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Digital Health 2021

How digital health is making science fiction a reality

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Dean Russell

Member of Parliament for Watford and Chair of Digital Health APPG

Advances in technology have revolutionised what we know about the human body and our ability to improve and save lives. Now digital health is set to accelerate progress further.

We are on the verge of further giant leaps in our ability to prevent illness and cure the human body, with the rise of digital health. In the world around us, what may once have been science fiction is fast becoming science fact

Shifting focus from cure to prevention

One of the most notable benefits of many modern consumer-facing digital health devices is the shift from cure to prevention. The past two centuries of innovation have placed treatment at the centre of most healthcare innovations. Yet, with digital health in the public arena, there are incredible opportunities to put prevention at the centre of 21st-century healthcare.

At the heart of this is the collection of evermore health data, yet this does not come without its challenges. As the devices grow in number, so do the ethical and societal challenges around what data is collected and shared from individuals.

We are on the verge of further giant leaps in our ability to prevent illness and cure the human body.

Hesitation around sharing data

As a simple example, imagine collecting health data from every individual taking a particular drug; this could help form an ongoing living clinical trial. Yet, sadly, data is often a dirty word when discussing health. The general public may already be oversharing every detail of their lives via social media and Google, but it is still a big ask for them to share their personal and private health data, even if the request is for the greater good of curing cancer or dementia.

The fear of sharing too much information with any government is a perennial issue. Still, it will be hard for the health industry to reach digital health’s full benefits without the right safeguards, security, and legal protections. In the public health arena, a move towards a single patient view for data could transform health outcomes for individuals. It could also increase efficiencies across the NHS and social care.

A future with predicted health outcomes

By ensuring we lay the safety, privacy and security foundations now, in the future we may reach a point where a doctor uses AI to predict health outcomes for a patient based upon the patient’s records and live data feeds from their digital health devices.

With the rise of digital health, it isn’t too far-fetched to assume doctors may shift from prescribing tablets for patients to swallow, to increasingly prescribing patients to download health apps instead. Whatever the predictions we make for revolutionising healthcare in the future, their success lies firmly in the decisions we make in the present.

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