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In an ideal world, all the sectors of the healthcare system would work together seamlessly to provide the best health outcomes and consumer experience for each person. For instance, when you go to a doctor, does your physician have access to your full medical chart, including visits to specialists or other care providers? And are you able to communicate with your provider and other healthcare companies the way you want to, whether it’s via phone, email, chat, or text? The answer should be yes.

While the healthcare system has historically been fragmented, it is getting more integrated. In a recent survey, for example, 65% of providers said that they often or nearly always had access to the records they needed in 2020. Compare that to four years earlier, when providers said they could access information from partners on a different electronic health record just 28% of the time.

This is where digital healthcare comes in. Also called digitally enabled healthcare, this integrated technology helps connect the dots to make the healthcare system more seamless, integrated, and easy to use — ensuring that electronic health records are shared securely as needed and providing new ways to offer care and meet consumers where they are.

“We are making progress toward the day when one call, click, or visit sets a person on a connected and personalized journey to improve their health,” said Ashok Chennuru, global chief data and insights officer, Carelon Digital Platforms. “In the pursuit of addressing each person’s health, we are bringing tools, resources, and information together into one place.”

What Is Digital Health?

Digital healthcare is the integration and application of data, analytics, and insights into digital technologies that will continually improve healthcare delivery, experiences, and outcomes. It’s the intersection of healthcare and technology, applying digital transformation to the healthcare field.

Digital health plays an essential role in healthcare today. It involves practitioners, application developers, medical device manufacturers, distributors, researchers, and consumers in the healthcare process. Digital health encompasses a wide range of products designed to simplify healthcare, from mobile health apps, electronic health and medical records, health monitoring devices to online services such as booking appointments, refilling prescriptions, and symptom checking. It enables a connected system that can seamlessly blend digital, virtual, and in-person care to help people meet their health needs when, where, and how they want them met.

Why Is Digital Healthcare Important?

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that going to the doctor doesn’t have to be time consuming. With the right tools, like virtual care or telehealth, people can get the quality care they need in a simpler, faster way. A big part of the role of digital healthcare is to leverage data for an effective, personalized, whole-health approach, creating an easier, consumer-centered health system.

Just as the internet and mobile apps have made shopping so much easier, digitally enabled healthcare aims to make the healthcare experience seamless and intuitive. Consumers are taking advantage of these new options: During the pandemic, telehealth usage surged at 38 times the rate of pre-pandemic levels, and in just three years, the use of chat has gone from close to zero to 25% of total consumer interactions across Elevance Health, said Anil Bhatt, global chief information officer of Elevance Health. Other aspects of digital health have caught on as well. Fifty-seven percent of people said they’re open to remote monitoring of ongoing health issues through at-home devices.

It’s not just consumers who are embracing digital healthcare. Ninety percent of office-based physicians use an electronic health records system. The industry is also employing data analytics to make more informed decisions. The benefits of using big data include:

●      Reducing medication errors

●      Developing personalized preventive care plans for people

●      Insights that can lead to earlier disease diagnoses

●      Identifying and addressing health inequities

Digital healthcare brings primary physicians, pharmacists, and specialists closer together to create a more personalized and holistic experience for consumers.

The Future of Digital Health

The global digital health market is expected to grow from $220 billion in 2021 to $551 billion in 2027, with an increase of healthcare apps fueling this boost. Included in that market are companies, solutions, and services related to big data, cloud computing, connected health, and the gamification of healthcare.

Digitally enabled healthcare is capable of empowering the healthcare industry and consumers to take the most effective, evidence-based action to support health through the lens of key physical, behavioral, and social drivers. This includes:

  •  Designing a better health experience, from home to clinic to hospital
  •  Identifying more personalized treatment and experience options
  •  Safely sharing information to coordinate care

“We have to make sure that we are in front of consumers, providing them not only with the administrative capabilities needed to ensure they can get care in case they are sick, but to make sure that we are personalizing that wellness journey for them,” Bhatt said. “Over the past few years, we’ve been focused on enhancing our digital tools to drive that engagement.”

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