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4 minute read

Digital healthcare- prevention rather than cure?

How digital technology can be used to make positive changes in patient lifestyles and prevent health issues from occurring
Should digital focus on prevention in healthcare
by Jon Hume
23 August 18
  • Healthcare
  • Pharmaceutical

Digital is an area that has caused big healthcare and pharma businesses to invest in new teams and capabilities, spawned thousands of startups bringing great innovation, created plenty of conversation, conferences, meet-ups and dedicated events. It’s clearly not a subject that is going to die down, as the industry looks to bolster the established ways of treating patients with new tools and services that can improve patient outcomes and their overall experience.

Whilst a lot of smaller initiatives (and a few bigger ones like the work Babylon are doing with the NHS under the GP at Hand scheme) are gradually eroding away at the somewhat frustrating “we’ve always done it like this” risk aversion lead thinking in healthcare, there’s still plenty of resistance.

Whilst some of this is rightly linked to ensuring that the standards of patient care don’t slip, there has also been a solid amount of coverage in recent weeks in the UK around the concerns of doctors, particularly in the area of telemedicine, that patients could end up missing vital tests that their GP would traditionally refer them for - ultimately ending in the NHS blocking plans to roll out these services more widely.

There is obviously a long term plan in place for the continued evolution of patient care to involve more digital tools like apps and wearables, but digital has such huge potential in healthcare and you don’t have to wait for the user to become sick before positive changes can be made. Is digital more suited to prevention than cure right now? We think so ..

A recent appraisal of the available options for managing obesity in adolescents by Stephanie Partridge and Julie Redfern, published in Healthcare, discussed the need for effectively engaging with this impressionable target audience, and helping them to build good behaviours through prevention rather than cure.

Why wait to help someone manage the associated symptoms and complications of obesity when technology can be used to help prevent them becoming overweight in the first place?

The authors make some great observations, including the importance of involving users in the design process when creating services - with a strong endorsement of the co-design approach and offering of personalisation as a great method to engage with the user and help them move to a position where they can enact positive change (as discussed in ‘Transtheoretical therapy: Toward a more integrative model of change’, by Prochaska & DiClemente - You can read an overview of this here).

Behaviour change and patient engagement doesn’t begin and end with obesity, there are plenty of other areas that could benefit from the use of technology including examples such as helping patients to quit smoking, helping to encourage kids to brush their teeth regularly and properly (Check out the Magic Timer app by Oral-B if you are a parent struggling to win this particular debate), tracking cognitive ability and monitoring for any decline in senior citizens or those at high risk from degenerative diseases, and mindfulness / meditation apps such as Headspace that could be used as part of a programme to help maintain positive mental health as they claim ‘Meditation has been shown to help people stress less, focus more and even sleep better’.

So while the healthcare bodies and associations and governments fight out how best to treat patients and keep us all safe, there is plenty of space for innovation in the prevention space. If you are looking to launch an app or tool for in the health space (or any market) we recommend:

  • Working with users to understand their needs first before creating your product

  • Running short sprints and developing rapid prototypes that can help you to understand the problems faced by real users and develop solutions for them and with them

  • Developing a research strategy right at the beginning of the project and ensuring that you stick to it and evolve it over time to continue collecting insight

Do you have an idea for an app or service that could use some digital product thinking? If so, we would love to help - drop us a line.

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