Consumerisation of healthcare

How the latest consumer technology can improve overall health and lower costs. By Gary Birks, director of healthcare at Dell UK

In this article, Gary Birks, director of healthcare at Dell UK looks at the advancements in healthcare as a result of big data analytics capabilities and wearable technologies

Widely described as the next frontier in consumer tech, wearable technology is already used by eight million people in the UK and many of these gadgets are health-related devices such as heartrate and activity monitors

Healthcare across the world has never been better. But there is always more we can do to improve our health.

Thankfully in this digital age that doesn’t mean more trips to the doctor. In fact, if current trends continue, it could mean a lot less hospital time. What we are seeing is the development of consumer technology that makes healthcare better and our lives healthier.

A data revolution

Healthcare consumers suffer from a lack of information. The average person will, until recently, have had virtually no data about their health until an issue arose. Even then, tracking was often limited to a basic level of information about a specific concern.

The democratisation of data makes healthcare a very-exciting industry right now. You only have to look at how much data is wasted in our day-to-day lives to see how healthcare can be made more effective. Each time you step on the scales or take your blood pressure, there is data that could be used to help build a rounded picture of your health. Into the frame steps a wide range of apps that can reference all that data with a series of risk factors, offering an unprecedented ability to identify and prevent individual health issues. As well as offering digital diagnostics, these apps can be used to optimise your lifestyle and help avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital.

Health of a nation

This technology can transform consumers into a doctor’s biggest source of value. Empowering patients to lead change is a vital part of healthcare that studies have found can increase treatment efficiency by up to 15%.

Interactive robots with the capacity to listen and speak are being designed to act both as health coaches and enable patients to stay in touch with their doctor

According to research, there are currently over 90,000 mobile health apps available. The growing number of apps can allow you to see a doctor immediately and, in some cases, even prescribe medication without the need to leave your home. This technology tackles travel costs, lowers risks of cross-contamination and improves waiting times.

The best healthcare systems around the world are starting to invest heavily in this technology. Israel, for example, has integrated technical expertise into its primary care system, creating a powerful enabler to avoid patients bouncing in and out of hospital. A sign of changing times, more than half of doctors’ consultations with children (57%) are now by smartphone. So, although Israel has one of the lowest shares of GDP spent on healthcare (7.2%), it has an average life expectancy of 83 years.

Wear your heart on your sleeve

Widely described as the next frontier in consumer tech, wearable technology is already used by eight million people in the UK and many of these gadgets are health-related devices such as heartrate and activity monitors.

Simple products such as personalised miniature sound amplifiers can improve our hearing, while headphones inside a headband can coach us into a better sleep pattern. Technology companies are now building on the success of external sensors to provide ingestible sensors that run on the electrical charge produced by the human body. Bringing a whole new dimension to wearable technology, these ‘smart pills’ can provide previously untapped data from within the body and help doctors gain a deeper level of understanding about a patient’s condition.

Providing a longer, better life

Over the next five to 10 years, expect wearables, apps and digital diagnostics to become commonplace in the relationship between you and your healthcare provider

Another key development is the growing number of technologies aimed at providing support as we get older. Over half of all care costs are spent on people over 65. And that’s compounded by a rising population. This is undoubtedly one of our biggest challenges. Fortunately we are now seeing greater collaboration among scientists, doctors and engineers to meet the demands of a changing demographic.

Smart-home sensors can provide a bridge between older patients and their caregivers and spot tell-tale signs of physical and cognitive decline. By monitoring daily behaviour patterns, the sensors can detect warning signs and avoid acute episodes. This makes it easier for clinicians to manage long-term conditions and make better-informed decisions based on long-term trends.

In addition, there are a variety of efforts from the robotics community to provide everything from cognitive support to companionship. Interactive robots with the capacity to listen and speak are being designed to act both as health coaches and enable patients to stay in touch with their doctor. Robots are also great for helping with behaviour and can provide a meaningful and frequent dose of social engagement which has been shown to delay the cognitive effects of ageing.

Technology advances are also enabling even-more-sophisticated measurement of illnesses themselves. Currently in development are ‘health-bots’, which will be able to provide early warning signs about potentially-risky diseases. Using data collected from human genome testing, technologies are now being developed which can develop vaccines or antibiotics to prevent the spread of potentially-harmful pathogens before they have time to go global.

The future’s bright

The rise of healthcare tech is fundamentally changing the way we manage our health. Over the next five to 10 years, expect wearables, apps and digital diagnostics to become commonplace in the relationship between you and your healthcare provider. Over the next 20, look out for technologies such as health-bots, drone assistants and, eventually, fully-functioning robot caregivers. Overall, the innovation, speed and flair of the consumer technology industry is giving rise to greater collective insight about our health. And, with the help of connected technologies, we can look forward to more accessible, lower-cost and ultimately-better quality healthcare.

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