In the field of Digital Health (healthcare delivered using digital technologies), there is an increasing focus on understanding what features and functionality patients want in tools used to capture and share their health data.
As the amount of data available through EHRs grows, so too does the demand for new methods of analysis and visualisation. While there are existing tools that enable healthcare professionals to investigate trends and patient-specific data, there is a recognised gap in the tools available to consumers. This is where patient engagement comes in.
Why should patients be engaged in Digital Health?
The vast majority of patients already use smartphones to interact with the world around them – from making phone calls to sending texts and checking emails. This trend shows no signs of slowing down, with 83% of Americans having used a mobile device to access the internet in 2019.
If we can harness this existing engagement with smartphones and make them capable of being more than just communication tools, we have the opportunity to greatly improve the experience of patients and the field of Digital Health. Below we outline six key areas that are leading the way and setting the precedent for future functionality in this emerging field.
1. Personalised feedback
According to Fitbit, patients want to see personalised feedback that is easy to understand and that provides actionable insights. This is also reflected in the type of functionality that these tools should possess.
For example, many patients find it difficult to understand why they are not reaching their targets or what adjustments they need to make in order to do so. With the right training and support, healthcare professionals are in a position to help patients understand their results and how they can use this to adjust their behaviour.
2. Interactive charts and graphs
Healthcare professionals are frequently required to interpret complex results sets when providing patients with an understanding of their overall health status. Visualisation tools that are capable of presenting this information in interactive charts and graphs are proving extremely popular with patients and are a good example of the functionality that consumers want.
One of the leading platforms in this regard is Dashboard 1, which provides graphical visualisation of key indicators ranging from blood pressure to weight and allows users to easily compare their results against goals and targets.
3. Integrated with social media platforms
With many people already using social media platforms like Facebook to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances, it is clear that integrating these tools into healthcare tools is something that patients want to see.
Integration with social media platforms allows patients to easily share their health data with their audience and engage with others in conversation about similar experiences and findings. While there are existing tools that enable healthcare professionals to reach out and touch base with patients, there is a demand for patient-facing social media platforms that can be used to actively engage with their audience and stay in touch with families and friends.
4. Secure file sharing
In addition to interactive charts and graphs, patients want to see secure file sharing built into their digital health tools. This enables them to safely store and send documents and other types of files to healthcare professionals and researchers without worrying about their security.
The sharing of personal health information is not a new phenomenon. However, as healthcare data becomes more and more accessible, there is a growing demand for secure means of sharing in order to prevent any possible breaches.
5. Data access
Another essential aspect of any good digital health app is the ability to access a patient’s data. Not only does this allow healthcare professionals to have a complete picture of a patient’s health status, but it also provides patients with the ability to track and log their activity, food and sleep habits and share these with their healthcare providers.
This level of data access should not be hindered by any security concerns and should be granted to all patients regardless of whether they are using a free app or a paid subscription service. There are multiple studies that have shown how much information can be gleaned from the analysis of a patient’s food intake and activity levels, and many healthcare providers are now offering patients these types of insights into their overall health status.
Even the most basic of medical tests have the potential to produce incredible amounts of data that can be used for further research or for clinical purposes. However, this wealth of information comes with its own set of problems. For example, patients might not always want to share this information with their healthcare providers and doctors might not always have the time to sift through this data to produce any useful results.
Having the ability to access these analyses and drill down into specific results, even with the most basic of medical tests, will greatly enhance the utility of these tools for both patients and healthcare professionals.
With so much hype around AI and its associated technologies, such as machine learning and deep learning, it is clear that the future of Digital Health is extremely exciting. This is because these technologies have the potential to analyse vast amounts of data very quickly and provide insights into trends and patient-specific behaviour that would have been very difficult to compile manually. However, along with all the advantages that these technologies bring, they also have some serious limitations which must be considered. Therefore, the greatest challenge in the coming months and years is ensuring that healthcare practitioners have the necessary tools to keep up with this growing field.