"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." --Betty Friedan
There are more than 3 billion internet users in the world today. In the UK 80% of adults have broadband connection, 61% use a mobile handset to access the internet, 72% of online adults use social networking and 66% of adults use a smartphone. There has been an increase in those aged 65+ ever going online (42% vs. 33% in 2012) and tablet use by 65-74s has trebled; from 5% to 17%. Almost all of those aged 55+ who don't have access to the internet at home (20% for 55-64s, 37% for 65-74s and 65% for over-75s) do not intend to get it in the next 12 months (15%, 30% and 59% respectively). The bottom-line therefore is that overall there has been a widespread uptake of the internet, mobile and social networking mainly amongst the younger population, but there have been significant gains in the elderly population, previously thought to be internet naive.
This has laid the foundation of the digital health revolution. The social network revolution has enabled people to reach beyond their conventional groups and world, people whom we may not know and may never meet but can build safe, effective networks and communities and share experiences and practises with.
Mobile technology and the internet revolution have dramatically changed the ways in which people communicate and access information. This has also liberated mankind from the confines of geography and space. Today an internet-enabled mobile device is one of the bare essentials that we carry with us along with our house keys.
This has given rise to the e-patient, who is able to gather information about his condition and is empowered to self-care responsibly. The e-Patient has driven a change in the doctor/patient relationship, which was once driven by paternalism, to one of collaboration.
Digital health has emancipated information from the confines of consultation and difficult to maintain and transfer records to more dynamic forms like self-tracking devices to sensors capturing various biometric data which can be transferred using cloud services to the healthcare professionals’ office and may help avoid potentially unnecessary visits to clincs and hospitals. All the health data can be entered into Electronic Health Records which can be shared with ease to facilitate continuity of care. Telemedicine, either by video, audio or text methods can facilitate a two-way communication system between the client and the provider avoiding unnecessary visits. Given the ubiquitous use and change in behaviour of the population, the question is not of whether; rather it is how we can use technology to effect change that will be efficacious, safe and cost effective.
Currently one of the biggest priority for NHS is community-based care of the elderly, who consume 70% of the NHS budget. Elderly people generally are extremely wary of their loss of independence and digital healthcare will empower them to self-mange more effectively and conveniently.. Additionally the digital healthcare has potential to be more cost effective for the NHS as compared with the current conventional model of heathcare system.
Digital healthcare will enable resources to be diverted to more needy areas. However, for people who are not able to access digital healthcare for any reason, a robust traditional health delivery backup has to be present.
Any new system is generally subject to enhanced scrutiny and for digital healthcare - effective, efficient and safe healthcare delivery will be key criteria for success.