Data of smart applications reflects the state of health: how the potential of technologies can be used?
26 January 2021
By: Dovilė Rusytė
How many health-related applications do you have on your phone? The ones that follow your sleep pattern, the number of steps you make during the day, your weight, the food you eat, or the heart rate recorded by your smart watch? I have no doubt that you have at least a few such smart health applications. They are becoming more and more entrenched in our lives, and we must admit that the global pandemic has further enhanced the importance of innovation. So it is worth looking at how we can use all of this not only for self-observation.
It is an opportunity to take advantage of the challenges of the pandemic
Coronavirus has made the work of the world’s health systems incredibly difficult. Despite all the negative consequences, COVID-19 has, like no other, accelerated the digitization process in health facilities, and part of the routine treatment services have become remote. Eventually, telemedicine services began to take root, enabling physicians to remotely monitor the patient and make the necessary decisions immediately.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously expressed strong support for modernizing health systems, and WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that “harnessing the power of digital technologies is essential for achieving universal health coverage”. I believe that Mr. Ghebreyesus had in mind not only the modernization of the health system and so-called telemedicine, but also the simple tools that many of us use to track health indicators.
It seems that with the establishment of telemedicine, the next step in the digitization of the health system will be the mentioned applications, which we now use for various reasons. I have no doubt that it can become a great tool for strengthening health literacy and, ultimately, contributing to healthier lifestyle habits and, where necessary, personalized treatment.
Digitization that improves health literacy
Health literacy is considered by the WHO as the ability to turn knowledge, personal skills and confidence into a health-enhancing lifestyle. In other words, the more knowledge we have about health, the healthier lifestyle we choose.
The positive thing is that according to a study conducted by the Institute of Hygiene in 2018, health literacy of almost 76% of Lithuanian youth up to the age of 29 was assessed as sufficient. It is a generation that hardly imagines life without technologies, so combining this knowledge with smart tools can provide a good mix of health digital literacy. Here we go back to the mobile apps and smartwatches mentioned at the beginning.
In order for the public to realize that these measures are not just a way to motivate themselves to achieve goals or to compete with friends in the number of steps made, it is worth promoting digital health literacy. I believe that sooner or later not only ourselves but also health systems will realize that the indicators we voluntarily accumulate show a lot about our habits, the possible causes of health problems, and in case of an illness, they can become great tools for prescribing the most effective treatment.
Individual approach is the way to effective treatment
An effective health care system is based on four pillars: effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care. We must admit that the focus in Lithuania is still on effective treatment, and little attention is paid to prevention and diagnosis. I do not touch on palliative care in this context, because it is a completely different, important and painful subject.
Although in small steps, we are gradually moving towards a holistic approach to health. And it has long been known that a data-driven healthcare system is more efficient, and with a lot of data, doctors can help us more accurately and quickly. It is the data on our phones that can provide an opportunity for incredibly personalized measures in the healthcare system in the future, and therefore for prevention and diagnosis. But states still have a lot of homework to do, and as long as the health system tries to break out of the vicious circle of coronavirus, it is not worth expecting change quickly. But until then, we can do a lot on our own.
We can develop health literacy ourselves
Imagine: every day your smartwatch counts your steps, heart rate and sleep mode, storing that data in a mobile app. This is just an ordinary part of the day for you. When you experience disturbing ailments, you consult a doctor. The doctor not only checks your health using the usual methods, but also reviews that data stored on your phone and makes recommendations accordingly. Utopia? Maybe. But it is likely to happen eventually.
Therefore, let us turn the challenges of the pandemic into opportunities – develop responsibility for our well-being, live a healthy life and increase digital health literacy on our own. Let us learn to understand, evaluate, and apply digital technologies related to health. And as the health system breathes again freely, let us hope our efforts are appreciated by medical institutions that digitize processes. Digitization, even in the context of the pandemic, offers unprecedented opportunities. Let us just know how to take advantage of that.