One of the most transformative abilities of digital health, however, is its predictive ability. As was discussed during the webinar, the question asked of every patient as they enter the doctor’s office is: ‘How are you?’ But really, what is more appropriate to ask is: ‘How have you been? How are you now? And what is the difference?’
Collection of data through wearables and digital apps before a physician–patient encounter would provide the doctor with a wealth of information, allowing them to understand the person in front of them beyond the 10 minutes allowed in the consultation. In the words attributed to Hippocrates, ‘It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.’
The bigger picture: digital health as an enabler of better, more equitable care
Defining ‘better’ may seem contentious, but six key aims for healthcare defined over 20 years ago remain equally relevant today. Healthcare should be: safe, effective, patient-centred, timely, efficient and equitable. Rising socioeconomic inequalities have been a long-standing concern, but political and societal awareness of them has been heightened by the pandemic. Digital health can, in many ways, help improve access to care for those who may have previously faced barriers. In mental health, for example, digital platforms are well accepted by adolescents and young adults who may hesitate to seek care in person.
But there is the possibility that increasing need to rely on digital tools in healthcare may exacerbate existing inequalities. It is sobering to remember that fewer than one in five people aged 65 and over owns a smartphone, and people who already face socioeconomic deprivation are most likely to be digitally excluded.