The way forward for public well being seems to be set to turn into more and more digital. The coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to unprecedented disruption to each the worldwide economic system and healthcare. This spurred a requirement for digital transformation, notably within the space of prognosis and a necessity for digital surveillance and different options, akin to telemedicine, to are likely to affected person wants.
This text takes a take a look at what is supposed by digital well being expertise, briefly assesses the professionals and cons of its uptake, and considers the affect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the adoption of digital measures.
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The COVID-19 pandemic and healthcare companies
The SARS-Cov-2 outbreak occurred within the Chinese language metropolis of Wuhan within the winter of 2019 and shortly after in March 2020 a worldwide pandemic was introduced. This COVID-19 pandemic created widespread disruption to healthcare companies throughout the globe. The consequences had been each direct and oblique:
- Direct disruption on account of the outbreak of infectious illness
- Oblique disruption attributable to public well being measures to mitigate infectious transmission
The pandemic caused large-scale pressures on healthcare services. This spurred dramatic fluctuations in demand and upon capacity. Economic pressures and multifarious social factors prompted governments worldwide to reopen societies. But this reopening required the careful balancing of public health measures such as social distancing and infection control.
The pandemic created an urgent demand for digital transformation necessitating the possibility for remote working and continued service provision in the face of pressures to maintain safety measures. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic presented an urgent opportunity for the adoption of digital health technologies.
What is digital health technology?
Digital health incorporates the use of information technology, wearable devices, telehealth, mobile health, and telemedicine. Digital health technology has no exact definition though generally speaking it can be agreed upon that it incorporates the following: “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” (Ronquillo et al., 2021).
In diagnostics, digital solutions have been integrated with traditional methods. Here AI-based diagnostic algorithms are based on imaging and clinical data. In the area of surveillance, digital apps have proven to be effective. The needs of patients in the area of prevention have been tackled via the adoption of tools such as telemedicine and telehealth.
Notwithstanding the above definition, which is in any case broad in scope, digital health can vary in meaning. Ronquillo et al., 2021 have listed the various sub-categories of digital health products and services thus: remote sensing and wearables; telemedicine and health information; data analytics and intelligence, predictive modeling; digitized health record platforms; DIY diagnostics, compliance, and treatments; patient -physician-patient portals; health and wellness behavior modification tools; bioinformatics tools (-omics); decision support systems; medical social media and imaging.
What are the benefits of adopting digital health practices?
According to Ronquillo et al., 2021 digital health is growing in popularity because it is anticipated it will:
- Enhance entry to healthcare
- Enhance the standard of that care
- Decrease the price of care
- Cut back inefficiencies within the healthcare system
- Present extra personalised healthcare for sufferers
What are the problems associated with digital health practices?
The problems include concerns over the effectiveness and regulation of digital technologies and the challenges of privacy and other legal and ethical challenges. There are further concerns about inequalities and the digital divide. Patients that wish to access these services require a digital device suitable for video conferencing and a reliable internet connection. This can preclude many patients in older age groups who may require a caregiver who could take on a mediating role.
Evidence of the effectiveness of the technologies is needed if they are to become adopted on a grander scale. Contract tracing apps had been adopted by over 40 countries but there was a lack of evidence as to how effective these apps were (Budd et al., 2020). Furthermore, there are concerns over the digital divide because presently just 49% of the world population is online (correct as of 2020, Budd et al.)
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The divided view on the impact of digital technologies
Expert opinion is currently divided on the impact and effectiveness of digital health measures. Some say they have served us well and we should capitalize on the inertia for the implementation of digitalization that has been exacerbated by the pandemic situation. On the other hand, some believe it is difficult to quantify precisely what benefits have been availed in response to the pandemic and contend that there is no silver bullet.
What is clear is that there is a need for the alignment of international regulatory strategies over digital technologies and their effective utilization. This will aid us in preparedness for outbreaks of infectious disease or the event of a pandemic in the future.
- Budd, J. (2020) Digital applied sciences within the public-health response to COVID-19. Nature Medication. Doi: 10.1038/s41591-020-1011-4
- Golinelli, D. (2020) Adoption of Digital Applied sciences in Well being Care Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic: Systematic Assessment of Early Scientific Literature. Journal of Medical Web Analysis. Doi: 10.2196/22280
- Gunasekeran, D. V. (2021) Digital well being throughout COVID-19: classes from operationalising new fashions of care in ophthalmology. The Lancet Digital Well being. Doi: 10.1016/S2589-7500(20)30287-9
- Ronquillo, Y. (2021) Digital Well being. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. On-line: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470260/