Information technology is ready to disrupt and reinvent health care.
Just as technology has dramatically reshaped travel, commerce, entertainment, retail, advertising and countless other industries, health care—and by extension all of us, our health, and our quality of life—is next to benefit in a big way. But in order for us to enjoy these benefits, our health care professionals and IT providers are going to have to learn to work together to do something not quite like what either has done before. As a project, it’s as exciting as it is promising.
At the research level, the clinical level, and even for patients on their own, the amount of data being generated about drug efficacy, illness incidence and outcomes, and even day to day fitness and health is growing at an incredible rate. Let’s look at how health care data is being created and used across these three domains with the study of genetics, clinical care, and fitness self-tracking:
As the cost of sequencing the human genome continues to drop, soon anyone and everyone will have access to the string of information that makes them unique. There’s tremendous opportunity for new research into congenital diseases—and a look into what will no doubt be a surprising account of our shared genetic history. Looking this deeply into ourselves isn’t just a scientific challenge; it’s an information storage, processing, and security challenge.
All of the best practices, clever tricks, and hard learned lessons that the IT body of knowledge has collected over the past 40 years need to be put into action seamlessly to let us move forward here, and that means an incredible level of cooperation between researchers and the IT support that enables them. Beyond that, IT has an irreplaceable role in the meta-analysis of research, ensuring that when evidence based recommendations are made, they’re statistically and technologically valid.
Getting closer to the patient, health care service delivery from clinicians is about to see a lot of improvement. Many patients visit the doctor and are dismayed (and sometimes frightened) to see that the doctor is still using a pen and paper—it’s hard to reconcile cutting-edge medical treatment with the presence of literally predate medicine itself. But when those same doctors go home, they bank online, they shop online, book travel online and do all the things that we expect from technically literate members of society.
We’re set to help people live not just longer, but better, and increase the access to health care services by really understanding patients and their needs.
This is a damning indictment of the way we have approached the design and adoption of the technological tools we’ve built and put in the hands of our health care professionals. Our thinking and design assumed IT folks, not clinical folks. But the recent design revolution in creating a functional and intuitive user experience means that the next generation of IT tools in the doctor’s office are actually going to add value, rather than get in the way or simply be ignored. And with advances aggregating patient data in secure and anonymous ways, the individual diagnoses that doctors make can be examined from afar and give us better insight into the health and wellbeing of our society at any given time.
Finally, citizens have access to incredible resources long before they even become patients. Smart fitness management products like the WiThings scale and Jawbone Up make tracking fitness and even diet nearly effortless. Beyond offering feedback to individuals about how healthy they are, they provide thorough sets of data that can make worthwhile contributions to evidence-based health discussion in the event a trip to the doctor is required.
Even when sick, patients have access to a wealth of information, from online medical databases to support communities for life-altering illnesses—where patients share drug efficacy results—which equip them with the information to have conversations with their doctors, rather than being passive voyeurs in their own treatment process.
The promise of more clinically intuitive and patient friendly tools coupled with the ability to capture, share and analyse massive amounts of information on health trends and outcomes is setting the stage for a real game changing event in healthcare. What is now required is the widespread adoption of a new model for healthcare delivery that can take advantage of this information revolution.
We’re set to help people live not just longer, but better, and increase the access to health care services by really understanding patients and their needs. With goals like this getting within reach, it’s hard not to be excited about what comes next.