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Digital Health Platforms: Bridging Gaps in Care Delivery

Written By: Dr David Owens, Specialist in Family Medicine

In the healthcare sector, the emergence and integration of digital health platforms creates a major opportunity to make healthcare more accessible, efficient, and patient centred. Through the utilisation of technology these innovative platforms are bridging the gaps in care delivery, thereby offering promising solutions to the long-standing challenges which have plagued the healthcare sector. This article is focused on the quantitative impact of digital health platforms, underpinned by data and real-life examples.

Digital Health Platforms

Digital health platforms, integrating telehealth, remote monitoring, mobile health apps, and electronic health records, are transforming healthcare communication, monitoring, and information access. These platforms enhance care delivery and meet increasing patient demands more effectively. They are critical in driving a shift towards an interconnected healthcare model. As an example a study1 published in Health Affairs showed that telehealth services could effectively manage some patients remotely leading to a 15% reduction in emergency room visits. 

Evolution of Telehealth

Telehealth has undergone a significant evolution. Its expansion accelerated rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic which acted as a catalyst for its assimilation into mainstream healthcare. An analytical piece by McKinsey2 showed that the utilisation of telehealth has increased 38-fold compared to pre-pandemic levels. Further research3 also suggests that China will achieve a 74% adoption rate for telemedicine by 2024. This surge in adoption can be attributed to a marked increase in the willingness among both consumers and healthcare providers to engage with telehealth services, facilitated by regulatory amendments that have broadened access and improved reimbursement frameworks. This shift has not only provided an essential conduit for care during the pandemic but has also established the groundwork for the innovation of virtual and hybrid care models. These models are aimed at enhancing accessibility, outcomes, and cost-efficiency of healthcare intervention. They are driving a new era in the delivery of medical services.

Case Study:

The Technology Integrated Health Management (TIHM)

The Technology Integrated Health Management (TIHM) for dementia initiative illustrates the role digital health platforms can play in managing complex conditions such as dementia. Utilising Internet of Things (IoT) technology,  TIHM remotely monitored over 400 participants4 including 204 dementia patients and their caregivers, through a suite of interconnected devices like vital signs monitors, home environmental sensors, and external GPS trackers. This IoT-based approach, enhanced by advanced data analytics and machine learning, facilitated immediate health issue detection and intervention.

The outcomes of TIHM have been impactful, demonstrating a significant decrease in dementia-related neuropsychiatric symptoms among those in technology-enabled homes. Specifically, there was a substantial reduction in depression, agitation, anxiety, and irritability, markedly improving patient quality of life and easing caregiver burden. Additionally, the development of algorithms for early detection of urinary tract infections and behavioural disturbances highlights the efficacy of machine learning in healthcare. Caregiver feedback praised the system for the reassurance it provided, with a majority likely to recommend TIHM. This initiative is an interesting example of how digital health technologies can revolutionise care for dementia, showcasing significant quantitative benefits and the potential for broader application in healthcare.

Technological Foundations

Digital health platforms, leveraging IoT, cloud computing, and AI, significantly enhance patient health management through real-time data analysis. In my opinion, as wearable technology increases in both accuracy and adoption the vast amount of data gathered, coupled with intelligent analysis, will inevitably offer more substantial health benefits. Many of these benefits will be system based allowing earlier intervention and supporting personalised care.

Barriers and Enablers

There are still 1.1 billion people in South Asia5 not using mobile internet, in contrast to 21 million in North America. Furthermore, research shows that older individuals, particularly those from lower income and educational backgrounds, face significant challenges6 in accessing broadband and digital healthcare resources.

The World Health Organization's Global Strategy on Digital Health for 2020-20257 suggests several interventions aimed at reducing barriers to the widespread adoption of digital health platforms. This strategy emphasises the need to integrate a variety of resources — spanning financial, organisational, human, and technological domains — to optimise the deployment of digital health initiatives. It underscores the need for policy reform, technological progression, and the enhancement of digital literacy as pivotal enablers needed to amplify the acceptance and implementation of digital health platforms. These measures are directed towards improving global health and wellbeing, The WHO envisages a future in which digital health platforms play a central role in healthcare delivery.

Digital health platforms are transforming healthcare, increasing efficiency and facilitating patient-centred care. Evidence supports their effectiveness. As technology evolves, integrating digital solutions into healthcare is likely to improve both outcomes and patient experience.

References

  1. Nakamoto, C.H. et al. (2024) ‘The impact of telemedicine on utilization, spending, and quality, 2019–22’, Health Affairs [Preprint]. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2023.01142.
  2. Bestsennyy, O. et al. (2021) Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-covid-19 reality?, McKinsey & Company. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality (Accessed: 15 March 2024).
  3. von Kameke, L. (2023) APAC: Telehealth Adoption Rate by country 2024, Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1294089/apac-telehealth-adoption-rate-by-country/ (Accessed: 15 March 2024).
  4. Palermo, F. et al. (2023) ‘TIHM: An open dataset for remote healthcare monitoring in Dementia’, Scientific Data, 10(1). doi:10.1038/s41597-023-02519-y.
  5. Jeffrie, N. (2023) The state of mobile internet connectivity in South Asia, GSMA. Available at: https://www.gsma.com/solutions-and-impact/connectivity-for-good/mobile-for-development/region/south-asia/the-state-of-mobile-internet-connectivity-in-south-asia/ (Accessed: 15 March 2024).  
  6.  Bertolazzi, A., Quaglia, V. and Bongelli, R. (2024) ‘Barriers and facilitators to health technology adoption by older adults with chronic diseases: An integrative systematic review’, BMC Public Health, 24(1). doi:10.1186/s12889-024-18036-5.
  7.  World Health Organization. (‎2021)‎. Global strategy on digital health 2020-2025. World Health Organization. Available at: https://iris.who.int/handle/10665/344249. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO (Accessed: 15 March 2024).

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