Bettina van Wylich-Muxoll

Transforming health and social care with digital technology

Earlier this year, Deloitte published a report titled “Connected Health: How Digital technology is transforming health and social care.” The information on this blog post has been obtained from this report.

Connected health or technology-enabled care (TEC) is the collective term used for telecare, telehealth, telemedicine, mHealth, digital health, and eHealth services. TEC is now seen as a fundamental part of the solution to solve many healthcare challenges. TEC helps people self-manage their health and well-being, alert healthcare professionals in case of any changes in an individual’s condition and support medication adherence. It also helps clinicians and care providers deliver more efficient and cost-effective care.

Digital technology is advancing exponentially, and its cost is becoming more and more affordable. At the same time, the demand for more cost-effective healthcare is rising. Now more than ever, healthcare authorities need to adopt new technologies to help meet these challenges.

An aging population

In the UK, as in other parts of the world, the population is increasing, and people are living longer. These two factors, in addition to a rise in chronic conditions, present new healthcare challenges.

Over 25% of the population in the UK are affected by a chronic condition, and an increasing number have multiple conditions. It has been appraised that people with long-term conditions use up to 50% of all GP appointments and 70% of days spent in hospital beds. It has also been estimated that their care absorbs 70% of hospital and primary care budgets in England.

Use of mobile devices is increasing amongst all age groups

Although ownership of smartphones and tablets is growing rapidly, the older population, who are the largest users of health and social care services, hadn’t adopted this technology until now. However, in 2014, baby boomers generated the fastest year-on-year growth in smartphone penetration.

Additionally, smartphone owners are encouraged to exercise, lose weight and improve their health, with the help of numerous mobile health apps.

Other market drivers

The demand for apps and wearable devices is also being driven by an increased focus on personalised care. Large pharmaceutical companies are now using apps and wearables to gather valuable health-related patient data, support their research, and provide an holistic service to patients.

In 2014, the leading pharmaceutical companies had an increase of 63 % in unique apps compared to 2013. In just one year, the total number of downloads of pharmaceutical apps increased by 197% as shown in Figure 1. These apps deliver education and training, can titrate medication and monitor compliance.

Figure 1. The number of apps published by leading pharmaceutical companies, 2013 and 2014.

Number of apps published by pharmaceutical companies

There has also been an increase in on-line patient communities, using social media as a platform to exchange experiences with patients and carers.

Increasing patient trust in health apps

There is strong evidence that patients are now more than ever concerned about self-care, and they are interested in boosting their health and well-being. In addition to this, health technology companies are working to improve the quality of apps, increase user confidence and trust, and launch informed decision-making in app selection for health professionals, patients and the public.

Agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or NHS Choices and its NHS Health Apps Library have developed criteria that judge apps for safety and technical proficiency. For example, for apps to be included on the NHS Choices search website, which in early 2015 lists around 150 apps, they must be reviewed by a technical team (testing relevance, legal compliance and data protection), then by a clinical team (to test scientific rigour).

PatientView is an independent organisation that has developed a systematic method of appraising health apps. Until April 2015, there were 363 apps recommended for the Apple platform and 236 for Android, with smaller numbers recommended for use on other platforms.

In 2014, PatientView undertook a survey of 1,130 patient group members to identify what people want from health apps as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. What do patients and carers want from health apps?

What patients and carers want from a health app

Reference:
Connected Health: How Digital technology is transforming health and social care. Deloitte Health. http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/life-sciences-health-care/deloitte-uk-connected-health.pdf