Most of us are familiar with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. These are apps that help us connect with friends and loved ones and share the details of our day-to-day lives.
What about apps that support health and wellness?
There are literally thousands of apps available in the consumer marketplace to support personal fitness, health, stress-reduction and diet goals.
Public interest is growing in these devices, and medical and health professional here in B.C. are at the forefront of developing and integrating emerging digital health technologies with patient care.
We can access Dr. Google to research and investigate everything from cures for the common cold to the implications of more serious and complex medical diagnoses.
As patients, we have direct access to our personal health records and lab test results and can arrive at consults with doctors and specialists armed with detailed background information and relevant questions.
We are more empowered than ever to understand and make important health care choices.
But can we understand what is happening inside our bodies — how we react to medications, how our individual systems respond to diseases?
Thanks to digital technology, that day is dawning.
Data collected through apps and sensor technologies can be analyzed and used to devise tailored, individualized treatment and therapy.
Dr. Kendall Ho is an emergency medical specialist at the Vancouver General Hospital, and a professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine. He leads the Digital Emergency Medicine Unit and conducts research on sensors and wearables, health apps, data analytics, and virtual health.
Sensor technologies can be integrated into watches, armbands, adhesive bandages or clothing and collect data on everything from cardiac rhythm, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, oxygen saturation, galvanic skin response, glucose levels, body temperature, body motions and ambient temperature, to global positioning.
This means that patients with chronic diseases can be monitored remotely, in real time, no matter where they live.
Through the use of teleconferencing, timely, patient-centred care can be coordinated virtually amongst multiple providers.
Ho is leading a study to determine how digital technologies supports patients between hospital and home.
The study, TEC4Home (Telehealth for Emergency-Community Continuity of Care Connectivity via Home Tele-monitoring) is an initiative of the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health.
“I was always interested in how we can help patients to safely transition from the hospital to the home and how we can monitor them once they are home,” said Ho.
“Our results indicate that home use of wearables and sensors for patients with, for example, heart failure or living with COPD can reduce hospital readmissions by half within ninety days.”
An important aspect of the work in this field is the education and training of health professionals, patients, and the public on how to optimize the use of technologies for health.
Given the public interest in consumer electronics for improving health and the rapid development and incorporation of digital medical technologies into the health care system, it is important to build digital health literacy for patients, community members, and health care professionals to respond to the emerging opportunities.
The implications of data-based, tailor-made diagnoses and treatments are profound, not just for personal medical or health care choices, but in the potential reduction of heath costs.
“In B.C., within one to two years, patients will have access to much more than just lab tests,” Ho said. “It is a very exciting time, and the question is: how do we prepare to go there? We are at the ground level of digital health. The future of digital health has to be co-creative between the general public and health professionals. If we are to be successful at designing technologies that people will use, this dialogue is critical.”
Ho works with researchers worldwide and has received both provincial and national awards for his work.
At the Maple Ridge forum, he plans to discuss what he sees as the key new skills and capacities needed to raise digital health literacy amongst businesses, the public and medical professionals.
As well, he will speak to the transformational role of technology in health care in the next five to 10 years.
He will offer examples of trends in these new technologies and how communities can respond.