Over the past year, with Covid-19 shutdowns keeping people home and out of their doctors’ offices, technology has taken an even more important role in healthcare. From virtual doctor appointments to navigating patient portals, now more than ever, patients need to understand how technology can benefit their health. Each month, Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) will round up some of the most notable digital health news pertinent to empowered patients and their caregivers.
So, what exactly is digital health? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at fda.gov, digital health includes a broad list of categories, such as health information technology, wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine. The influence of digital technology in healthcare is almost infinite and is revolutionizing the healthcare industry, improving the ability to diagnose and treat disease and to improve the way healthcare is delivered to each individual. In addition, digital tools help to empower patients by giving them more control over their health. Patients can use digital technologies to make more-informed decisions and manage their healthcare. Providers use digital health to make healthcare more affordable, more personal, more efficient, and higher quality. The coming together of technology, patients, providers, information, and connectivity lead to overall improvements in healthcare and better health outcomes. Find more information about digital health and how the FDA is focusing on it here.
How Will Technology Influence Healthcare in 2021?
You may be wondering where you are most likely to see technological influence in your healthcare in 2021. There are several areas. Artificial Intelligence (AI) saw a lot of advancements in 2020, and it is expected to be further used to advance healthcare in 2021, says medcitynews.com. In the oncology field, technology advances are changing the way disease is being diagnosed through pathology, which traditionally is a manual process. In 2021, the trend is moving more and more toward digital pathology, which saves times and labor costs. AI advancements are also being used in areas of triage, diagnosis, and analysis. Digital technology can be used to collect and share patient data from a variety of sources so that doctors can determine the best diagnosis and treatment.
Technology is also expected to continue to expand patient access to medical care through telehealth, increasing personalization of care, quality control, and screening protocols. Get more information about the ways AI is predicted to advance healthcare in 2021 here.
Another area that continues to be widely used in healthcare is Virtual Reality (VR), technology that simulates an experience, according to a recently updated article by news-medical.net. Medical training is one of the most prevalent ways VR is used in healthcare. Students can learn how to manage any type of medical situation through VR simulation giving instructors the opportunity to see how the student would respond in real life. VR is also used to simulate surgeries and give medical professionals visual access to the inside of the human body, without having to dissect cadavers. In some cases, VR training is believed to be superior to more conventional forms of medical training. Learn how VR is being used to treat mental health and addiction, manage pain, shorten physical therapy recovery times, and educate patients here.
Patient Access to Care
One of the most important aspects of digital healthcare is access. Patient portals are being used more and more, but not all patients have access to them, reports healthcareitnews.com. A study involving kidney patients found that many patients aren’t actively engaged in their care and that interventions are needed to make sure all patients have access to patient tools. Patient portals provide access to personal records and educational resources, but studies show that black patients, older patients, and patients who use Medicaid as their primary insurance were not as likely to use patient portals as white patients, younger patients, and patients with other types of insurance. Researchers found that patients who used the portals had more knowledge and better health status, and that they had less disease-related stress. While the use of portals is promoted by health systems, they may actually be widening health disparities for patients who aren’t using or don’t have access to the portals. The study suggests that more effort needs to be made to ensure that all patients have access to the digital tools that can help improve their patient outcomes. Learn more here.
Recognizing that technology is advancing care for many, but that it can also further expand the digital divide, a new group to address the disparities in access to healthcare has been launched, reports healthcareitnews.com. The Telehealth Equity Commission, made up of groups who attended the American Telemedicine Association’s EDGE policy conference, plans to use a data-driven approach to help improve telehealth policy. Learn more here.
One thing is certain: digital technology is here to stay, and its influence on patient health is expanding. To ensure that you have access to all the latest digital healthcare, become a Digitally Empowered patient through Patient Empowerment Network’s free Digitally Empowered™ Course. The course will help you to become more tech-savvy so you can research your condition, ask informed questions, and take an active role in shared decision making with your care team. Access the course here.
Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.