients and healthcare providers are vast, including better patient outcomes, increased efficiency, and improved access to healthcare services.
Here are just some of the benefits patients and healthcare providers may gain from participating in digital healthcare.
What can patients gain from digital healthcare?
Engaging in digital healthcare can provide patients with a plethora of benefits. The following are some of the most important advantages:
Improved access to healthcare
Patients can use digital healthcare to access healthcare services remotely, allowing them to receive medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment from their homes.
Enhanced patient engagement
Patients can become more involved in their own care by gaining access to educational resources, personalized treatment plans, and real-time health data through digital healthcare. This enhanced access gives patients the ability to make more informed health decisions.
Better coordination of care
The use of digital healthcare tools facilitates better communication and coordination among healthcare providers, potentially resulting in more efficient and effective treatment plans.
Improved patient outcomes
Digital healthcare technologies can help providers monitor patient health more closely, leading to earlier intervention and better management of chronic conditions, ultimately resulting in improved patient outcomes.
By reducing the need for in-person visits and streamlining healthcare processes, digital healthcare can help reduce external patient healthcare costs related to transportation, parking, taking time off work for appointments, and more.
What can healthcare organizations gain from digital healthcare?
Healthcare organizations and practitioners can gain numerous benefits from adopting digital health technologies. Here are some of the key advantages:
Improved patient care
Thanks to digital healthcare technologies, healthcare organizations can provide their clinicians with access to real-time patient data. Such timely access to patient information may enable healthcare professionals to create more accurate diagnoses and personalized treatment plans, improving patient care.
Healthcare organizations can use digital healthcare technologies to streamline their processes, reducing administrative burdens and freeing up staff to focus on patient care.
Digital health solutions can help healthcare organizations cut costs by reducing the need for in-person visits and streamlining processes, resulting in cost savings for both the organization and the patients. For example, digitizing health records can save time and reduce administrative costs, while seeing patients via remote consultations reduces clinic staffing needs.
Better data management
Digital healthcare technologies can assist healthcare organizations in better managing and analyzing patient data, allowing them to identify trends and patterns in patient health and, ultimately, supporting better population health management.
Enhanced patient engagement
Digital healthcare technologies can assist healthcare organizations in better engaging with patients by providing them with educational resources and personalized health information, promoting better patient outcomes.
Digital healthcare clearly demonstrates the capacity to revolutionize healthcare and dramatically improve patient outcomes. One key benefit of the expansion of digital health technologies is increased access to care, especially for health-seekers with mobility issues or who live in remote areas.
Furthermore, digital healthcare can improve care quality by leveraging data analytics and machine learning, allowing providers to identify important patterns and trends. For example, predictive analytics can identify patients at a higher risk for certain conditions, allowing early interventions with potentially life-changing consequences.
Another key benefit of digital healthcare is the increased efficiency of service delivery, such as appointment scheduling, patient registration, and medical record keeping. Not only does improved efficiency enhance patient outcomes, but it also saves costs in several ways.
The future of digital healthcare is bright, and the market is expected to grow rapidly, just as it has done in the past decade. New ways of leveraging technology are being invented constantly, increasing the number of ways patients and providers can benefit from a modernizing healthcare system.