Digital health refers to the use of information and communications technologies in medicine and other health professions to manage illnesses and health risks and to promote wellness. Digital health has a broad scope and includes the use of wearable devices, mobile health, telehealth, health information technology, and telemedicine. Digital Health has been gaining momentum because it is envisioned to:
There is some evidence to show that the use of digital medicine allows patients to better track their own health and wellness. For example, the use of digital devices like the smartphone not only helps with communication, but these devices now have a huge number of apps that can help monitor blood pressure, record blood sugars, ensure compliance with medications, and track the amount of physical activity.
Function and Goals of Digital Health
The objectives of digital health products and services are:
Categories of Digital Health Products and Services
Digital health means different things to different people. Here are the main subcategories:
Issues in Digital Health Design, Validation, Testing and Deployment
Digital Health Entrepreneurship Competencies
Like other medical school subjects, there are basic science and clinical components and the apprenticeship model is used to develop competent graduates. The same should apply to digital health and learning objectives, curriculum design and assessment should be in three basic and applied areas:
The course should be mandatory for every medical student. We should also separate education from training. Here is a summary of the topics covered:Section 1: Technologies
Section 2: Applications
Section 3: Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Section 4: Leading interprofessional and Inter-Professional Teams
Digital health tools have become an integral part of the contemporary practice of medicine and will continue to evolve. It is imperative that end-users, medical providers, health care staff, innovators, and companies communicate and engage in the different phases of digital health design. Patient-designed, patient-centered digital health tools may be another method to engage patients in their own health care. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted the need for more responsive and timely platforms for health care information, delivery, and management. It has also exposed the need for improvement in the traditional face-to-face encounters of patients especially those who have chronic illnesses.
As technology advances in health care, it also raises challenges and ethical considerations for policymakers. Some of the concerns include transmission of misinformation; the internet is awash with hundreds of medical sites offering all types of advice and treatment options. Many of these websites are not even operated by healthcare workers and the sources used to collect the information include Wikipedia and other non-peer-reviewed articles. Patients often subscribe to these sites believing that all the information is true. Often patients make medical decisions without speaking to a healthcare professional and this may endanger the lives of many individuals. As this time of pandemic has demonstrated, medical and public health information and opinion from various sectors of society can easily reach the population.
In addition, there is also concern that many of the devices that connect the patient to the healthcare provider may easily be accessed by third parties and lead to the release of sensitive patient information. Hacking of medical devices has been shown to occur.
Further, there is great concern that some health care providers who practice digital health may be releasing patient data, which may be in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The practice of telehealth or telemedicine is now accelerating and new guidelines on billing, privacy, security, and documentation may be established. As to what information and how much information can be released and under what circumstances is still being debated.
Finally, a bigger push towards digital health may erode the trust towards healthcare workers and place more reliance on medical websites. An example of this is the anti-vaccination movement which is quite vociferous and gaining momentum. At the end of the day, the health care team and patient relationship is at the heart of health and wellness. Regular traditional face-to-face encounters and the complimentary use of digital health tools may well become the future standard of care.
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