Digital Healthcare: How Digital Medicine Already Is Today – And How Digital It Could Be…
Digital Healthcare is more than just a buzzword, as digital support is already in use in several medical sectors. But its potential is still far from exhausted.
Practically every patient nowadays benefits, directly or indirectly, from a digital service. The starting shot for digitization was fired back in the 90s with the introduction of the electronic health card, which could store basic data. The exchange of data, however, still had a fair way to go. In countries like Canada, the USA, and Taiwan, all kinds of medical service providers are already connected to one another, which means benefits for the respective treating physician. Because they always have access to all the relevant data from medical records and medications, they can treat patients much more quickly and efficiently. This can help avoid any interactions from different medications.
In Germany on the other hand, a divide in the medical profession can still be observed. Some practitioners are open to better networking with each other, while others still have reservations about a greater exchange of data. This may be because not every doctor wants to make their treatment steps accessible to all of their colleagues. In any case, digital networking of individual specialists would be a win for patients as, ultimately, it would not only accelerate many a diagnosis,
it would probably also improve them.
Playful support for dementia patients
Even relatively young technologies such as virtual reality are slowly gaining their place in modern medicine. Deutsche Telekom, for example, has developed a VR game that can be used to research the effects and early signs of dementia. In a three-dimensional space, players have to find a sea creature, feed it, and memorize the location, as they’ll need to find the animal again later. The more people play the game, the more data is available to research learning and orientation behavior.
“Virtual reality facilitates even more comprehensive and direct diagnostic evaluation of the spatial orientation ability in people who may develop dementia,” explains Michael Hornberger, professor in applied dementia research at the University of East Anglia, one of Telekom’s scientific partners. “In particular, VR makes it possible for us to measure more precisely if people are uncertain in their orientation behavior, by stopping their movement and looking around, for example.” This is where digitization can decisively drive forward and accelerate the medical progress, as two minutes of playtime are equivalent to roughly five hours of clinical research.
Improving attention with virtual reality
An entirely practical application for dementia patients has recently been available in Krefeld, Germany. The Helios Cecilia Hospital is experimenting with a VR application in which patients can experience their home towns as they had looked in the 1950s and 1960s. The effect is stunning, as dementia patients feel more secure when they can move in a familiar environment and indulge in old memories. One way to do this is by looking at old photos – but moving in a three-dimensional, virtual world from the past clearly strengthens this effect significantly. Initial trials have shown increases in patients’ mobility and positive influences on their wellbeing. A cure for dementia may not be possible this way, but experts are convinced that these kinds of technologies can slow down the development of the disease.
Artificial organs through digitization
Another groundbreaking technology is 3D printing. According to Bitkom, the German digital association, this could completely revolutionize medicine once more: “Doctors can already prepare for upcoming operations on models that are true to the original today, and this can be a great help especially in complicated cases,” says Bitkom CEO Dr. Bernhard Rohleder. “Even now pieces of tissue can be printed in 3D, and soon it will be entire organs.” According to a survey by Bitkom and the German Hartmannbund doctors’ association, more than one in every four doctors are convinced that it will be possible to manufacture organs through 3D printing by 2030.
Bitkom is convinced that the production of prostheses and implants through 3D printing processes will definitely find its way into everyday medicine more quickly: “Prostheses and implants from 3D printers are custom-made. They can be individually adapted to each patient,” says Dr. Rohleder. “Beyond that, the finest of structures can be reproduced in 3D printing, which isn’t possible with conventional procedures.”
The doctor in my smartphone
With the ongoing digitization of healthcare, doctors and patients are coming closer together, at least virtually. The market for healthcare apps is booming, and it offers a broad range of options for direct contact with patients in acute situations or for smart care. This way, the ottonova health service provides workers with a doctor’s note via app – through a digital doctor’s visit. The smartphone app serves as a new channel to the patient, who no longer needs to trudge over to the doctor’s office with the flu to get a sick note for their employer.
The Vilua healthcare brand from Arvato CRM Solutions has in turn developed apps to provide diabetics with early low blood sugar warnings, and thus promote a well-balanced intake of insulin. But Vilua begins much earlier by harnessing preventive measures, which can be conveyed to the target group even more effectively with digital techniques. “With Vilua, we’re pursuing an entirely new approach in digital health applications with a primary focus on direct communication between the user and their health coach,” explains Jens Härtel, managing director of Vilua. “Because we can cater to users and combine various digital channels with personal contact, we can achieve higher participation quotas in company health promotion schemes, for example.”
So, there’s no lack of digital healthcare innovations. And ultimately perhaps, the biggest bonus of digitization for the healthcare market lies in the preventative sector – if, thanks to digital services, we don’t even get sick in the first place.
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer. Image: AdobeStock