hightech digital watch on wrist

Medicine in the Digital Age

— Aiysha Chaudhry, WE 

The “future” is not necessarily flying cars, holograms and teleportation. In reality, it is the phenomenal technology of today that has elicited a paradigm shift in most aspects of society. We’re in an age of speed and accessibility to almost everything, correlating with an increased demand by consumers. In 2017 we witnessed the normality of face detection systems, the 360-degree selfie, and the introduction of Sophia the robot to the public eye.

In healthcare, this digital revolution has presented numerous innovations, including the step up of artificial intelligence into clinical research, apps for health and fitness such as MyFitnessPal, and disease awareness via social media, for example the “Heart for a Heart” campaign by the British Heart Foundation. This aimed to spread awareness of heart disease prior to World Heart Day 2017, by inspiring people to create heart-inspired artwork and share it social media.

But have technology and medicine intertwined as much as they could?

What consumers really want

As the world becomes more orientated around technology, we’ve become more intolerant towards delays. We now have same-day deliveries, we can order and be sitting in a cab within two minutes, and we see what people are doing in a few-seconds-long snap. However, when it comes to trying to get a GP appointment, you still feel like you need to wake up at dawn to try and get one.

Well, as it happens, the NHS has tried adopting technological advances to overcome these issues, such as smartphone apps allowing immediate access to GP appointments, and "Echo", a service that delivers repeat prescriptions to your door. However, these have not come without numerous criticisms by the media and the public. These may potentially weaken the continuity of patient-doctor relationships, resulting in a lack of intimate, compassionate one-on-one interaction with experts.

Although in many ways consumers are taking their health and wellbeing into their own hands, and demanding more from healthcare professionals, when it comes to how we engage with health systems, not much has changed. Only 8.7% of patients book appointments online, compared to 85.6% over the phone and 27% in person. Despite the opportunity to book GP appointments online, people would rather wait longer but speak with an actual human, because medicine is personal and should not be denoted by anything less than.

Overcoming the technological barrier

Whilst technology accomplishes greater convenience and speed for delivering healthcare, impersonal healthcare is likely not what patients want or need. From a PR standpoint, this presents an opportunity to grasp exactly what people actually want from their healthcare tools and providers. Should our healthcare be as fast-paced as getting a meal from a McDonald’s drive-through?

It is evident that the human essence of medicine should always remain intact, and perhaps the manner in which we approach advancing technology should offer patients the ability to embrace care continuity. For example, Diabertie, a Telegram Bot reminds the diabetic user to take their insulin and keeps track of their lifestyle, eventually building a unique one-to-one relationship. What is important to note is that this is not a replacement of human interaction, but merely an accessory to it.

Therefore, an enhanced version of digitized healthcare may come in the form of strengthening the personal element of medicine through innovations such as Diabertie, whilst simultaneously working to strengthen the connection and trust between patients and their (human) care providers.