For this World Health Day on April 7th the World Health Organisation (WHO) marks its 70th anniversary and is promoting a campaign to bring healthcare to everyone around the globe.
The event is being promoted with the tagline “Universal Health Coverage: everyone, everywhere”, one of WHO’s founding principles which aims to offer the highest standard of healthcare to every human, everywhere.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general said: “Good health is the most precious thing anyone can have. When people are healthy, they can learn, work, and support themselves and their families. When they are sick, nothing else matters. Families and communities fall behind. That’s why WHO is so committed to ensuring good health for all.”
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to high levels of healthcare, though the rise of connected technologies can remove some of the barriers that people face when needing to receive care.
It’s estimated that over a third of the world’s population owns or uses a smartphone, and whilst these addicting devices have their own health issues, they also have the ability to connect us to healthcare services when they would previously have been unavailable.
Take mental health for instance. Not only can patients with conditions such as depression, eating disorders and anxiety suffer in silence due to the attached stigmas, but they can be forced to wait exceedingly long times to get the help they need.
These issues certainly need addressing, but digital solutions now exist and are there to get people the help they need. NHS Digital’s app library lists a number of mental health apps designed to help people with a range of conditions. The SilverCloud app for example consists of an eight-week online course designed to help those manage stress, anxiety and depression. Also on the list is IESO, another course-based service that uses instant messaging for people with mental health problems. The service connects patients with a therapist trained in cognitive behavioural therapy and lets them take the course at their own pace through text messages.
In Scotland, mental health charity Birchwood Highland launched a programme to help assist mental health recovery times in remote areas.
The charity is working alongside digital health company Openbrolly, using its social care software platform to support people living with mental health conditions.
Distance and limited resources can cause barriers to care for residents in rural areas of Scotland. The partnership between Birchwood Highland and Openbrolly is an example of digital tools can remove these barriers and offer care regardless of location.
Linda Birnie, community services manager at Birchwood Highland, said: “We see the new service as an innovative way to improve support using new technology. Enabling choice and inclusion, plus being responsive to offering support where and when it is needed, which are key outcomes for us.
“This new system offers an immediate personal connection over distance rather than someone having to wait for a visit while a worker travels to their home, so individuals may get more value from the support time. The system can be blended with traditional visits to cover a full range of preferred support requirements.”
In fact, a combination of SMS/digital messaging and aerial drones is helping deliver vital blood supplies to hospitals in Rwanda. California-based company, Zipline uses drones to bypass some of the harsh geography of Rwanda and now delivers 500 bags of blood every day in the country.
Hospitals send their orders using SMS or Whatsapp to the company’s distribution centre, which then preps the blood and gets the drone airborne as soon as possible. The use of digital technology in this case is fairly simple and certainly plays second fiddle to the drone, but it is indicative of the creative ways in which technology can benefit healthcare.
Lastly, let’s not forget the increasing range of connected technologies that enable better monitoring of conditions. In Australia last year, researchers announced that they would be using wearables to monitor those with chronic conditions. By using wearables, the researchers hope to help patients self-manage conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Other digital health technologies such as telehealth, which was shown to have reduced hospital admissions by 40% last year, and even iPod technology which is being used as a solution for sufferers of tinnitus, are more ways in which technology can bring forth a new era of patient centricity.
It’s naïve to think that these technologies are a solution to the lack of healthcare that many parts of the world suffer from. However, with many large technology companies turning towards healthcare, and with a need for low cost solutions that offer patient benefits, digital health can enable a certain level of health access for everyone.