Today a new set of information technologies are reshaping virtually every aspect of society and as with other areas, these new tools enable us to not just re-conceptualize health but to really start to build health systems that are qualitatively better than the ones we have today. In the past couple of decades, we have built an incredible infrastructure of computation, data, and connectivity that now wraps around the planet. The devices in our pockets are connected to each other and they are connected to data centers making powerful analytical computation and connectivity ever more pervasive. This infrastructure is changing every aspect of our economies from isolated, dumb and static to integrated, smart and adaptive.
Our previous set of institutions for dealing with health were shaped in their evolution by the constraints of physicality and limited connectivity but many of those constraints are disappearing fast today; the question is how can we combine what we have learnt from the past with new innovative ideas and the possibilities of this new set of technologies to really re-invent health systems towards meeting the requirements of today. However, before we really move into the digitalization of health we need to have new approaches that are aligned with the new technology, simply automating, replicating and amplifying existing structures would lead to an accentuation of existing trends.
Health Care Organization
The challenge of health today is not so much one of scarcity – as we have already built large and complicated health systems over the past century – it is really one of organization, our health systems are not delivering the desired outcomes because of their inherent structure. Information is about organization; it is what connects us and enables us to coordinate, as such a new set of information technologies now allows us to coordinate and organize in new ways.
To effectively leverage these new technologies it is firstly important for us to look at healthcare in terms of organization and information, shift our mentality from health care being about physical things – hospitals, scanners, offices, drugs, equipment etc – thinking of it as firstly about organization and information technology as the means to coordinate the system in a much more effective way; to have the right people and processes connected in the right way, the right information at the right place and time.
The combination of new ideas with innovative design and technology can create health systems that solve for many of the issues of today. Systems that coordinate the many actors in the system around the needs of the end-user, that incentivize the actors in the network to deliver real value, that are flexible, adaptive and dynamic. Networks that can pull together the required services at the right time and place in a synchronized fashion in response to the specific needs of the end user, that use feedback, data and analytics to be preemptive and proactive.
The digitization of information and the expansion of connectivity through telecommunications means that our health systems can evolve to become much more complex integrating many more factors, both the traditional factors but also now the informal dimensions to the system; a multiplicity of factors in a pervasive fashion. By incorporating both the formal and informal the system could have a much closer and more realistic representation of what health is; what actions contribute or deplete from it and build ecosystems that incorporate the feedback processes required to make health systems dynamic, self-correcting and closer to being representative of the underlying value that we care about.
Information Based Health
Through shifting health into the realm of information we have the possibility to extend health systems to the global scale that is required going forward. mHealth technologies can help us to bypass the physical constraints of brick and mortar hospitals and clinics enabling digital health networks to provide for large populations that cannot access or afford proper healthcare. Digital healthcare can be ubiquitous and relatively free; digital healthcare is essentially a function of the right information provided at the right time to the right person when that is done correctly the physical layer becomes a much thinner part of the whole process.
The digital revolution in health will be built upon existing technologies of the internet and mobile computing but going forward new technologies will greatly strengthen our capacity to really rethink health systems from the local to the global level. The next generation internet will see the convergence of powerful new technologies in the form of mobile computing, blockchain, IoT and advanced analytics; the question is how can we really use these technologies to create qualitatively better health systems not simply extend the current paradigm.