What sits behind the rise of Digital Health is not ultimately about technology. It goes far deeper. Fundamentally, we’re seeing a significant cultural shift in healthcare, driven by patients and carers. Through the internet, mobile devices and Digital Health Communities we’re seeing the democratisation of medical knowledge.
Knowledge that was previously only available to and understandable by health providers (an educated elite) is increasingly being opened up to health consumers, many of whom are capable of understanding and synthesising large amounts of this information. This in turn is leading to engagement, empowerment, and the disruption of traditional patterns of decision making in healthcare.
But is it safe, I hear you ask. No, not always. Can it bring about positive disruptive change where a patient’s views and desires are elevated? You bet it can. Will that disruptive change be pain free? No, it won’t. Is it changing the relationships between patients, carers and clinicians? Absolutely.
The only way to truly understand the significance of this change is by analogy. The protestant reformation was arguably made possible by Tyndale’s printing press, allowing English translations of the bible to be distributed widely. Whereas previously, the only access to scripture had been in Latin, via the priesthood, who told their congregations only what they “needed to know”, the democratisation of biblical knowledge drove deep, uncomfortable change which was an enabler of the protestant reformation.
By way of comparison, it’s interesting to note the language and abbreviations used in medical prescriptions. Much of this language remains in Latin, the language of an elite group. Now I’m not suggesting that it was designed to function in this way, but it’s certainly interesting to ponder how ongoing use of this language today holds a power over and works against patient engagement.
I believe that the democratisation of medical knowledge through the internet, mobile devices and Digital Health Communities will, over a number of years, drive a cultural change of comparable magnitude. This is already changing the relationship between patients, carer and clinicians, and will continue to do so.
Exciting times for healthcare!