This is the first in a series of articles on digital innovation in the medical field and how it will affect, improve and change medical practice as we know it. The writer is Simon Spurr, CEO of HealthCloud.
As I begin this series of articles and put pen to paper (being a digital native I am punching the keys on my laptop) perhaps a solid starting point is to define digital health. At face value the concept of digital health is quite simple: the use of technology to aid and improve an individual’s health and wellness. This is broad, particularly in a rapidly growing sector. The World Health Organization, or WHO, goes even deeper and categorises digital health as a collective of two components, namely:
- eHealth (electronic health) is defined as the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for health and health-related fields; and
- mHealth (mobile health) is a component of eHealth and involves the provision of health services and information via mobile technologies, such as mobile phones, tablet computers and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)
The concept of digital health can cover everything from wearable devices to ingestible sensors, from mobile health apps to artificial intelligence, from virtual carers to electronic records, from the internet of things to digital genomic sequencing.
As with other fast-moving industries you will frequently hear buzz words such as: disruption, innovation, transformation… The Cambridge dictionary defines transformation as “the process of changing completely the character or appearance of something in order to improve it” and disruption as “an interruption in the usual way that a system, process, or event works”. So digital health – in theory – can interrupt, then change the current systems and processes that exist in the health and medical industries, through the application and use of new ideas and methods (innovation) for improvement.
In essence, it is really all about applying digital transformation, through disruptive technologies and cultural change, to the health, medical and wellness sectors. Seemingly, based on the exponential global growth of digital health in the recent past, this is much needed.
Herein lies some challenges. The patient of today lives in a digital world in which they can access information at the touch of a button and in an instant. The expectations of the digital generation are higher than ever (better, faster, cheaper) and if they don’t engage them suitably and provide what they are looking for quickly you have lost them. Online information, however, is often incorrect, outdated or lacking in context. The delivery of healthcare services is a highly personal and complex realm and, as such, the digitisation including diagnosis and treatment needs to be carefully considered.
Healthcare is also a multi-disciplinary domain involving many stakeholders including clinicians, primary and tertiary institutions, researchers and scientists. To bring the digital health layer into this environment other considerations need to be factored into the mix: engineering, social sciences, private and public health systems, telecommunications, health economics, legal frameworks, data management and security and, today, social media.
For digital health to be well adopted and successful it needs to tick some key boxes: enable more efficient care, enhance the delivery of services, reduce cost and improve both the patient’s and the provider’s experience. Oh, and then, it also needs to be bundled up (always available, cheap, accurate, easy to use) and wrapped in a bow (look great and keep you engaged) for today’s consumer.
So, where did it all start? More about that in the next article…
About Simon Spurr
Simon is a senior executive with 14 years’ experience in the South African health and insurance industries. Having worked in established multinational corporates, and more recently in his own ventures, he has developed a deep understanding of these industries– including digital innovation, funding, insurance risk design and modelling, wellness programmes and rewards platforms.
In 2013, he co-founded his first digital health venture, called Folup. In 2015, he launched Care Delivery, a digital platform which helps patients connect to healthcare providers for home- and work-based care. In 2017, he led the merger of his company with another to form HealthCloud, a platform that consolidates and standardises data from multiple sources, allowing partners to access more complete health records using sophisticated API layers.
He is also an accomplished speaker and panellist having presented at numerous healthcare conferences and events, in SA and abroad, including: AfricaCom, Tech4Africa, The Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), Longevity Healthy Ageing Congress and eHealth Toulouse (France).
Simon is the current CEO of HealthCloud (https://www.healthcloudsa.com/)
based in Johannesburg, South Africa.