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Definition and history of digital health

Let's see how this area evolves over the year
© Universiti Malaya

You might not notice this phenomenon, but you’re already in the digital health environment.

Information and communication technology has been used for business purposes for more than 70 years. According to the White paper from the Digital Health Australasia Society [1], digital health includes the following:

“Digital health intervenes in the broadest range of societal and economic activities and technologies to encourage and generate better health and better value for health investments. It is citizen-centric and decentralized and harvests data, information, and knowledge in real-time from all societal activities, not just interactions with the health system and data traditionally regarded as “health” data”.

As members of digital societies, where digital change has occurred in many facets of individuals’ lives, including the economy (banking and commerce), education, and entertainment, it must be welcomed (games, IPTV, virtual life). In addition, healthcare, which has lagged in adopting new technologies, must embrace digital health.

Alt text Figure 1: The use of Telemedicine during the pandemic [2]

According to Meskó et al.[3] “digital health” can also refer to “the cultural transformation of how disruptive technologies that make digital, objective data available to both caregivers and patients leads to an equal level doctor-patient relationship with shared decision-making and the democratization of care.”

Example from real life According to a Forbes story from August 2020, there is potential for digital health intervention to practice social distance and address the inaccessibility of healthcare during lockdown and quarantine. The use of telehealth during the pandemic grew to 25% from 13% in 4 months. In this field, numerous terms are used, including “digital health,” “eHealth,” “health informatics,” and others.

Digital Health also comprises these fields: m-health (“the provision of health services and information via mobile technologies”), e-health (“the cost-effective and secure use of ICTs for health and health-related fields”), and emerging areas like the use of advanced computing sciences in big data, genomics, and artificial intelligence as reported in WHO 2019 report .

Telemedicine and electronic medical records, health Apps, connected health, and personal health records are a few examples of digital health. Information and communication technology, or ICT for short, emphasizes the importance of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications infrastructure.

Users can access, save, send, and change data with its help. Through a single cable or connection system, information and communication technology (ICT) combines audiovisual, telephone, and computer networks (ICT). However, as the concepts, methods, and applications that make up ICT constantly evolve, there isn’t a single definition.

Any product that digitally stores, accesses, manipulates, transmits, or receives information is included in the broad definition of ICT. Data can be accessed, saved, sent, and modified using ICT.

It is crucial to look at the necessity, power, and problems of information and communication technology (ICT), which has recently advanced and almost become necessary in the twenty-first century’s health systems. For example, real-time data, sometimes known as “live data,” is readily available in the healthcare industry. But there are still a lot of problems that need to be tackled, including ones that are social (like the digital divide) and legal (such as privacy and security).

Many magazines and literature discuss how digital health phenomena affect citizens, clinicians, policymakers and regulators, health executives, technology suppliers, universities, and educators.

Examples of how these stakeholders make use of digital health and how DH can pose challenges:

Citizens will get updates on new healthcare policies, get medical services, and access preventive health materials and resources.

Clinicians can access public databases to stay updated with recent research and scientific breakthroughs, receive continuing medical education (CME), communicate with different specialties to exchange information, and establish communication with patients and caregivers.

Policymakers and regulators can monitor the performance of healthcare centers and hospitals in real-time, disseminate public health messages to the citizens, and establish registries for different health specialties for continuous improvement.

Health Executives can get updates on how DH can improve healthcare quality, engage with various stakeholders in exchanging information regarding the latest developments in healthcare, and conduct seminars and workshops to discuss underpinning issues in healthcare.

Technology suppliers can introduce and give awareness of their products and systems to healthcare providers. These newly created products can improve patient care, and collaborate with healthcare providers to create affordable and effective products.

Media and influencers can provide a platform for citizens and other stakeholders to exchange ideas and feedback on various innovations and products, promote products and services that meet the scientific standard and encourage dialogues on DH among stakeholders.

Universities/educators can use DH to improve the teaching and delivery of Medical Education, to utilize evidence in teaching and learning, and to encourage students to collaborate with others in learning and research.

Alt text

Figure 2: Stakeholders of Digital Health

[1] Digital Health Australasia society White Paper
[2] Forbes Magazine on Future of Digital Health
[3] Meskó, B., Drobni, Z., Bényei, É., Gergely, B., & Győrffy, Z. (2017). Digital health is a cultural transformation of traditional healthcare. mHealth, 3, 38
© Universiti Malaya
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