By Amit Srivastav
Imagine being cured of recurring migraines by personalized genome-based prescriptions. Or, being reminded by your connected watch to limit your portions at meal times to keep diabetes at bay. Imagine being able to stay calm during a medical emergency and simply arrive at the closest hospital, without frantically putting together your medical history first. And imagine all this becoming widely accessible, affordable and routine.
Futuristic sounding scenarios such as these are beginning to turn true in the healthcare landscape. This is because of the transformations digital technologies are ushering in. Driven by intuitive products and networked systems, these changes are infusing healthcare with a sense of immediacy, agency and personal touch that patients have always demanded.
EHRs: Enabling anytime access to patients’ full medical history
Take, for instance, the growth of electronic health records. Primed to capture a patient’s health history electronically, the EHR makes it possible for authorized providers—across practices and health organizations—to have instant, up-to-date access to a patient’s health information.
Containing a patient’s diagnoses and prescriptions, immunization charts and treatment plans, EHRs not only ensure that providers have a full 360-degree view of a patient. But also, that patients irrespective of when or where they choose to go, can do so knowing they are in safe hands.
Expert care by Big Data
The EHR is illustrative of how digital transformation is changing the healthcare industry. Medical history, which forms the basis for any treatment—that has so far required patients to be in charge of its collation and safe-keeping—is now increasingly the provider’s asset as well as responsibility. Further, providers need no longer function in isolation. Instead, they can use the EHR’s iterative nature to leverage each other’s combined and cumulative expertise. This ensures patients are provided the best diagnosis and treatment each time they seek medical guidance.
But the EHR also represents a bigger shift that is being enabled by digital technology. This is the opportunity of using data collected for systematic profiling—facilitating more accurate prediction and prescription strategies. Take for instance seasonal flu. Based on the study of diverse information collected from individuals and groups, health data analysts can now predict the onset of symptoms at specific times of the year. They can also then provide specific pointers on how to effectively prevent or contain the infection and expedite recovery.
Personalized profiling, personalized treatment
Drilling this down further, such predictions can get highly personalized and more effective. How? By leveraging the continuous stream of data that connected wearables bring. The volume and miniature nature of data that these devices relay play an important role in helping providers get a detailed, comprehensive picture of an individual’s health at any time with which they can deliver customized prevention advisories and treatment plans.
Wearables promote self-care and more accurate diagnoses
Wearable devices also help individuals take better care of themselves. They can prompt or remind an otherwise active 35-year-old, with a family history of high BP, to watch out for high salt content in restaurant food because of his or her latest BP reading.
They can ensure that when an elderly patient with chronic bronchitis walks into a neighborhood clinic for a random check-up, providers have his latest heart rate data at hand to compare to a current clinical examination. As a result, the elderly patient is assured of receiving a more accurate diagnosis, highly personalized treatment, and most importantly speedy recovery.
Encouraged by their successful uptake so far in the personal customer space, wearables are projected to enter workplaces as well. Here they will monitor an individual’s health throughout the workday to improve health outcomes and gradually also, organizational productivity.
Genome-based testing for improved health outcomes
If the prospect of innocuous wearables playing a leading role in improving health is not dramatic enough, there is also the incredulous possibility of genome-based personalized testing taking off. Trends suggest that whole-genome sequencing and high-res imaging technologies will see adoption.
A highly publicized example includes Hollywood actress and former UNHCR ambassador, Angelina Jolie. The actress made an unusual decision in 2013 to undergo a double mastectomy following tests that found she carried the BRCA1 cancer gene. Her mother, who had died from cancer, had also carried the same defective gene.
This kind of gene-based testing is expected to help patients prevent the onset of diseases towards which they demonstrate a genetic proclivity, and also facilitate treatment that is truly customized and tailor made to their distinct health profiles.
Although the idea of machines or devices playing a beneficial role in enhancing human lives is no longer novel, the current transformations occurring in the healthcare industry due to digital adoption are proving that technology, when put to judicious use, can truly enrich, enable and possibly extend healthier lives.