There’s no doubt that the use of digital technologies in the health and wellbeing space is gathering momentum, with an astonishing 165,000 health apps now available. But will this growth continue? Will we embrace more sophisticated technology, take greater control of our own health and wellbeing, and change our behaviours to achieve improved health outcomes?
Firstly, let’s first look at current attitudes to health technology.
Our second AXA PPP Health Tech & You State of the Nation survey , in 2015 confirmed increasing adoption of health technology there were also very interesting generational differences found between attitudes to, and the adoption of, different types of health tech. Younger people seem keener to embrace big data and demonstrate a belief that health tech can help with the management of long-term conditions (especially obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease). Those over 55 have more of a focus and interest in monitoring devices.
More than half of us are actively using health tech to help manage our health and wellbeing, reflecting proactive desires for informative, functional and interactive apps. The most common health apps focus on monitoring exercise (22.8%); BMI (17%); heart rate (16.9%); diet / calorie intake (15.2%); sleep quality (12.9%); and social media symptom sharing (5.1%).
And most people are confident using health technology, according to US survey , which showed that 71% of people felt "positive about using technology this way to better understand their bodies". However, nearly a third (29.1%) reported some degree of concern (e.g. “becoming too worried about my well-being”).
What evidence is there of the benefits of using personalised health technology?
A growing body of research suggests that people with health issues, when provided with the ability to manage their own health, are more likely to adopt healthy behaviours, with better clinical outcomes and lower rates of hospitalisation .
There’s also clear evidence of the benefits of:
Patient-focused digital services, such as SMS reminders: now widely used by health service providers, SMS reminders used as part of a smoking cessation programme had a 9% 52-week quit rate compared to 4% with over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy and 1% with simple GP advice.
Digital services helping with primary care: in London, the Hurley Group has developed online services which allow patients to source specialist advice; check symptoms; access self-help content; and be sign-posted to other services. They’ve co-developed an eConsult service which allows GPs to consult with patients online. Their evaluation shows that half of those who consulted online were managed remotely, with fewer GP appointments and shorter waiting times. The service has now been extended to one million patients.
Digital services being used in NHS Acute care: Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has an epilepsy networks project to record and track patient information. The service uses apps, wearables and shared health records to collect data to better predict epileptic seizures and tailor medication.
At a national level, the government has set out the contribution digital can make to delivering better levels of care and helping the NHS’ long term sustainability. Personalised healthcare, where digital technology supports individuals to look after their health and wellbeing, is enshrined in current health policy, planning guidelines and priorities, with corresponding efficiency savings estimated at over £90m from 2012-2020.
What barriers are there to widespread adoption?
Despite the clear benefits of health technology, the Health Tech & You survey and research results show that, as with most new technical capabilities, there are a number of barriers to demand, and effective adoption.
These include a real privacy fear of wearable tech, or technology installed in the home; and that more needs to be done to ensure motivation to use technology to assist in healthier lifestyles. There are definite groups who’ve already adopted health technology: from parents using social media, such as mumsnet, to share experience and concerns; to individuals spending their leisure time pursuing exercise and competitive sport; to people activated by health screening to address risks. But, for many, it isn’t until they are actually ill, that they consider how to invest in maintaining their own health and wellbeing.
For us to truly shift towards more consumer-oriented personalised care, there needs to be an increased focus on promoting healthy behaviours through digital enablement, such as exploring predictive data analytics to improve decision making in managing chronic disease. As Sir Muir Gray, Chief Knowledge Officer to the National Health Service, says, “knowledge is the best enemy of disease”.