From improving prevention and diagnosis to lowering healthcare costs, providing greater accessibility, and ensuring a better quality of care, digital health technologies have the power to deeply reshape many aspects of today’s healthcare system.
But, while the Covid-19 pandemic might have sped up the adoption of telemedicine tools in the US, the nation’s healthcare system is undeniably lagging behind forerunners like China and Saudi Arabia.
As providers start to sluggishly embrace digital technologies, how can the system catch up with industry leaders, and meet the increased demand for accessible and fair health services?
Digital Healthcare: An Overview
The global digital health market is growing at a whopping CAGR of 15.1% and is expected to reach a total value of nearly 300 billion US dollars by 2028.
What’s more, a study by McKinsey shows that the events of the past two years have had a significant impact on digital health adoption timelines across the world, speeding up milestones by 3-4 years.
While there are differences in each country’s pace of adoption, digital health technologies are already having a profound impact on several aspects of the healthcare system, including:
- Better patient engagement and accountability
- Improved accessibility of services
- Increased quality of care
- More personalized treatment plans
- More accurate diagnosis
- Reduced public costs
Undoubtedly, today, there are still significant barriers that prevent the full-scale adoption of digital technologies, including patient privacy, personnel’s digital literacy levels, and lack of emotional support.
At the same time, as the population continues to age, digital health might become a vital tool to put patients in better control of their health, introduce disease prevention plans, and bridge the gap between healthcare providers and their patients.
Additionally, tools like electronic health records, telehealth, Virtual Reality, wearable devices, and AI can support the development of large scale clinical trials and data-driven advancements in healthcare.
Global Adoption of Digital Health Technologies: Is the US Lagging Behind?
While digital health technologies can be a powerful tool to combat inequity in the healthcare system, not all countries have achieved the same adoption levels.
A 2019 study sponsored by Philips paints a clear picture of how different countries are gaining access to digital health tools and how they are implementing them.
Among the 15 countries polled, some emerge as the obvious forerunners. These include India, where nearly 90% of healthcare professionals use digital tools, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. All of these regions show digital health adoption levels above the 15-country average of 75%.
With a whopping 94% digital health adoption level, China tops the list and sets the example of how digital tools can improve all aspects of healthcare, from making Health Insurance digital and more accessible to securing health records.
So, how does the US compare to the leaders in the industry? America’s adoption of digital technologies was far slower than countries like France, The Netherlands, Italy, and Singapore in 2019. However, the nation has picked up the pace to meet the changing demand for healthcare services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rethinking an Outdated Healthcare System: Where to Start?
Once hailed as one of the best health systems in the world, the US’s healthcare has been at the center of criticism since the 1950s, when the price of care doubled and millions struggled to afford insurance.
So, what can the US healthcare system do to innovate itself, keep up with the changing times, and offer patients fairer, cheaper, and more accessible care? Adopting digital tools can help – and here is what healthcare providers can do.
Training Healthcare Professional To Take Advantage of Technologies
The digital literacy level of healthcare professionals is one of the main barriers preventing the nationwide adoption of digital health. Providers should provide training courses to help their personnel master the use of tools like telehealth and digital health records (DHRs).
Encourage Patients To Access Data and Control Their Health
Increasing patients’ control over their health can reduce the overall disease burden through prevention. Additionally, patients can access data and information via digital tools, thus streamlining their relationship with their healthcare provider.
Following The Lead of Successful Adopters
Countries like China and Saudi Arabia, as well as Estonia and Denmark in Europe, are leading the way towards seamless integration of digital tools across the healthcare sector.
For countries undergoing an innovation process – such as the US – it is important to review resources like the Global Digital Health Index (GDHI), set the right benchmarks, and take part in global initiatives like the Global Digital Health Partnership.
A Long Way To a Perfect System
Undoubtedly, the adoption of digital health tools in healthcare is not an overnight project, and today’s tools still show flows, like the reduced emotional connection between patient and provider, limited effectiveness of telehealth treatments, and reduced patient privacy.
However, it is only through digital care that the US – and most other countries – will be able to cope with the increased need for accessible, high-quality, and affordable care in the future.