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Thanks To Technology, Patients Are Now Calling The Shots

28/03/2016 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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A pregnant woman holds a smart device displaying a screen from the Clue health app, made by BioWink GmbH, in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Berlin startup BioWink GmbH, maker of the app that helps women track their menstrual and fertility cycles, has secured funding from investors including an early backer of Twitter Inc. and SoundCloud Ltd. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since time immemorial, the healthcare industry has been driven by two factors--medical expertise and cost--with the patient and caretaker always having to toe the line. Now with significant advances in technology, the patient is becoming increasingly empowered to actively participate in charting the course of his/her healthcare.

Using a smartphone and mobile apps, it is now possible to search for the best doctor in town and book an appointment (ZocDoc, BetterDoctor) or get a free quick answer to your medical question (AskMD and HealthTap). Add to this programmatic applications that help you monitor and share records of your vital signs (BP Tracker Lite, Diabetes Logbook), and you have access to a plethora of healthcare services in an extremely cost-effective manner all within the comfort of your home.

Patients are more informed, want to have a say in their own diagnosis, choose doctors based on their personal preferences and maintain their own health data.

As Eric J Topol M.D (author of The Patient Will See you Now), correctly noted, "Medicine has not only become digitized, but also democratized." Patients are more informed, want to have a say in their own diagnosis, choose doctors based on their personal preferences and maintain their own health data. As mobile technology enables individuals to better manage and track their health, the role of a physician/healthcare provider is bound to change.

A patient-centric approach to healthcare puts patients in the 'driver's seat', ensuring that they are in control of their choices and creates a collaborative environment comprising individuals, families and healthcare providers. Treated as 'partners' in their own care, patients and caretakers are proactively involved in the planning, delivery and analysis of healthcare procedures.

A similar consumer-centric business model is being widely practised in sectors such as retail, hospitality, banking, travel, etc. and has succeeded with flying colours. However inculcating such a culture in the healthcare sector will require a fundamental shift in the mindset of the medical fraternity.

As 'information' and 'personalization' grow from 'want' to 'need', healthcare providers will look at utilizing the following innovations to guarantee enhanced patient experience, cost savings and better quality of wellness and disease management.

Self-Management with wearable devices and mobile apps

Smart gadgets and associated healthcare IT applications are gradually creating the 'DIY (do-it-yourself)' era where individuals are encouraged to continually self-monitor their health and wellness.

As mobile technology enables individuals to better manage and track their health, the role of a physician/healthcare provider is bound to change.

From smartphone apps and fitness bands that help you maintain your fitness regime and count your calorie intake to medical products such as a pill bottle that glows red to remind you to take your dose, we are rapidly evolving towards a 'doctor-in-your-pocket' scenario.

Expansion of mobile health

As mobile communication devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers and PDAs become increasingly prominent in a person's daily life, it is but natural that these be leveraged by healthcare providers. From sharing share photos of your medical condition to having a doctor diagnose and provide video consultation, mhealth advocates are paving the way for a highly effective and completely online doctor-patient communication channel.

Remote patient monitoring by using the Internet of Things

Through the combination of motion sensors and wearable devices, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a boon in disguise for doctors, patients and caretakers. Vital signs of patients suffering from chronic/critical diseases can be tracked and programmed to trigger alerts in case of unusual patterns, thereby facilitating family members and concerned doctors to swiftly take corrective action. Furthermore, seamless integration of patient-specific information repositories across the entire chain of healthcare providers (insurance, clinics, hospitals, etc) expedites access to comprehensive electronic health records.

Information-sharing for informed decision making

Today, after a visit to the doctor, patients receive a detailed email outlining the visit notes and within minutes their medical e-prescription has arrived at the pharmacist's computer. Fast, convenient and economical--and with no issues of illegible handwriting--this new operational model will work wonders.

Treated as 'partners' in their own care, patients and care-takers are proactively involved in the planning, delivery and analysis of healthcare procedures.

In addition to this, digital disruption in the form of healthcare exchanges allows individuals to 'browse' through available health insurance plans, compare benefits and prices, and 'shop' for the one that's best for them.

Personalized medicine from 'womb' to 'tomb'

Prescriptive analytics is a powerful tool which if used judiciously can help healthcare providers dramatically improve effectiveness of clinical care delivery and achieve better patient satisfaction and retention. In the not-so-distant future, it will be possible to gauge the probability of a person falling ill by examining his/her test results and comparing the same to terabytes of data collected for thousands of other patients with similar symptoms/results. It can even go a step further by recommending a treatment and showing its probable outcomes.

The flipside

These innumerable benefits aside, technological advances in medicine are accompanied by a set of worrisome issues, the most important one being 'data privacy'. Digitization and e-sharing of patients' medical records gives rise to questions about data ownership and makes it imperative to reform laws to adequately protect sensitive patient-specific information.

In conclusion

Considering the rapid advance of healthcare apps/devices, availability of authentic online medical information and stringent health data privacy laws, organizations must earnestly adopt a 'patient-centric approach'. Patients are most incentivised to do what's best for their health and care-takers want to be a part of that process. Thus it is no surprise that the future of medicine lies in whole-heartedly embracing this approach to drive innovation, development and reform of healthcare products, practices and services.

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