Technology and Health
By Naomi Sherborne, Writer and Researcher, Emma & Tom's Foods Pty Ltd
Health is changing. As technological innovation takes us into a unique and exceptional new era, health is not only reshaping demographically, it is also significantly changingin the way it is delivered.
With health and information technologies developing rapidly, the one thing missing is valid, understandable and up to date educational programsto help bridge the gap between clinician, patient and the endless flow of (often) indistinguishable information.
Just in 2016 we have heard of trials in Malawi that are using drones to collect blood tests and deliver medications, phone apps that crucially remind patients to take their medications and online systems that can discreetly diagnose mental health conditions andprovide importantaccess details and information directly into the hands of the sufferer.
"Technology has the ability to synthesise and bridge the gap between word of mouth and base source information"
Health Information Technology or HIT (as it is generically referred to as), demonstrates the current intersection of technology and health that is heralded by academics, clinicians and patients. HIT speaks volumes to the last few decade’s technological achievements and is an exciting and innovating time to be involved in healthcare.
It is not only the way in which we consume information that has and is changing but the way in which our health diagnoses and treatments are delivered. Information technology provides us with an interactive, widespread and highly engaging platform.
Technologies such as cloud shared information enable healthcare systems and provide clinicians and patients with a flexibility and consolidation of information that can empower the individual and inform the medical professional.
Education and awareness in healthcare can seem an obvious notion; but the delivery, access and clarity of these things, is, can and has been hindered by geography, finance, cultureand rapidly developing health technology that often surpasses publicly graspable literature.
Dr Laura Collie, Public Health registrar with NSW Health in Australia says "There is a lot of health information out there which often makes it it difficult to interpret. Information found on the web should come from a trusted source, like a governmental website. If you have found information that you think is relevant to you, print it out and take it along to your next doctors appointment and discuss with them”.
As morbidity rates around the world reduce with better healthcare, life expectancy rates have increased leading to a never before seen increase in chronic conditions; like Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart attack. Infectious diseases like last years Ebola outbreak had East Africa and much of the world biting their nails bloody; but it is what these two vastly different population health situations have in common that is notably significant. They lack sufficient educational initiatives to help translate and contextualise both scenario and information.
Dr Collie expands “Understanding physiology and your bodies interaction with medications, therapies and your external environment is complex. Interpreting health information requires a significant level of critical analysis by somebody in the health field”. What is missing from health technologies current rise is a framework from which to hang information transparently and comprehensibly.
With both infectious disease outbreaks and chronic conditions, although we are better able to provide and therefore access Electronic Health Records (EHR) and trending information on mobile phones, we don’t necessarily, nor should we be expected to have the base knowledge with which to understand the dynamics and complexities of health science and our relationship to it.
Whilst digital monitoring sensors are being developed to efficiently complete physical analyses that presently only face-to-face meetings with a medical practitioner can achieve; and we increasingly have more access to patient-centric devises that can monitor anything from your heart rate to the way in which you sleep. What is absent is ‘blanket’ or at least synthesised educational curriculums to harness this information; in a way that makes it understandable to the individual.
Health is a unique and complicated oddity. Its entire being is based on paradoxes. Both functioning on a population wide level and individually, privy to environment, culture, genetics, scientific development, want and need.
Information currently dispersed is generic; it groups people together and guides people at a population level. As people’s use of technology becomes more proficient and widespread, healthcare becomes not only a product of need and means but a product of choice. A cultural phenomenon that has the ability to empower and enable the individual but can similarly flummox and confuse.
We increasingly need to harness health development with education, so that it is not just spread, but contextualised and actively understood.
Technology has the ability to synthesise and bridge the gap between word of mouth and base source information. We are at an intersection, albeit a cross road whereby our health is related to our ability to comprehend the information we are given.
If we are to encourage, endorse and promote behaviour change, so essential to our general health. Protect and ensure our populations health in times of epidemics, we must invest in better educational infrastructures.