5 minute read 25 Apr 2018

10 ways digital could transform healthcare

By

David Roberts

EY Global Health Leader

Leads global team working for clients in health. Passionate about how consumers change the way healthcare is designed, delivered and funded. Long distance biker – metaphorically and actually.

5 minute read 25 Apr 2018
Related topics Digital Health Disruption

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From genomics to telemedicine to 3D bioprinting, we explore technologies that could revolutionize an industry and make us all healthier

Much has been written and spoken about how software-based technology, data analytics and connected devices can work together to transform every aspect of business . But now the process of digital transformation is set to have an enormous impact on our health and fitness too. Not only will these advances affect the quality of life for millions, they could also have far-reaching implications for the healthcare sector and employers in general.

Improvements in medicine and nutrition have helped life expectancies increase throughout the last century. But older populations are leading to a greater incidence of degenerative and lifestyle-related health issues. These kinds of non-communicable diseases already account for 75% of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Tens of millions of people are suffering from these diseases around the world, greatly reducing their quality of life. The economic impact is similarly immense – just five non-communicable diseases could cost the global economy $47 trillion by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum.

So what could digital transformation do to make us healthier, and the health sector fitter? Here are just some of the ways that digital technologies could help us live not just longer, but healthier and more productive lives:

1. Genomics

Increased computer processing power is beginning to unlock the true potential of human DNA analysis – enabling truly personalized testing and treatment that could vastly improve patient outcomes for a huge range of diseases.

2. Wearables

Smart health monitors that can collect personalized, real-time data, encouraging healthier lifestyles, and collecting reams of data to feed into medical research. Some companies have already introduced wearables into the workplace to boost performance. By monitoring the stress levels and health of their staff, companies can recommend healthier habits, often leading to higher productivity.

3. Big data used in medicine

As more DNA gets analyzed, wearables gather more lifestyle data, and medical records are digitized, much more detailed comparative patient analysis becomes possible. Comparing the responses of patients with similar DNA, lifestyles and medical histories can allow us to truly understand health risks and the impact of different treatments.

4. Organs-on-chips

A combination of advances in DNA sequencing and stem cell research has enabled researchers to grow miniature organs, based on patients’ own DNA. Connected to electronic sensors, they can measure response to treatment at a cellular level to understand which methods will have the most success before applying them to the patient.

Social media may become the feedback mechanism that leads to continual optimization of health services.

5. Social media hospital reviews

Healthcare providers and regulators alike are increasingly using patient reviews collected via social media or digital surveys to identify potential issues and improve the quality of care. The immediacy of social media and its ability to spread both positive and negative messages so widely may see healthcare providers responding ever faster to customer feedback. Social media may become the feedback mechanism that leads to continual optimization of health services.

6. Digital trend monitoring

By tracking keyword activity on social media and search engines, trends towards searches for particular medical symptoms are increasingly being used to help identify and respond to disease outbreaks. This insight is of course beneficial to any organization in the health sector, but it can be useful for any employer seeking to keep their workforce healthy or well-staffed. For a large employer, accurate interpretation of the data could lead to a range of possible preparations – from the ordering of more tissues for an outbreak of the common cold to hiring additional freelance staff to fill in for employees who require sick leave. When the algorithms predict these trends accurately, the impact can be immense – but there are serious challenges to overcome.

7. Genetic engineering

While genetic engineering of human DNA to fight disease remains deeply controversial, gene therapy and the use of genetically-modified viruses to fight disease is becoming increasingly common, while genetically-modified mosquitos are also being deployed in the fight against malaria and the Zika virus.

Advanced technology being used in an operating room

8. Telemedicine

Mobile technology is increasingly being used to reduce pressure on healthcare systems by removing the need to travel to see a healthcare professional. Any cut to travelling time in any environment has the potential to make a positive impact on productivity. But telemedicine is likely to have the most transformative effect on more remote communities, where conducting remote assessments of patients via mobile phones is beginning to provide access to medicine for some of the world’s poorest people at a fraction of the cost of providing roving doctor services. According to the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations, there are more than 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, up from 738 million in 2000. Globally, 3.2 billion people are using the Internet, of which two billion live in developing countries.

This trend has enabled the development of creative solutions that leverage the ability of connected technologies to reach people who would otherwise find it difficult to access healthcare information.

9. Surgical robots

As well as enabling more precise surgery, which speeds up recovery time, the use of robotic surgical equipment can enable specialist surgeons to treat patients thousands of miles away, reducing the need to travel for treatment. In time, they may be able to operate independently.

10. 3D bioprinting

The ultimate medical dream has come closer to reality – in February 2016, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine announced that they have successfully implanted 3D printed bone, muscle and tissue into animals. By using DNA analysis, we’re approaching the age of custom-made replaceable body parts. It’s not just replacement – perhaps the future may present us with the possibility of customized body parts that could even improve functionality.

What does all this mean for employers?

Providing for the healthcare needs of an older workforce will require new solutions to keep down the cost of accessing healthcare and to limit the lost productivity triggered by health issues. Recent research in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine even suggest that businesses with strong health and wellness programs perform better than those without.

Summary

Organizations that choose to embrace health technologies could contribute to a healthier population at large and help their bottom line.

About this article

By

David Roberts

EY Global Health Leader

Leads global team working for clients in health. Passionate about how consumers change the way healthcare is designed, delivered and funded. Long distance biker – metaphorically and actually.

Related topics Digital Health Disruption