Digital Revolution Changing the Perspective to our Health

Mukesh Garg, Director IT, AstraZeneca | Tuesday, 07 February 2017, 12:16 IST

When we talk of an ecosystem, it encompasses everything, from the physical to the biological environment with which we interact. Centuries ago, diseases were diagnosed by checking a person’s pulse and then treated accordingly. As medical science advanced, numerous devices were invented to look into internal body systems and diagnose diseases to the exact cell where they impact the body, allowing us to perform more targeted treatments. With the rapid progress we are making in healthcare, science and technology, it is quite likely that the world will be very different tomorrow from what it is today. 

For example, wearable technology is the new age pulse diagnostic system moving very far away from the old method of checking the pulse to diagnose disease. Wearables have already become a fashion accessory available in different designs, colours, and patterns. There is a lot of technology embedded into these seemingly small wearables, and I will not go into the details here since a simple internet search can provide all the information you need on these.
Today, the use of wearables combined with big data is creating a Digital Revolution that is going to change the way we view our health. Data collected through these devices can and will completely change how we live our lives– from birth to death. Right at birth, the baby can be digitally tagged to monitor the breathing pattern, heart rate, crying pattern, cell structure, DNA and blood group. We can call this the child’s “digital print”. All this data can be fed into a server and stored for life. This can then be augmented with more and more data captured as the child grows and becomes a young adult, moving into old age. To this “digital print” we can add lifestyle parameters such as food habits, exercise, rest, sleeping patterns, social interactions, vacations and a pattern can be established to evaluate the risk of different diseases for 
that individual.

Now imagine that this individual contracts a disease which needs a particular cell therapy that is rare to find as only 0.0001 percent of the world population has it. In today’s world, it is virtually impossible to find that person. Tomorrow when all children have a “digital print” and their data stored centrally, we would have a data ecosystem, making it easy to match the cells of different individuals in different geographies who are complete strangers to each other. Think of how many valuable lives can be saved with this digital data revolution in the medical field!

This digital ecosystem can make the big difference between Reactive and Proactive healthcare. Today, we visit a doctor when we have symptoms like cough, flu, fever or aches – which is a reactive approach to healthcare. With wearables, we are moving towards a proactive approach, where these devices give us enough data to predict an imminent disease. Athletes today have sensors in their shoes which monitor their overall feet and body health and provide early signs of health issue. Data collected in this way are sent in real time to the coach and physiotherapist who take adequate proactive steps to prevent any long term injury to the sports person. Digitised medicine dispensers end alerts to the doctor if the patient has missed a critically needed dose. They can also alert the nearby pharmacy to replenish stocks as soon as medicines reach a re-order point.

Healthcare professionals can capture health data and establish a pattern to see if there are commonalities and health risks between groups based on race, ethnicity, location, gender, and implement targeted health care programs. Patients are becoming more and more aware of their health and taking the necessary steps to live a healthy life. Insurance companies can leverage this data to devise specific insurance plans based on individual digital health prints. That way an individual does not have to buy a general plan and can ask for a personalized plan which could also be more cost effective. Together all this can give an overall cost advantage to a health care program. 

Imagine a tomorrow, where a digital chip can be injected into the body to measure your hourly calorie intake; fat and sugar content in the body; and in real time advise you to eat or not to eat any more. Imagine if a person with diabetes has a digital chip implanted in his or her teeth which can immediately check if the person is eating sugar and intervene in such a way that the person either spits out the food or fails to swallow it. 

Are you already imagining the power of a Digital Health Ecosystem? If you are, then you already know that the future is here and coming.