The Formidable Force of Healthcare Data in the Age of Digitization
By Jasmine Leung
Tracing back in time when medical technology was not yet invented, clinical procedures were conducted through human touch. Tools were heavily used and observations were done to diagnose diseases on human beings. But as technology transcended, the boom of machinery has become important for assisting paramedics in accurately determining the reasons behind certain disorders. Today, technology currently evolves in our everyday medical practices. As such, this form of digitization of healthcare has triggered a virtuous cycle of innovation on the basis on data collection.
To begin with, sources of digital health data swarm in, especially in the period where people start to pay attention to their health after daily needs are fulfilled. From 2D analog x-ray scans to today’s 3D digital scans, medical technology serves as a clear link to digitization. In the early 2000s, paper was the main source of data measurement, the case of the electrocardiogram (ECG). Wearable ECG is available at this age because of digitization. Even for blood pressure machineries, it transformed from manual handsets to automatic monitors. Hospital monitoring has also advanced to the extent that paramedics no longer have to rely on in-room computers, but remote screens, which allow them to keep an eye on patients from a distance. The rising measured data from diagnostic technology like commercially available lab tests also attribute to the pool of health data. Companies step up the chance to create wearables for measuring health-like heart rate information. This offers a golden opportunity for business to rise, along with the collection of health data.
Wearable digital measurements have become a norm in some societies, encouraging consumers to share their health data. Benefiting from the convenience and handy functions of wearables, health-related applications are also being applied with this phenomenon. Referring to the Internet Trends 2017 conducted by Mary Meeker, in 2016, it was recorded that there were over 1200 million downloads relating to health and fitness applications. This is not limited to health record adoption, where hospitals and physicians typically tend to renew their system in an electronic way, leading to a broad and centralized accumulation of health data. In 2016, on average, the majority of clinical data elements per patient per year belonged to clinical results, followed by scanned images and vital signs. More hospitals opt for providing digital access to healthcare information and the accessibility of viewing and downloading patient records has been rising since 2012. As a result, the healthcare data had already gained 48 percent annual growth worldwide with 153 exabytes.
Data Insight and Translation
As medical technology progresses, so does the knowledge earned from medical research. This is particularly true when it comes to the cumulative publication of medical scientific article citations. It is projected that by 2017, the pool of data would have published 27 million citations from these medical articles. It only took three and a half years in 2010 to double one’s medical knowledge, compared to seven years in 1980 and 50 years in 1950. Clinical trials are also trying to catch up to this kind of growth. Unfortunately, currently they still require a longer time for expanding research insight, as it normally takes around 12 years for putting a safety label on brand-new drugs that make it to the market. But perhaps new data streams, like the findings from selection biomarkers that could enable DNA sequencing, can make it possible to improve the clinical trials on new drugs, which in turn, would help predict the success behind it. The scientific community acknowledges the chance of accelerating research insights, and thus the possible hope of spurring motivation of sharing data within the field.
As mentioned, people across countries are now health-conscious, especially among the millennial generation. Youngsters are increasingly expecting digital health services, including owning wearables, selecting provider based on online reviews and even going online to find physicians for medical advice. These habits allow people to rethink and reflect on existing healthcare practices. Companies begin to invest in areas like patient empowerment, improvements to clinical pathways and preventive health practices. Propeller Health is one of the many examples that take advantage of data to make optimization of outcomes possible. Its product, Bluetooth inhaler sensor, aims at improving a patient’s medication adherence, while shedding light on one’s health performance.
Case: Genomics Research
Genes have been the very foundation of human cells and some even dub it as the codes to our human bodies. Companies have already been studying genomics, and by putting the subject on the track of digitization, the research can be now faster, cheaper and even produce better quality. The data of genomes is noted to be variant and diversified. With the help of digitizing the research along with genomic data since 2008 (from the beginning with only 4.5 log of cumulative human genomes) 2016 already had 88 log of data, out of the 422 discovered human genomes. Such a profound medical enhancement brings about more available genetic tests, presenting a race to identify disorders that used to be in uncharted territory. The chain effect kicks in when this insight pushes the therapeutics of designing personalized medicines forward, those of which are used to help patients cope with suffering from genetic disorders. This way of managing health data enables deeper research in the variation of the genetic pool apart from identification; it also gives birth to new business models. Ultimately, increasing the digital input at the first phase allows the continuation of the cycle, consequently.
While digital health is emerging, the million-dollar question is: could it make the list among other tech-based rapid adoptions like social media? When health awareness is heightened day by day, the answer is: why not?