Technology is increasingly being used worldwide for everything from ordering dinner, to booking a vacation, constructing homes and saving lives. In health and social care, what some have labeled as an “unprecedented super-convergence” has arrived. Everyone has a smartphone, hospitals are connected, and you have a heart murmur? There’s both an app and a wearable for that.
These advancements are strong. Coupled with healthcare apps, wearables, remote healthcare, 5G connectivity, and smart hospitals, these changes are reconstructing the landscape in a health-focused digital transformation that can be difficult to ignore.
What is TEC?
Technology enabled healthcare, or TEC, is a collective term applied to the areas of telehealth, telecare, telemedicine, mHealth, eHealth, and digital health services. The overall goal of TEC is multifaceted. The system seeks to improve individuals’ abilities to manage their own health and wellbeing and gain more control. The concept aims to provide people with better support by alerting healthcare professionals to changes in a patient’s condition, while improving the delivery, safety, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency of healthcare.
Today’s patients enjoy staying informed and are eager to take in information from a variety of sources. Through TEC, physicians can better track associations between chronic health conditions and thereby provide better personalized treatment plans built around patient-specific profiles.
Why are digital apps so popular? Because there is a huge market for them. Smartphone penetration in the US has reached over 294 million users. This means that 95% of adults in the US aged 18-49 owned smartphones in 2021. Smartphone usage is almost equally high in other places globally, including the UK and Canada.
With an aging population and a global increase in chronic health conditions that is expected to keep on rising, using apps to help treat patients and extend their lifespans makes sense.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018 over 27% of adults in the US were living with, not just one, but multiple chronic conditions. In Canada and the UK numbers are also high. Healthcare is an $11.9 billion market.
A wellness or healthcare app is one that helps diagnose, treat, and track disease. Generis, for example, is a leading healthcare app that helps users better understand their genetics. This app helps people eat, exercise, and live in accordance with best practices for their body. The app helps you learn what foods to avoid and type of exercises to do, according to your genes.
Teladoc is another industry leader that connects users with board certified doctors and therapists to reach medical care that includes prescribed medications from a pharmacy of their choice.
The healthcare app market is projected to reach $102.43 billion at the end of 2022 and grow to $639.4 billion by 2028, presenting a wealth of opportunities.
In addition to using apps, people are increasingly focused on preventive healthcare they can approach and tackle on their own through wearables. Health-focused wearables are providing the market with access to unprecedented levels of tracking data, training resources, advice, networking abilities, and monitoring.
How successful is this sector? Potentially very. According to Huawei’s deputy chairman, Ken Hu, the company has been working in collaboration with 80 hospitals in China since 2018 on what is described as the world’s largest heart-health research project. Through this study, the use of wearables and apps has resulted in over 10,000 people being screened for possible atrial fibrillation (AF), and over 4,400 being diagnosed with the condition with an accuracy rate of 94%.
These developments are also providing the insurance industry with ways to identify patients’ risks for disease. Once data is collected and analyzed, insurance companies can provide users with incentives to lower their premiums.
Some sources estimate the wearable device market will surpass $27 million by 2023, which is a huge leap from its position at $8 million in 2017.
Some of the most popular wearables on the market include:
- Exercise/fitness trackers
- Heart rate monitors
- Sweat meters
According to Ernst & Young, up to 54% of patients in the US living with chronic diseases now say they do or would use remote healthcare services. These are services that allow patients to consult with a certified doctor over the phone or via a video call conducted over the internet.
This allows people living in underserved areas to access more healthcare, democratizing the system. In addition, it presents the potential for the healthcare industry to save billions. Research shows up to 30% of hospital visits in many areas are from patients who live with chronic conditions, costing $8.3 billion annually. Being able to access remote healthcare can free up emergency rooms to better address severe emergencies, lowering costs.
5G-powered remote connectivity for better emergency response
Sometimes there are just seconds to save a life. With 5G remote technology doctors can be equipped with VR glasses to “see” inside an ambulance as it heads towards the hospital. Real-time data on a patient’s vital signs, including their ECG, blood pressure, ultrasound image, heart rate, temperature, and oxygen saturation, is sent to a large screen the doctor can view. Guidance can then be given to paramedics and the patient can be admitted immediately upon arrival without the need for a second assessment. According to Huawei, this type of service already exists in China.
Smart hospital management
Finally, smart hospital management allows the operations and resources of a hospital to be viewed on one connected digital platform. This includes patient flow, bed occupancy, medical device use, and staff workloads. In this way, decisions can be made using all data available, and analyses can be made regarding healthcare system performance and hospital outcomes.
There’s no doubt that digital technology is transforming health and social care in new ways every day. What we are seeing now is just the beginning. From the potential to save lives, better them, and save industries billions of dollars, health and social tech present huge advantageous potential.