Most Puzzling Questions About Digital Health

21 December 2021

What is the difference between telehealth, telecare and telemedicine?

Telehealth includes information and telecommunication technologies as well as services used to provide care when the patients/citizens and providers are in physically different locations. In this case, care takes place remotely (teleconsultation, video visits, telephone calls or remote monitoring). Telehealth also includes the health education of patients.

Telemedicine is the remote provision of healthcare services, a medical part of telehealth. According to the American Academy of Family Practitioners, telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, while telehealth may include remote non-clinical services.

Telecare includes solutions that allow consumers to manage their health individually. This includes mobile health and fitness applications, systems monitoring health, physical fitness (wearables) and much more.

Is digital health the future of healthcare?

Definitely yes. This is due to the general digitization trend in all industries, related to continuously improving efficiency/saving costs. Healthcare has to face many problems – the lack of coordination between the various stages of treatment, the reactive nature of the treatment-oriented system, increasing health costs not translating into results and quality, the uneven access to medical services depending on the local medical infrastructure and the shortages of medical staff.

In addition, with limited staff resources, the current model cannot provide optimal care for a rapidly ageing society. Therefore, the central objective is to personalize treatment and strengthen the role of prevention and patient involvement to achieve two objectives: healthier life and healthier ageing.

What are the driving forces for the digital health market?

Among the most important are these three main elements: public investments aimed at modernizing the health system; national digitalization strategies; private investments (for example, in the startups developing innovative solutions) driven by the potential return on investment; the changing needs of patients and the increasing demand for new health and wellness e-services.

What trends dominated digital health in 2021?

Digitalization is a long-term process – it is challenging to distinguish trends with a breakdown by year. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in the use of telehealth and the introduction of new reimbursement approaches for digital services. Health and wellness applications are also of greater interest. Due to the need to monitor and manage the pandemic globally, Big Data analyses are becoming increasingly important. Among the long-term trends are artificial intelligence and the shift from hospital care to care from home.

Why do many startups developing innovative digital technologies for healthcare fail?

The main reason is the lack of understanding of the healthcare system. Even if innovation seems attractive to the patient, it does not mean that it will be adopted in the market. The health sector is highly regulated (medical devices must meet safety standards) and the number of stakeholders often leads to conflicts of interest. Many startups do not have a robust business strategy. For example, in the case of mobile applications, patients in many countries are not willing to pay for them out of pocket. Public and private insurers, in turn, treat digital health innovations with a great deal of mistrust.

What are the latest and the most interesting digital health solutions?

There are many of them – from wearables that monitor health parameters in real-time to clinical decision support systems based on artificial intelligence and virtual reality solutions used for staff training and pain relief. In addition, much attention is paid to the so-called digital therapeutics (DTX) – certified health mobile applications and platforms that have been proven effective in clinical trials and can be prescribed.

What are the challenges faced by health digitization?

Primarily these involve the interoperability of data and the possibilities of health market players to exchange and analyse them. The challenge is also the radical transformation of healthcare – a system shaped by regulations and mind shift before the IT revolution. Without this, it will be challenging to incorporate new technologies into an outdated system.

Do patients benefit from digitization today?

It all depends on the country and the degree of digitization. However, a lot has changed since the internet and smartphones got widespread – many individuals gained access to medical knowledge that was previously available only to a doctor. As a result, many speak about the democratization of healthcare.

There are over 400 000 health applications that help prevent diseases, manage health and well-being, improve well-being.  They are like new “distributors” of knowledge and skills. A shift from paper to electronic files does not automatically mean better patient care – at this stage of digitalization, we only deal with a change in the form of documents. But in the future, data will be integrated from various sources and analysed by AI systems to detect health threats at an early stage and personalize prevention/treatment.

New technologies are costly. Won’t they drive the increase of healthcare costs?

The prices of new digital health technologies offered directly to patients (e.g., mobile applications, smartwatches, wearables) are regulated on a free market. For example, the first fitness trackers were luxury goods. Today the prices start from $10. Simple tracking wristbands are even offered for free by health insurers. Any new technology is expensive due to research and development costs, but prices rapidly decrease as the technology becomes more widespread.

Digital infrastructure for healthcare at a national level, as well as hardware and software in healthcare facilities, require a considerable investment. However, these are considered long-term investments in improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare, strengthening patient safety.

What is the digital gap in medicine?

This is the difference in access to digital technologies and digital skills between different social groups. The digital divide can be caused by differences in income and education levels. As ever more services are offered online, these elements are becoming critical determinants of health. For example, new research shows that health apps only benefit the wealthy.

What health parameters are measured by new-generation smartwatches?

They can monitor body temperature, length of sleep, number of steps, heart rhythm, blood oxygen saturation and physical activity. Advanced wearables can measure ECG. Many other indicators showing physical and mental health may be calculated on the basis of mentioned parameters.

However, currently available smartwatches cannot accurately measure blood pressure (without using blood pressure cuffs) or blood glucose levels. Although some offer this possibility, they are not certified medical devices or precise enough.

Why does it take so long to digitalize healthcare?

The tempo of adopting new technologies in medicine depends on several factors, including the digital skills of individuals and healthcare professionals, public trust, the legal framework in healthcare, reimbursement policies, innovation culture, leadership. Digitization is a social challenge, a process of transformation that will continue to evolve, and there is no specific end to it.

Which term is correct: eHealth or digital health?

E-health is information and communication technology in the area of healthcare. This refers to specific technologies, such as electronic health records and the IT systems used by doctors.

Digital health is a term describing the coupling of medical science with information and communication technologies (ICT), the transformation of healthcare through new digital solutions. According to the new definition by HIMSS, digital health connects and empowers people and populations to manage health and wellness, augmented by accessible and supportive provider teams working within flexible, integrated, interoperable, and digitally-enabled care environments that strategically leverage digital tools, technologies and services to transform care delivery.

The most frequently asked questions on the internet that include “digital health” (source: AnswerThePublic)