The digital revolution has reached all industries, albeit at different speeds. While certain sectors have embraced technology, using it to expedite and ease operations, others are lagging behind. Despite the injection of absurd amounts of money into the healthcare IT industry, progress has been, forgive the pun, painfully slow.

Technology will be helpful, however, if it is correctly applied and disseminated throughout the healthcare industry. Patient care could be transformed, especially given the amount of money that has been, and will continue to be injected into healthcare IT.

Technology
Courtest of Unsplash/Jonathan Velasquez

Enhancing the Patient Experience

New mobile, cloud, social, and sensor technologies are ripe for the picking, but hospitals need to have the right infrastructure in place before adopting these tools, according to Information Age. Universal adoption of healthcare IT tools is a little easier across the pond – in spite of other service deliery and workforce challenges, the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K. is able to make decisions and roll out changes across the board.

The NHS is considering using technology to monitor patients with chronic illnesses, and may integrate high-tech clothing and gadgets into health routines, according to The Telegraph. In addition to revamping communication tools for patients, wearable technology and other gadgets may be incorporated into patient programs.

“The proposals announced today are a major step forward in using technology, data and information to transform the delivery of England’s health and social care services,” said Andy Williams the Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

Information Age noted that the existing IT infrastructure must be optimized in order to take advantage of new technology. Since patients generate loads of data on their smartphones, the healthcare system must integrate analytics solutions that utilize this information. Even simply promoting awareness of health issues, using social media, could be significant for patient health outcomes.

Social Media and Medicine

Social media could serve as a type of therapy for patients, according to Information Age. A Cognizant study found that engagement rates vary for each disease – breast cancer patients are 12 times more engaged than diabetes patients – but analysis of the information could be helpful for tracking data and creating treatment regimens.

The “droves of patients” who are taking to Twitter and other social-media platforms to learn about and share diabetes experiences may be more than just a fad, according to MedScape.  At the Diabetes UK Professional Conference, Dr. Partha Kar, clinical director of diabetes, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, United Kingdom, told attendees that the social media platforms give doctors a chance to learn from patients.

“We can listen and learn, hear the patients’ frustrations – it’s up to us to embrace this and see what can be used to help patients,” said Dr. Kar. Not only could patients give doctors information about common habits, problems and concerns, but also patients can learn from each other.

Like something that’s needed in actual medicine, social media can also offer support to patients. By engaging with a large, online community, people can see that they are not alone. Connecting with fellow patients is one way for someone to build an emotional support group, which could help to provide aspects of care that “are undervalued in the healthcare community,” according to Roz Davies, MD, who also spoke at the conference.

Diabetes patients can connect with their doctors, nurses, care coordinators, fellow patients, and a multitude of internet personalities. Kerri Spalding, diagnosed with diabetes at age 7, runs a blog, which she started all the way back in 2005, according to NPR. Though some doctors have argued that online communities aren’t helpful, and may provide misinformation, Spalding, and others like her have defended their fellow community members.

“If we see someone swooping in with their chocolate shake that cures Type 1 diabetes, there’s going to be a voice raised saying, ‘Wait, wait, wait, that’s not true! Or, ‘Don’t come in and spam our community.’ We protect ourselves in that way,” she told NPR.

The impact of technology on chronic diseases, and the patients who suffer from these illnesses, has yet to fully be measured. However, the sky, or rather the cloud, is the limit.