Updated 24 May 2017

The value of digital technology in addressing quality care

The explosion of technology into the healthcare industry and the wealth of online healthcare information is augmenting patient’s descriptions of their symptoms, making it safer, quicker, more reliable and cheaper to get accurate diagnoses.

The more doctors know, the more they are likely to be able to diagnose a problem, establish its cause and offer – hopefully some immediate relief as well as long-term lifestyle advice to the patient to promote long-term health. Doctors, of course, are adept at translating the verbal complaints and descriptions of an ailment into sensible diagnosis. Modern healthcare consumers are increasingly more demanding and informed about their expectations and needs. Millennials are all googling their symptoms, and gathering an understanding of their conditions from the web. The explosion of technology into the healthcare industry and the readily available wealth of online healthcare information is augmenting the patient’s descriptions of their symptoms, making it safer, quicker, more reliable and cheaper to get accurate diagnoses. Of course at times, this unsanctioned information can also lead to confusion and anxiety.

Various technologies can provide a wealth of data and insight for doctors and medical aids alike. Wearable and more recently ingestible devices can offer streaming data from patients and collectively provide an enormous amount of data for broader learnings that will help us understand our health in ways we cannot yet even imagine.

Discovery Health’s HealthID platform, which has been running for four years now, allows patients to consent to share a detailed history of their health - including test results from the past – in order to support their doctors with each diagnosis and establish treatment plans.  More than 4000 doctors in South Africa are using Discovery HealthID, and more than 1.2 million Discovery Health Medical Scheme members have consented to allow doctors to access their health history.

There’s a great deal of leadership on technology in healthcare from the United States. At the Mayo Clinic, a wearable device has reduced return visits to hospital for heart failure patients. Vitality, Discovery’s wellness programme encourages, facilitates and rewards members to get healthier, and it works. Those who are actively involved in the programme have an 11% lower mortality risk.

Discovery’s HealthID will soon incorporate more technology from science fiction. The new platform will provide artificial intelligence supported consumer health advice to Discovery Health Medical Scheme members, allowing them to ask health-related questions within the app.

Another interesting development is the advent of the Discovery Health Medical Scheme digital plan, the SmartPlan, which connects 40 000 members with a highly connected collection of doctors, specialists and hospitals and allows those on the app to rate and report on their service. This pressure to perform has reduced claims by 28% within SmartPlan.

These are the ways in which smart technology and AI will transform the face of healthcare for the better, mainly by providing patients and doctors with increased access to useful and contextualised information. There will always be times when patients and doctors will need to meet face-to-face. That won’t change – but technology will reduce wasted time and misdiagnosis and will also, critically, give patients more control and savings in the process. 


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