Digital Health is the use of digital technologies in healthcare. These include digital communication, remote data collection, and portable medical devices. They complement conventional medicine to make healthcare more holistic. Digital Medicine is a subsection of Digital Health. It is the combination of pharmaceutical prescriptions with sensors to digitally track dosage and frequency. Here is a look at how these dual disciplines have become more relevant since COVID-19.
There have been noteworthy advances in Digital Health before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of these have been tested and applied in the field. One is the use of 3D printing to produce personal-protective equipment. Another is the use of portable and wearable monitoring devices such as smartwatches, which can collect various types of healthcare relevant data in real time.
Many of the advancements in Digital Health have so far been researched and developed by pharmaceutical corporations such as Otsuka and Novartis/Sandoz. Others are owed to research firms such as Proteus Digital Health and Augmedix, as well as leading universities like the Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Warwick.
Digital Health Applications
Vancouver-based WELL Health Technologies offers a look into what digital-based healthcare can offer. BCTechnology.com reports that as of November 2020 the firm provides services to 2,000 healthcare facilities and 10,000 physicians across Canada. Some of WELL’s recent breakthroughs include apps such as Safe Entry, which enables contactless COVID-19 screening. Another is BookMD, which specialises in custom appointment booking and management. DoctorCare is their app for collating doctors’ financial data, making it easier to manage their practices and clinics. Within 2020 WELL has fielded 26 distinct applications within the Canadian healthcare space.
A perfect example of portable Digital Health technology is the BioPen. It is an innovation born from the collaboration between Australian Research Council ACES and surgeons at the St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, finally bearing fruit in 2018. According to the Australian Orthopaedic Association the BioPen is a portable device which allows surgeons to repair damaged bone and cartilage with 3D printed tissues and cells. The shape conforms exactly to the surface of the wound, and is drawn using 3D computer modelling. The pen uses a bio ink which consists of stem cells in a biopolymer. This technique presents key advantages. It makes healing more precise and efficient through tissues ‘drawn’ specifically for each wound. Conventional generic implants are far less efficient. The project received $1 million from the Federal Government in research grants. St. Vincent’s Hospital will take the lead on research. The Universities of Melbourne and Wollongong, as well as the Swinburne University of Technology will collaborate.
Digital Health offers many advantages. It allows healthcare providers, doctors, and nurses to carry out many of their functions remotely. This reduces the risk of exposure to pathogens to and from patients. In a way Digital Health provides an additional layer of biosecurity for both patient and healthcare provider.
Many countries’ healthcare sectors are currently facing a shortage of professionals. In many developed countries a majority of the nursing staff are migrants. They work with dedication to send international money transfers to their families in their home countries. However there are limits to the existing infrastructure. Digital Health helps reduce the number of repeat visits to clinics and hospitals. This way it helps extend the effectiveness and reach of conventional health systems, and prevents them from being overloaded in emergencies.
Digital Medicine facilitates a faster flow of information. Doctors can better manage data from patients, pharmacies, and other stakeholders. This lets them better assess the efficacy of prescribed medications.
Technology in the healthcare domain has been gravitating toward digital and data-driven processes since at least the 1970s. Digital Health’s various disciplines are showing great promise. However, Digital Health and Digital Medicine have their limits. A remote consultation cannot fully replace a physical in-person check-up. Digital consultations can certainly reduce the number of repeat visits thought.
The Future of Digital Health
We have only scratched the surface of what is possible in Digital Health. The field offers many benefits to medical systems and infrastructures. Situations such as the ongoing outbreak are the perfect proving grounds for new breakthroughs. With careful and ethical use Digital Health holds much promise for the healthcare sectors of Australia and other countries.
About the author:
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.