Going beyond Connected Care to Digital Health Ecosystems (DHE)

There is considerable buzz about connected care models these days. It has been said that connected care models are disrupting the healthcare system. However, upon close inspection, the primary use of connected systems in healthcare is to do electronically, what we have been doing live since the beginning of our profession. Connected care (telemedicine and remote monitoring) is a necessary but not sufficient step in the right direction.  This is primarily because it does not change current healthcare delivery at a fundamental level. Rather it enables patients and doctors to “see” each other, without being in the same room. Good? Yes. Game changer? No. On the other hand creating “digital health ecosystems” might be just “what the doctor ordered”. Connecting people, via broadband infrastructure, to healthcare providers AND other resources they need to be healthy (not just data), could for example enable the creation of a “health” system that focuses on all the things patients need to get healthy and stay well. in addition to delivering clinical services it could also help address social determinants of health by also enabling new  educational and employment opportunities.  Because so much of education and business is already shifting to the virtual environment, problems associated with distance and time are rapidly becoming irrelevant. Creating digital health ecosystems could improve health far more than connected healthcare systems could accomplish.

Digital health ecosystems enhance engagement with healthcare services providers and data but also enable opportunities to help improve personal/family financial resources, which itself could in turn facilitate healthy behaviors (i.e. improving dietary options via grocery/meal delivery services, enhancing medication access through online prescription access programs, increased physical activity through connected services like Peleton, improving education via online resources like Coursera, MOOCS and Kahn Academy and improved social support through resources like FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom based community meetings etc.) Are these perfect? No. Can they be abused? Yes. Should they totally replace in person interactions? No. But can they be helpful, particularly for underserved populations where nothing else exists or is feasible? Could a digital health ecosystem provide invaluable support and assistance to patients and caregivers “anytime, anywhere, at the point of need” not just at the point of care, wherever the doctor or hospital is located? Absolutely!! Do they add anything helpful to how we currently construct our healthcare systems, connected or not? I think history will one day show the answer is a resounding yes!  We must think differently if we are ever going to achieve different results in Health and healthcare.

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