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Today’s healthcare technology trends influence the future of healthcare for clinicians—and patients.
As healthcare information technology evolves, the transformational opportunities it presents continue to grow exponentially. The penetration of Internet access, mobile technologies and social networks collectively offer a future in which it is possible to deliver highly personalized care without necessarily having to do it in person, or even with a doctor.
Three technology trends—size and scale, personalization and social—are all impacting the future of healthcare. For example, healthcare professionals have begun to exploit people’s natural tendency to play games in order to improve their cognitive skills and change their behaviors. Telehealth offers patients remote access to healthcare professionals and also has major advantages over traditional methods of delivery. Healthcare-specific social networks can help practitioners to deliver services, but they also enable patients to play a more active role in their care.
While these developments in healthcare IT offer tremendous opportunities, it would be wrong to assume all patients will respond in the same way. Read about the varying perspectives of patients and care providers in this point of view piece.
The history of healthcare is, in many ways, a story of technological progress. But alongside the constant discoveries and inventions, another theme has consistently recurred. Healthcare practitioners and their patients have not always recognized the potential of the latest advances. Take this prediction from The Times of London in 1834: “That it will ever come into general use, notwithstanding its value, is extremely doubtful because its beneficial application requires much time and gives a good bit of trouble”. Its subject was the newly invented stethoscope.
So it is with the development of healthcare information technology today: its transformational power has yet to be fully recognized. For while ideas such as electronic health records are now accepted and mainstream, there are more wide-ranging IT-driven opportunities still to be grasped. Above all, the penetration of Internet access, mobile technologies and social networks collectively offer a future in which it is possible to deliver highly personalized care without necessarily having to do it in person or even with a doctor.
There are three broad technology trends playing out, each of which, in turn, will have implications for healthcare’s future shifts.
One is size. The sheer scale of digital technology is astonishing. In 2015 alone, the world will produce data equal to 120,000 times the total of all previously written words in history. This data will be generated by exponentially more powerful computing, stored in the cloud and accessible from a growing range of devices. Europeans now have, on average, more than one cell phone per person; locals in Dubai tote nearly two.
The second is a shift towards personalization. All consumer trends point towards greater customization for individuals’ needs. Websites like Amazon track buyers’ shopping habits and recommend goods accordingly, while other online services only display content or updates relevant to the buyers’ specific needs.
Third is that technology is more social than ever before. Networks such as Facebook, now the most visited site in the US, have helped establish interlinked communities of users. Consumers increasingly create their own content as well as accessing content from others. Social networks are a becoming a platform for content creation and self-service. Some government agencies and technology companies have begun deploying social software platforms for citizens to take over certain government functions or customers to provide each other with first level help desk functions. This approach helps to lower business costs and enable people to feel more engaged and in control.
While developments in healthcare IT offer tremendous opportunities, it would be wrong to assume all patients will respond in the same way. In practice, the challenge will be to embrace new technologies in the context of what patients actually want, rather than from the perspective of practitioners. Recent research suggests that for practitioners, ‘value’ in healthcare most often equates to cost, whereas for patients, this is much less important1.
Demographics—of both patients and care providers—are also crucial. Older generations may prefer more hierarchical structures in healthcare provision alongside access to information that is more direct and specific. Young generations have a tendency to be more collaborative, more questioning and to take a greater role in sourcing information and advice. For example, when asked to name the most important factor in selecting a hospital, older generations most often say the recommendation of their doctor. For younger generations, reputation is much more significant2.
Inevitably, technology isn’t always a positive enabler. Some research suggests that social networks can promote negative health outcomes. A New England Journal of Medicine paper in 2007 suggested that people who had social network relationships with friends suffering from obesity had, in certain cases, an increased possibility of becoming obese themselves3.
While there are challenges to confront as healthcare professionals make better use of IT, the prizes on offer are extremely valuable.
1 "The New Health Report", Quintiles, 2011
2 "Making the Market", Thomson Reuters Healthcare, January 2009
3 Christakis NA, Fowler JH, New England Journal of Medicine, July 2007
January 15, 2013
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