With the opening of the Digital Health Summit as part of the Computer Electronics Show today, I am embracing the term digital health in substitution of mHealth. This is a term which embraces more than the portability or wireless mode of data transmission. It includes all things digital including IT, patient tools, genomic medicine, and anything else which may enter this space. It is for this reason that I change the name of this site. A good discussion on the topic may be seen at:http://www.medcitynews.com/?edition=health-it.
The digital divide has traditionally been defined as the gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not. This refers to access to the technology as well as knowledge to use it. With the advent of technologies and scientific developments way beyond that of the Internet, this divide has widened in some respects and narrowed in others. There is widespread use of cell phones in the Global South, for example, though there is poor access to the Internet. These phones have been utilized in rudimentary ways in healthcare initiatives that have demonstrated positive impact. The mHealth alliance is an organization which fosters worldwide cooperation in the utilization of wireless technologies for health. They host a network call the Health Unbound Hub which is a global network and online resource center, promoting the exchange of ideas and collaboration for the mHealth community. This makes the technology itself, which is conceptually divisive, become a point of sharing and progress in closing the digital divide.
Seen in another way, digital health technologies will even the healthcare ‘playing field’ in a few ways. It may decrease the knowledge gap of all providers with wireless tools improving diagnostic and therapeutic skills. This might translate into more uniform care from a geographic standpoint (see: http://davidleescher.com/2011/12/03/can-mhealth-eliminate-geographical-inequalities-in-healthcare/). Good digital health tools will take into account cultural differences and therefore decrease the digital divide among different ethnic groups. It will also improve care in rural and remote areas by improving access to healthcare via digital means.
Success of any venture derives from meeting needs of the consumer or targeted user. EHR companies need to do a better job of training providers. Implementation has been seen to dramatically improve with just a couple of days more instruction, for example. Digital technology companies need to focus on the user and workflow, whether it be on the provider, patient, or general consumer end, to foster and maintain engagement, thereby improving adherence. While the Digital Health Summit provides ‘oohs and ahs’ with cool new technologies, things like behavioral aspects of patient engagement and provider workflow should not be lost on developers and marketers. This especially holds true for the big telecom and insurers that are entering the digital health market.
Digital health is entering a critical period in its birth. The goal of decreasing both digital and health divides should be in the forefront of this glorious endeavor.