The Promising Potential of Digital Health

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unsettling reality of accessible healthcare became a frequent topic of conversation. “How will I get my child to their regular check-up?” and “how can I get my medicine on time?” became the tagline of our society’s reality as isolation and social distancing became the new normal, pushing us to reconsider how we keep up with our health behind screens. Yet, what is overlooked with the start of this pandemic is that we, as a society, became exposed to one harsh reality: access to quality and remote healthcare is just as significant, if not imperative, to our evolving lifestyles and technological futures.
Digital health, according to Yasmyne Ronquillo et al., entails “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”). Digital health has revolutionized healthcare in ways that provide patients with more control over their healthcare needs. Wearable technology, such as Apple Watches and Fitbits, have provided individuals with constant reminders of deep breathing to heart-rate and O2 monitoring. Telehealth services, such as remote therapy sessions and doctor’s visits from the comfort of one’s home, have allowed individuals to safely quarantine and stay-home during the pandemic and still receive quality care without the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Many look upon digital health as the product of these unsettling times, but it has become increasingly present within the last decade (the 2010s) as technology has significantly empowered our society to become more informed and more aware of, in this case, how to take care of our well-being. It has reshaped general healthcare to become more aware of ableist and inaccessible ways healthcare has catered to some but not all. Digital healthcare has presented us with the idea that medicine and technology can coexist to reshape the way we access essential healthcare services. Ronquillo et al. list the benefits and outcomes of digital health, listing invaluable aspects of it that will aid us in more ways than one, such as lower cost of healthcare, more personalized health care for patients, and addressing health disparities (“Digital Health”).
To mark the pandemic as the catalyst of exposure to the lack of access to quality and affordable healthcare would disregard the decades of this issue persisting in the United States. Even with the arrival of digital health and the promising effects of it regarding equity and access, many individuals still face lack of access on a daily basis. 1 in 10 individuals in the U.S. do not have health insurance (“Health Care Access and Quality”) which comes with the damaging outcomes of late diagnoses and rising medical bills from the inability to see a physician or access medication in a timely, affordable fashion. Digital health provides personalized medicine without the lack of quality, but also, as the FDA notes, “these technologies can empower consumers to make better-informed decisions about their own health and provide new options for facilitating prevention, early diagnosis of life-threatening diseases, and management of chronic conditions outside of traditional health care settings” (“What is Digital Health?”).
With the pressing issues regarding health disparities and access to healthcare, but the promise of technological advancements, why would we not utilize the benefits of digital health to prioritize our well-being by connecting with healthcare providers in the safety of our homes? Why would we renounce the promising outcomes of digital health when it was increasingly indispensable during the pandemic? As Shobana Kamineni and Stephen Klasko write:
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a digital shift in healthcare delivery that was a long time coming. Thanks to a wave of technologies, the idea of assisting people – no matter their location – became a reality. The digital connection between clinicians and patients requires new private-public partnerships to facilitate the tech, and new ideas to help those we serve. (“Digital Health Inclusion Can…”)
The innovation of digital health has provided us with the ability to monitor our health in ways that may not entirely solve the issues regarding disparities and access, but most definitely push us forth in the right direction. There is still, of course, the persisting issue of connectivity to remote ways of accessing healthcare, which is another aspect that digital health is working towards remedying as it directly affects underserved and underrepresented communities.
Mobile health, such as the arrival of mobile medical apps that fixate on pharmaceutical care or other health monitoring, has allowed for individuals to access healthcare quickly and efficiently, but has also spread information to consumers in reputable and thought-provoking ways. Patient portals have allowed for individuals to access their medical records or medical results promptly while medical social media has informed many of misdiagnoses and signs to look out for regarding health conditions which has, for example, dismantled myths regarding certain health conditions that are stigmatized, such as mental health illnesses.
There is much promise and potential to digital health with artificial intelligence and machine learning creating a more improved quality of care to patients across the globe. Data analytics and predictive modeling, for example, have ensured that patients get timely deliveries of medication when it comes to digital pharmacy care. This has also created a fixation on compliance and adherence metrics that prioritize patient well-being regarding medication to allow providers insight on how patients are complying with medications for their welfare.
The COVID-19 pandemic has come with immense loss and setbacks regarding normalcy of our day-to-day lives. However, this pandemic has aided us in fixating on the inclusive and imperative nature of digital health that has blossomed during one of the most trying times we have faced as a society. Digital health holds the promise of innovation with a focus on quality and accessible healthcare, from inside the home to the screen of our mobile phones. Telehealth services and mobile health in general have provided us with the opportunity to reshape general health to cater to more than just those who have the privilege of accessing a doctor’s office or pharmacy. Digital health inevitability affects health outcomes in more positive ways than there are negative. With this potential to utilize technology’s evolving presence in our lives, we must seek the assurance of digital health in prioritizing our well-being in accessible ways, as seen during the past two years of a deadly pandemic. Remote healthcare works, as does mobile health as witnessed in its promising presence during this pandemic. To diminish its positive effects is to set us back in progressing forward with society’s health, not just our own.

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