DHI MSc Blog: Digital Health - The Future of Health

Part of the blog series from MSc students funded by the Digital Health & Care Institute

Wednesday, May 09, 2018
Mithun Nair

Digital Health - The Future of Health

Digital Health is a new and exciting multidisciplinary field where digital science meets health and health care. It involves the use of various information systems and communication tools such as wearables, smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers to tackle the various complex challenges in healthcare sector and provide effective treatment solutions. It also offers new and exciting ways for patients to monitor their health for self-management, giving them a sense of empowerment.

Increasing number of softwares and mobile apps are now available that can provide relevant health information and motivational materials at our fingertips. Many national and international health organisations like the NHS and WHO are integrating digital health solutions to help people fight major health issues including smoking, diabetes, cancer and tuberculosis. Governments and health organisations around the world are developing comprehensive digital health or eHealth strategies aimed at harnessing the benefits of information technology to improve patient care, health surveillance, programme management (cost savings), staff training and engagement of stakeholders including local communities. Having worked in public health for the last 10 years, I have realised the crucial role digital health can play in health promotion and healthcare research and this realisation further encouraged me to pursue a full-time course in Digital Health Systems at University of Strathclyde.

Among the various aspects within the digital health realm, my favourite has to be data analytics. Tremendous amounts of data are being generated in hospitals and health clinics around the world which if utilised in the right way, can improve healthcare practice drastically. Thanks to various data analytical tools, one can now scrutinise the data to find correlations and significant relationships between different factors and diseases, enabling clinicians to enhance the quality of care and minimise clinical errors or inefficiencies. For e.g. Digital systems in a hospital ICU can automatically analyse and detect a whole range of patterns between vital signs and potential complications to alert the clinicians before the complications arise. In my past role as a clinical researcher, I have spent countless hours on NHS systems such as SCI and TRAK collecting data for clinical audits. I speak for all health researchers and clinicians here when I say that it would be very useful to have innovative IT systems/tools that could act as a bridge between different healthcare softwares currently in use  to extract relevant data for analysis. It would also warrant the need for specially trained digital health professionals who are proficient in using such systems/tools and also possess good knowledge on health and healthcare issues.

However, despite the many promising benefits that digital health presents before us, there are certain challenges that we need to consider. Data security and patient confidentiality have always been matters of huge concern for healthcare institutions. Lack of strong data security measures can lead to many serious issues for e.g. recent 'WannaCry' hacks that paralysed the NHS systems. Insufficient data backup can also cause huge irreversible problems in case of a system failure or breakdown. Considerable amount of time and money need to be spent on training the local staff and patients who are expected to use the new digital systems. Some staff members may be too reluctant to give up the old paper-system for new computer systems while some might also view that as a potential threat to their current jobs.

By adopting effective measures to manage the different challenges and barriers, digital health can prove to be a perfect solution to improve healthcare and healthcare access, and subsequently health outcomes.

 

Mithun Nair

MSc in Digital Health System

University of Strathclyde

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