The ‘care’ in healthcare: the role of digital medicine

What is the purpose of digital medicine? This question has been debated for quite some time now and was the focus of June’s Financial Times Digital Health Summit Europe. The presenters came from a wide range of backgrounds, with startup founders sharing the microphone with Big Pharma, investors, clinicians and even a Director of Brand Solutions at Google.

From this myriad of perspectives, two topics dominated:

  1. How to make medical care more accessible
  2. How to make medical care more efficient

Access to healthcare

Sarah Haywood of MedCity News highlighted the importance of prioritizing the quality of medical care during a panel on interoperability within the UK healthcare system. Haywood stated, “There’s a difference between provision of healthcare and the provision of care.”

In order for the aforementioned provision of care to be possible, those who truly need access to and support from the healthcare system should not have to worry about their ability to engage with it. These factors of access and support are currently troublesome in the UK, with the healthcare system experiencing a significant amount of financial stress.

Thus, in order for quality of care to be maintained, the following must occur:

  1. We need to allot additional funding towards the NHS.
  2. We need to reduce the number of patients needing professional medical care.

The first topic may be difficult to address immediately. However, the second is something that digital medicine has already begun to work towards.

Self-care with digital medicine

Digital medicine serves as a way to empower individuals to care for themselves. Smartphone apps allow individuals to access healthcare information without immediately having to seek out in-person care.

This reduces pressure on the healthcare system and also allows individuals to take charge of their own health. From this structure, a more sustainable healthcare system will develop.

A user-focused approach

Digital medicine is first and foremost centered around the user and their experience. It enables individuals to receive the information they specifically need at the appropriate point and time.

However, rather than relying on external support, users are able to educate and care for themselves through the tools of digital medicine.

Benefitting the healthcare system

Beyond benefitting the individual, how does this system benefit the healthcare system as a whole? If individuals are able to care for certain conditions on their own, then others will be able to engage with the healthcare system when they truly need to. Both access to care and quality of care will inevitably improve.

This is not to say that digital medicine must exist separately from face-to-face therapy. Rather, it can work as an adjunct to face-to-face therapy. For example, say a physician has a patient who requires specific information on sleep. If this physician does not have specialist training, with the support of digital medicine, they would be able to direct said patient to a resource such as Sleepio. Thus, the patient is able to receive clinically-based advice on their own.

Digital medicine empowers individuals and simultaneously creates a healthcare system that is sustainable and patient-focused — a healthcare system that prioritizes the ‘care’ in healthcare.