5 Digital Trends in Healthcare

When was the last time you checked a medical book or paper when looking for information about an illness? Unless you own a library, Google is probably your best friend when it comes to health related questions. According to Pew Research Survey, 72% of Internet users say they search for health information online.

Digital has changed how we think about healthcare. We’re better informed but also have higher expectations. We don’t just expect to get data at the click of the mouse. We expect it to be speaking human and using the same networks and devices we are. When faced with a challenge, we Google, tweet, and ask  for advice on Facebook. How did we ever survive before the Internet?

Though the health industry has picked up on digital, it is still lagging behind other industries. Here are some of the emerging trends in healthcare.

Mobile

If you have a feeling that the whole world is going mobile, you’re probably right. Some health care providers like the Mayo Clinic are already benefiting from their investment in digital and others are likely to follow suit.

Latest global stats show that mobile broadband penetration will reach 32% by the end of 2014, which is almost doubled than what it was in 2011. The industry estimates that “500 million smartphone users worldwide will be using a healthcare application by 2015, and by 2018, 50% of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded mobile health applications.”

Social impact

This year’s summer campaign Ice Bucket challenge raised awareness but also $115 million to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It’s not just about using social, it’s about having an impact in real life. Be it petitioning, donating money or making videos, it’s all about bringing people together to solve challenges. Healthcare is moving away from self-promoting communication toward impact and issue-focused activities.

Interested how this works out today? Check out Celine Schillinger’s inspiring TEDx talk about fighting dengue fever: “Forget social networks, think social impact.”

Customization

Just data isn’t enough if it’s not relevant or personalized. The age of general health apps is over. Today everyone has a special condition, diet, requirement, and lifestyle. And we expect apps to take this into account. The more tailored the data and the more it fits our age/lifestyle/diet, the better. And if the app can connect to our heart rate monitor wrist watch, use stats from other apps, and on top of that calculate our sleeping, exercising, and resting time, that’s our time saved.

Health apps are here to make our lives easier and many have already gone in that direction. Android app StudentLife, for example, helps students detect depression. It uses built-in sensors to track things like the amount of their sleep, exercise, and lengths of their phone conversations. And it alerts students when they’re getting depressed.

But it’s not just apps, smart devices are on the rise too. Take Cue, a Bluetooth tool that lets you monitor your health and recommends how to improve it. Sproutling Baby Monitor, on the other hand, is a wearable band connected to an app that helps parents track sleeping patterns, mood, and heart rate of their baby, along with temperature and noise in the room.

Yes, technology is here to change our lives for the better.

Luckily, integrated digital healthcare services are no longer just ideas.

British app founder Babylon is revolutionizing the face of healthcare with a new subscription app “a doctor in your pocket.” Patients can get medical advice from NHS registered doctors by simply sending their photo with a description of their symptoms or by booking a video consultation (for more complicated conditions), and have their prescription delivered to their home. The app also helps patients track their sleeping patterns, calorie intake, and other stats, and it makes these available to their doctors.

How long before this trend becomes global?

Partnerships

Last but not the least, healthcare will be more and more about breaking the silos and cooperating within and across industries and sectors.

If the 20th century was all about patterns, the 21st is about making knowledge and services easily and widely accessible. To really reach out to the people and have the impact on the ground, healthcare providers will look for strategic partnerships that will enable them to address some of the bigger challenges we face today.

Be it collaboration with the private sector to raise awareness about a disease or cooperation with an NGO to build synergies with stakeholders. It’s about answering the real needs of the end users, offering global knowledge for local impact.

Noticed any other digital trends in the healthcare? Leave a comment and let me know.

I initially wrote this blog post for ZN Consulting.