In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 pushed healthcare systems around the globe to their breaking point, forcing a terrible choice upon them. As hospitals and caregivers battled wave after wave of infections, public transportation shut down, and every available clinic transformed into a COVID care ward, the ones with the most to lose were those who were already in the system—the immunocompromised, the chronically ill. The disruption and en-masse diversion of resources to pandemic response led to a dangerous shortfall in routine care services for this highly vulnerable category of patients. The lesson learned from this experience is that any strategy for future pandemic preparedness must necessarily provision for routine care and chronic care as a matter of the highest priority.
On the other hand, during the same period, numerous telehealth or telemedicine solutions scaled up rather quickly and served patients in the comfort of their homes. The inherent resistance to, or lethargic adoption of, digital technology, remote monitoring, and self-management methodology became a thing of the past. Another lesson learned is that both patients and the medical community now know the benefits of “going digital” and will expect more in the future.
That is where digital transformation enters the picture. With robust telehealth and remote care infrastructure, patients will be empowered to effectively self-manage chronic conditions. Like any new technology or advances is being tried out in a few areas and early success is helping build consensus across the industry.
- Cardiovascular Disease (CVD): CVD claimed 17.9 million deaths in 2019 alone. Of these deaths, 85% were the result of heart attacks and strokes.1 However, it is possible to control modifiable CVD risk factors through timely interventions and lifestyle adjustments. A digital platform can assist with tracking adherence to medication, nutrition, exercise regimens, and improved control of blood pressure, thereby, enabling patients to self-manage CVDs.2
- Diabetes: Over the years, the prevalence of diabetes has been increasing globally. The annual associated medical cost of 237 billion USD (in the US alone) comes as no surprise3. However, patients can put an end to the progression of diabetes with good lifestyle management. They can maintain normal blood sugar levels, and that too, without medication.4 All patients need to have is a high degree of health literacy.5
- Oncology: Nearly one in every six deaths in 2018 was the result of cancer. It claimed 9.6 million deaths, retaining second-position on the list of leading causes of deaths worldwide.6 The distance/proximity of cancer care institutions often leads to patients missing their appointments or even delayed treatment. Digital platforms in conjunction with wearable sensors streamline communication, enabling comprehensive remote patient monitoring. And studies have pointed out that real-time alerts assist healthcare providers in taking quick, informed actions that could lead to early diagnoses and timely interventions, eventually lowering the number of deaths.7
The seamless integration of real-time data from medical devices, wearables, and mobile phones allows digital health platforms to generate actionable insights for patients to effectively self-manage their conditions with limited or remote clinical consultation. In addition, a significant increase in ingested data and advanced analytical capabilities of digital health platforms could result in superior insights for physicians and caregivers, enabling accurate and timely individual patient care. This can reduce the financial burden as well as improve health outcomes. The future of chronic care stands at the intersection of in-person consultations and virtual clinics. Simply put, leveraging Digital Health Platforms to advance “Hybrid Care”, especially for chronic care patients is the way forward.
1. World Health Organisation. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) [Internet]. WHO, 2021 [updated 11 June 2021; cited 8 Dec 2021]
2. Milani RV, Lavie CJ, Bober RM, Milani AR, Ventura HO. Improving Hypertension Control and Patient Engagement Using Digital Tools. Am J Med. 2017 Jan; 130(1):14-20
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020 – Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020 [cited 14 Dec 2021]
4. Taylor R, Al-Mrabeh A, Zhyzhneuskaya S, Peters C, Barnes AC, Aribisala BS, et al. Remission of Human Type 2 Diabetes Requires Decrease in Liver and Pancreas Fat Content but Is Dependent upon Capacity for β Cell Recovery. Cell Metab. 2018 Oct 2; 28(4): 547-556.e3
5. Shan R, Sarkar S, Martin S. Digital health technology and mobile devices for the management of diabetes mellitus: state of the art. Diabetologia, 2019
6. World Health Organization, Cancer
7. Basch E, Deal AM, Dueck AC, et al: Overall survival results of a trial assessing patient-reported outcomes for symptom monitoring during routine cancer treatment. JAMA 318:197-198, 2017 Crossref, Medline, Google Scholar