By Brooke Faulkner, a writer in the Pacific Northwest; @faulknercreek.
Healthcare is in a constant state of updating. From new technologies to the latest scientific research, nothing stays the same for long. If it does, there’s almost certainly someone, somewhere, attempting to find a better way.
Right now, though, more than just the medicine is changing. The way we interact with our doctors and the way our doctors interact with each other is redefining what patient care looks like. Slowly but surely, the communication and management of healthcare data is joining the rest of us in the 21st century and going digital. Doctors are available on demand, medical records can be accessed without waiting for a courier, and the amount of information available to the public is growing by the second.
It’s not all so optimistic, though. Concerns about privacy exist in tandem with the benefits of increased access, and medical facilities can be vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks. Whether you’re considering public health on a global scale or just going to the doctor for a yearly wellness check, digital health data is changing the way we see medical care.
Public Health Opportunities
Increased connectivity in the medical world makes more data available to more people. It’s easier than ever to track disease outbreaks, compare national statistics, and identify trends in global health. In the United States, the field of public health research is expected to spend more than $3.7 trillion in 2018 alone.
We have fewer communicable disease epidemics now than at any time in recorded history. Diagnosis and treatment protocols are more sophisticated, but more often than not, we don’t have to worry about smallpox, measles, or rubella thanks to vaccinations. Instead, many of the health concerns facing Americans are preventable, non-communicable diseases borne of unhealthy lifestyles. In 2017, more than 36 percent of the adult population was obese and 9.4 percent had type II diabetes.
With the data recorded by fitness trackers, electronic food diaries, and other health-focused devices, public health researchers can paint a clearer picture of the lifestyle choices that lead to illness. Public health campaigns can become more targeted and an emphasis placed on follow up and plan adherence through personal technology. By crunching the numbers generated from various populations, researchers can compare and contrast differences among nationalities, noting genetic trends and trying to tease out nature from nurture.