Writer: Hulkar Egamberdieva
Now more than ever, the digital world of healthcare is on the rise; impacting and changing the face of medicine. Healthcare data is being collected with an unprecedented rate and accuracy, leading to the democratisation of health care, with implications for both the patient and physician alike. This growing phenomenon of democratisation is defined as the increasing accessibility of data on one’s health by means of distribution, allowing for future insights. According to the Faculty of Medicine at Stanford University, this can be achieved through data flow and new technologies. They proceed to delve into the description of the “three pillars” of this event: intelligent computing, sharing and security – answering the questions that would keep people up, including us, such as: ‘Who will be entitled to our health data?’ ‘Will be monitored constantly?’ ‘Will the democratisation of health care override the humane aspect of Medical practice?’ - And more.
With the invention of smartwatches, health monitoring apps, AI technologies, VR, smart lenses to mention a few of the newest innovations published in the latest Medical issue of National Geographic, a sci-fi-like future is no longer pure fiction we would see in action-packed movies. Every single step, every single heartbeat is being measured and taken into account under population health. The data flow from digital devices to medical institutions and health care professionals is enabling a fluid medium of communication between patient and physician. There will no longer be a need for one-to-one appointments as data will be constantly fed to your physician. In fact, according to Stanford University, this will become a ‘one-to-many’ relationship, where there will be an open conversation between multiple sources of information and advice, focusing on each individual. Furthermore, the creation of new intricate algorithms, which will enable fast and accurate diagnostics; virtual care will become a primary source of health care for many people. This individualised style of practice will lead to a better understanding and more elaborate development of the field or preventive and personalised medical practice.
It goes without saying, however, that with great innovations come great risks, and democratisation of health care is no exception. Setbacks in this field include issues with physician burnout, consumer reluctance, limitations with globalisation, and perhaps most importantly, privacy concerns. Due to constant inputting of data and computing doctors are complaining that they have less time to actually have their one-to-one meetings with patients. On the reciprocal side, people are apprehensive of sharing their personal health data through technology as this is still a relatively new field; there are natural doubts about personal privacy and consent. Patients also question how trustworthy an AI being would be in sudden unexpected circumstances, which is why many believe that the traditional practice of medicine will not wean or die out. Further relating to customer apprehension, privacy may be the greatest concern, for all parties involved. The question of confidentiality is perhaps the most important one in this process. In a multi-layered, multi-media industry the motion of data itself poses a risk of malicious attacks. This places cyber-security at the forefront of democratisation, where health care institutions, technologists, ethics committees and legal implications have to form a stable environment, prioritizing every individual’s safety. Finally, in terms of globalising this phenomenon, there is still a lot of ground to cover with up-to-date technologies and discrepancies in languages and cultures. For example, a patient whose native tongue is not English will have different results to the same test as for someone where it is. Moreover, “only a third of hospitals have access to electronically retrieved data”. This already creates a large gap in the health care industry, one that has to be covered with further education and investment.
The idea of democratisation of health care, one of the most valued sectors of our lives, maybe a daunting one. Tackling issues with privacy are perhaps one of the most important areas for improvement. However, by building strategic partnerships across multiple professional sectors even beyond medicine, this ongoing event is a beacon of hope for preventive, precise and personalised medicine. There is still a lot of work to be done; a lot of intricacies to be fleshed out and yet by integrating innovations and building trust with patients democratising health care is definitely a promising path we can take to improve population health.