The Challenge of Digital Healthcare

Recently there have been some big movements amongst tech companies attempting to steer their way into the massively lucrative healthcare industry. Exemplified by Apple’s latest extension to their healthcare strategy and Nokia’s purchase of the French company Withings (a design innovator in healthcare technology), it seems that there is a new drive towards making digital healthcare a mainstream reality.

Traditionally, this has been an area of slow growth due to the amount of administration it would take for healthcare professionals to update all medical records to digital, Cloud based systems. Not to mention the security and privacy challenges associated with moving our health records onto the Cloud.

With this in mind, we have taken a look at what new attempts are being made to move healthcare in a digital direction, and what challenges come with it.

Three Issues to consider

There are currently three main issues that stand in the way of healthcare going digital:

No.1 - Getting healthcare providers, research labs and their systems to directly upload medical health data to patients' health records digitally. Arguably, this is proving the biggest barrier to widespread digital adoption.

No.2 - Automatically syncing patients' personal health and fitness devices, alongside other medical devices, to upload data to their central digital health records.

No.3 – Approaching the security and privacy issues associated with uniting the digital and medical arenas.

Issue ‘1’ is naturally difficult – the amount of data that would need uploading would be an incredible administrative feat. There is high resistance to change / low tech adoption rates across healthcare professionals.

Issue '2' requires co-ordination amongst different providers. For instance, fitness bands and sundry home health devices, such as blood pressure monitors and weighing scales should be relatively straight forward. Linking them with more advanced medical devices remains a challenge. Patient engagement is key to overcoming this challenge as well. Encouraging them to manually enter data is difficult at best and is an issue the entire industry is grappling with in this age of digitisation.

Issue ‘3’ - If healthcare records and our most personal data are uploaded to the Cloud, where both professionals and organisations can access it, the system will have to be one of the most secure out there. Overcoming an inherent caution around this, only exacerbated by the countless stories in the press of late around hacking and ransomware attacks, will prove tricky. After all, the NHS was one of the worst hit organisations in ransomware attacks earlier in the year. On top of this, Google and a London healthcare trust have had their knuckles rapt by the ICO for inappropriately sharing private medical data of 1000s of patients for an AI trial the digital giant was conducting. Taking all this into account, it will take a lot to make us trust this idea and give up paper files in a hurry.

The Tech Companies Taking on the Challenge

Apple’s Vision

Apple has recently acquired the start-up Gliimpse; which specialises in the collection of data from different platforms, including medical records, and organises the information for patients centrally. Apple’s vision is to become the go-to-source for healthcare records for patients and professionals, as well as being a portal for members of the public to monitor their health.

Their approach centres on creating a sharing space, where both parties can keep up-to-date with their records, rendering the need to rifle through old documents to understand a patients’ history obsolete. The endeavor naturally touches on all aspects of the digital healthcare challenges outlined above, and it will be interesting to see how Apple overcome these going forward.

Their vision is to grow beyond merely providing us with a fitness monitor, to offering reliable and credible health testing devices, with real world medical uses, such as the development of sensors that could help diabetic patients manage blood glucose levels.

Nokia’s Recent Move

Nokia has made a more public move into the personal digital healthcare market. They purchased Withings; a health technology hardware maker, with the intention of releasing a range of products based on Withings original designs, aimed at digitalising healthcare primarily for the patient.

An example of this is the Health Mate app. The product will have five programmes; Sleep Smarter, Better Body, Pregnancy Tracker, Healthier Heart and the Leaderboard. These programmes are designed by healthcare professionals to enable you to take better care of yourself; a preventative tactic to reduce people’s health issues.

The aim is to prevent people from becoming ill in the first place; therefore, reducing the burden on front line healthcare services. The real value of products like Health Mate is realised when patients share this data with their healthcare professionals – helping reduce time and resources spent on diagnosis and administration.

Thinking Cooperatively

It is said amongst the healthcare industry that for it to truly go digital, the tech companies need to start cooperating. The strategic moves made by Apple and Nokia into this space suggest that global tech giants are now open to that cooperation.

After long-term disputes over mobile technology patent breaches, Nokia and Apple have recently decided to agree to share some of their products. However, this small nod towards cooperation must be translated on a grander scale by the industry as a whole if the healthcare sector is to become truly digital.

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