Connected Health: How mobile phones, cloud, and big data will reinvent healthcare
Connected Health — hype or hope for a new revolution in health and healthcare?
We are in the early days of a major shift in how information technology and data will change healthcare in the coming years. In effect, we’re moving from the medical mainframe of health technology that viewed the patient or citizen as an afterthought to health technologies that harness tremendous computing power that is at our fingertips. We are in the early stages of the democratization of health technology that will likely change healthcare in ways that we can barely imagine in the present. And rather than being a story of technology implementation from above, what we are now seeing is the health care sector following the lead of popular trends driven by the near ubiquity of mobile phones, cloud computing, and social media. Nearly one in five Americans who uses a cellphone has searched for health information on their phone. In 2011 health apps and devices generated over $700 million in revenues. Also in 2011 nearly $500 million was invested in the mHealth sector, an almost two-fold increase from 2010. According to MobiHealthNews, by August 2012 there will be more than 13,000 health and medical apps in the Apple Appstore. In mid-2011 one of the first peer-reviewed analyses of off-label uses of lithium for ALS sufferers was published by connected patients analyzing their own data on the health 2.0 platform, patientslikeme.com.
While there has certainly been a great deal of hype over the past two years about the coming “mHealth revolution” and e-patients, there is something fundamentally different about the current eco-system of information technology in healthcare. The drivers of change that coming from below and from corners of the globe that have rarely been viewed as focal points for technology innovation, such as much of Africa,are changing the way we think about healthcare, the role of physicians, patients and communities. While some are calling for an “occupy healthcare” what we may be witnessing is a more subtle, and slowly moving shift in mindsets created by both technology and the cultural shifts that social media and mobiles have helped catalyze. The Algorithmic Revolution has finally arrived in healthcare. This book will provide an overview of the landscape of health IT or “Connected Health” technologies and chart some of the opportunities and challenges this market will face in coming years.
In the late 1980s, there was similar hype about a new technological revolution in healthcare. This was the beginning of the biotechnology era and the promise of personalized healthcare was dangled in front of investors and citizens alike. By the start of the millennium, we had “unlocked the book of life” with the decoding of the human genome. Yet, by 2011 the biotechnology industry had barely broken even and your average citizen had rarely encountered the fruits of this revolution. When they did, it was most likely for a therapy that extended their lives several months, in the case of most terminal cancers.
So why should the rise of mobile devices, personal health records and electronic medical records, cloud computing and big data warrant major attention and investment now? The current challenges and shortcomings of our healthcare systems on a global scale that include expensive care delivering mediocre outcomes, combined with a number of social (aging populations with chronic diseases) and technological trends have pushed us to a tipping point. The decay of our health systems are being felt on a daily basis by most of the world’s population, either through poor health outcomes or the pang of out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance and medical bills.
Over the past few decades, a dysfunctional policy environment has marginalized prevention to the detriment of health outcomes. This has led to staggering rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, all preventable. Health systems are still intellectually rooted in the early 20th century, where infectious diseases were the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, and it made sense for hospitals be at the center of the healthcare universe. This scenario has been superseded by an aging population with multiple chronic diseases. To deal with this change, we need new modes of distributed healthcare delivery, a health economy based on prevention, and new technological literacies. In the developing world, health systems are largely part of a colonial legacy, in which healthcare was for the occupying forces and later inherited by the urban, upper classes. This history has led to today’s expensive, sub-standard care in a world of technological plenty.