Using big data for smart health communities

Jorge Armanet, Chief Executive and Co-founder of HealthUnlocked, discusses the big change that self-care technologies are bringing to healthcare, using big data for smart health communities. 

Before exploring the potential power of care continuity and self-care technologies, it is important to understand the backdrop faced by healthcare users and providers.

The profound, groundbreaking medical discoveries of the past 250 years, combined with the great entrepreneurs who took those discoveries from laboratory to scale, laid the foundations for the transformation of public health. What followed was the explosive growth in the world’s population from just 1 billion people in 1800 to nearly 8 billion today.

“The new buzzword is ‘self-care’”

This undoubted success story has however brought challenges that urgently need addressing. As the global population has aged and enjoyed longer retirements, the rise of long-term chronic health conditions has matched it, placing healthcare systems and both national and personal budgets in all developed economies under ever greater strain.

Innovation is paramount if costs are to be contained and quality of life further enhanced. But innovation alone will not succeed without the clear understanding that clinical solutions are only part of the answer. Studies suggest that medical care accounts for just 10-20% of the modifiable contributors to health outcomes, with a much greater part played by social, behavioural and environmental factors. Hence it is not just the care given at the point of most acute need that matters, but the preventative measures that might head off such a need in the first place as well as the aftercare that ensures patients go on to make lasting recoveries.

 

Scaling up

The new buzzword is ‘self-care’, which means care-of-self by seeking to live the healthiest life possible through knowledge, connection and good habits.

It is the application of technology and the advent of smart health communities that are at the vanguard of the coming self-care revolution.

Smart health communities are all about connecting people to everything they need to live a healthy life. Instead of thinking of them as places to go when one has a health problem or has been released from hospital, think of them as through-life-support systems or ‘cradle to grave’. We are not there yet, but as digital technology take-up increases and growth becomes exponential, the cost advantages of delivering more healthcare this way will be irresistible and will throw a harsh spotlight on the way it has been delivered traditionally. Think instantaneous online doctor consultations versus taking a day off work to visit a fully staffed surgery. Or educational online programmes aimed at improving patient’s prescription drug dosage compliance versus the cost to both the individual and the system of non-compliance.

 

Personalised health

In the UK, there are already hundreds of Patient Advocacy Groups (PAGs) supporting people with long-term conditions to manage their health better. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and online health communities, health advice and support are increasingly being personalised for millions around the world.

HealthUnlocked, the social network for health, connects people with the same health and wellbeing needs who then interact through these communities, sharing experiences and lending support to others who may have faced the same challenges they are going through. The platform is home to over 600 online health communities, covering 300 conditions and wellbeing areas in an environment that is safe and where their personal data is secure and protected.

It has been independently proved that patient use of such platforms is directly linked to improved knowledge, skills and confidence levels as well as better outcomes. The next key challenge for all self-care platforms will be to enhance the (free) offer further through commercial alliances to bring the very best of health and wellbeing advice and services to these fast-growing communities. The end goal must be to create complete ecosystems that seamlessly link the medical interface to the behavioural, environmental and social interventions in order to deliver a truly holistic service to everyone.

Self-care will of course never replace clinical care, but it will alleviate the tremendous pressure that the current global model is under. Those same digital technologies will bring greater clarity to precisely what constitutes effective treatment, through the power of big data and the knowledge and insights it unleashes to help make better relative value judgements between different treatment options.

Value-based payments and price transparency are already a reality, but the smart application of self-care and other relevant digital technologies can assist the more established traditional players to remain relevant as the healthcare revolution powers on. Self-care platforms will also afford businesses a direct opportunity to communicate directly with users in order to build brand loyalty and trust where the smart data confirms that it is truly deserved.

 

Jorge Armanet is Chief Executive and Co-founder of HealthUnlocked. Go to www.about.healthunlocked.com

 

Read more from this month’s Pf Magazine >