The term ‘digital health’ encompasses all the ways in which we’re harnessing the power of connected technologies to support our health. Professor Thomas Hügle explains how innovations can transform a patient’s journey through the healthcare system.
Recent advances in technology have been nothing short of revolutionary for our health. We have apps and smart watches that help us lead a healthy lifestyle and manage symptoms for a plethora of diseases. But digital solutions go much further than devices that monitor our well-being. Telemedicine – whereby a patient can access a doctor remotely – has seen a huge uptake during the pandemic. Clinical trials have shown that digital therapeutics – apps that help us manage our health – can treat depression, fibromyalgia and other chronic disorders.
Technological innovation is set to transform patients’ experiences. Symptom finders will lead to earlier diagnoses and patients will be able to consult a specialist more quickly through online appointments. Electronic medical records or other cloud-based solutions will make it easier to exchange patient data between different medical stakeholders. Patients will be able to report outcomes of digital biomarkers (like pulse or blood pressure) that are measured through sensors or wearable devices. This up-to-date, real-world data will mean we’ll learn more about diseases – and therefore be better placed to treat them.
AI will also help to predict the course a disease will take. This will give healthcare professionals a much better idea of the state of their patients’ future health and will inform clinical decisions, such as choice of medication. But, as well as helping doctors, AI will also empower patients. Algorithms allow patients to identify the triggers that cause chronic diseases to flare up themselves. Based on such information, AI can suggest lifestyle changes or nutritional and physical interventions tailored to the patient.
These AI applications are already a reality in some fields, with the most advanced found in diabetes care. Here, a patient’s blood glucose level is constantly monitored by an implanted measuring device and, with the help of an algorithm, the best possible insulin dose is administered by an implanted micropump. This self-contained system automatically detects small errors and optimises itself continuously. I believe that such algorithms will soon be available for other chronic diseases.