Fundamentally Defining Digital Health…

This week I’d planned to write an article discussing the boom in healthcare accelerators and their impact on the digital health scene but then I was distracted rather unceremoniously by a series of debates, both on Twitter and LinkedIn, discussing the meaning of digital health and the entire movement. Considering, I’m neither shy nor retiring I quickly involved myself in this hotbed of intellectual and philosophical debate and quickly came to the conclusion that none of us have come anywhere near to defining what digital health actually is! So today I’m going to put forward the three key considerations I think we need to have when talking about this evolving area of medicine. Good luck to me!

Step 1. It’s not All About You

Take a second to think about who you are and where you fit in the grand scheme of things. This ever evolving ecosystem of technology in healthcare is everyday conjuring up new inventions and ideas. Now depending whether you’re a doctor, patient, investor, entrepreneur, regulator or any other of a myriad of individuals then this whole field will mean something different to each and every one of you. But you know what?

It doesn’t matter what you think.

Why not? I hear you cry.

Well, digital health is part of the evolution of healthcare but with any development a shared understanding is required between all of us to make sure it develops in the most effective way possible. If you’re an investor do you know what this all means for doctors? If you’re an entrepreneur do you know what this all means for patients? If you’re a patient do you know what this all means for government and regulators? We need to all start talking to each other seriously if this is going to go anywhere.

Step 2. It’s not All About the Money 

There is one phrase that I hear on a consistent basis that drives me insane. Quite frankly it makes me question the entire purpose of both the Quantified Self and Digital Health movements. This coming from a die-hard supporter of technology and social media in healthcare!

Whats this nefarious phrase I hear you ask?

Consumer Empowerment.

When did we lose sight of what healthcare is all about? Have we forgotten that what we’re trying to do every day is prevent, detect and manage  disease all the while promoting healthy living? These are our patients and we should be acting in their best interests and not allowing our judgement to be too severely clouded by the prospects of mergers and acquisitions surely?

My career is now devoted to start-up development and working with venture capitalists so I’m not naive to how the process works but it’s at least my central tenet that I work to develop health startups that will provide a service that is either demanded by doctors and patients or that I believe will empower them to improve their health and wellness. If it does so then immense financial success will come as a by-product. Or perhaps I have misjudged the ways of the world?

Step 3. What do We Want it To Do?

So we’ve all sat together with our different backgrounds and we all now understand that our over-arching strategy is to empower patients to improve their health and to facilitate doctors ability to use technology to prevent, detect and manage disease. That’s great but the devils’ in the details. What does this actually mean we need to do?

I think it’s only at this point where it really starts getting tricky. It’s all well and good making a whole range of apps and widgets that collect data in our sleep and continuously so but what’s the use of it? Does a patient or doctor even now what to do with all this new data and will it even improve clinical practice? The value chain of healthcare is littered with inefficient costly steps that we could target with technology but unless we identify them and really define why they’re ineffective then we’re really just wandering aimlessly developing inventions but not innovations. 

Medicine and healthcare are still about humans and their interactions between them so are we really creating and propelling digital technology to improve these relationships or are we purely creating technology to see how smart we are at collecting data because we can?

Maybe the conclusions we’ll reach will be even more far reaching and we’ll find medicine as a whole isn’t prepared for Digital Health and the Quantified Self then we need to address a whole range of fundamentals ranging from our clinical practice models, the way we interact with our patients and even wholesale re-structuring of our medical education systems!

More Questions Than Answers

In all likelihood I haven’t made it any easier to define digital health given it’s a field that’s much bigger than one man (or woman) but I think it’s our duty to consider our fundamental beliefs and where we stand together before we can even dream of an ideal state when digital technology has a profound and sustained clinical impact. Before we get there we have to be pragmatic about where we are now and only then can we truly move forward, I hope united we’ll  be able to improve global health with technology.

Later this week normal service will resume when I’ll be discussing accelerators, apps and much more!

Got a Question or Comment? Tweet me @Saif_Abed

Dr Saif Abed
Founding Partner
AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies Ltd

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