I often get asked about the difference between Digital Health and eHealth. Here’s what I think…
You can transparently and equitably share not enough money but it’s still not enough money. At some point you have to consider the demand-side of the healthcare equation.
eHealth is largely about driving supply-side efficiency, quality and safety in the health system using Health IT. It should be about helping health providers to do a better job more efficiently through technologies such as Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), Clinical Decision Support (CDS), etc. The extent to which this has actually been achieved is obviously debatable, but the goal is clear.
Working on the supply-side has its limitations though. For example, there’s a finite amount of financial resource that can be thrown at healthcare, regardless of whether you’re dealing with public or private health systems, and this funding is never enough.
Health systems spend their time juggling their limited resources around competing priorities and whoever is shouting loudest. Sure, some of these improvements are a step forward. Funding health system activity through transparent mechanisms (rather than health service existence) is a step towards the future. However, you can transparently and equitably share not enough money but it’s still not enough money. At some point you have to consider the demand-side of the healthcare equation.
Digital Health gives us an opportunity that we’ve never had before – the chance to reach into the lives of almost every health consumer in the world, regardless of socio-economic status. Through mobile devices we have the opportunity to create a digital channel to the health consumer.
This digital channel can be used to gather data – large quantities of high-quality, real-time data regarding medication adherence, symptoms, Patient Reported Outcomes, care plan adherence and much more. Further, mobile devices can be used to drive health literacy, patient engagement and the empowerment of patients and carers, supporting behavioural modification (through techniques such as gamification) and ultimately lowering the long term risk of disease amongst key cohorts.
I’m convinced that focusing on demand-side levers in the healthcare system will be a more effective use of resources (particularly in Health IT) in the medium to long term. So, why then do Health IT departments continue to focus relentlessly on the supply-side?
Put simply, the majority of people don’t yet grasp the opportunity of Digital Health. I’ve seen so many Health IT departments rebrand themselves as focused on “Digital Health”, whilst retaining an entirely eHealth-centric remit. Many haven’t yet discovered the opportunity for new, digitally-based models of care, the use of mobile, digital health communities, consumer health devices, gamification, consumer genomics, Patient Reported Outcomes, etc.
We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us…