Good health is, perhaps, the most important and the most basic human need. And good healthcare is, perhaps, the most important and most basic human right.
For far too many and for far too long, however, consistent, high-quality healthcare has been an unattainable dream rather than an irrefutable reality. Evolutions in healthcare technology are rapidly changing that, extending healthcare into the most remote areas of the world and to the most underserved populations across the globe.
Doctors (Truly) without Borders
Perhaps the most profound impact of today’s healthcare technology is its capacity to reach the most inhospitable and inaccessible regions. Mobile tech is taking healthcare into areas where medical services are scarce and hospitals non-existent. Telehealth technologies, for example, are being used across areas of rural East Africa to provide life-saving diagnostic, preventative, and prenatal healthcare. This includes portable ultrasound machines linked to smartphones for traveling medical teams.
Likewise, mobile devices have penetrated practically every corner of the globe. In the slums of India, the country’s most impoverished people save for weeks to purchase cheap mobile phones, which they use to access a world of information. And that includes information on disease prevention and health, as well as more localized public health data, such as the location of the nearest clean water supply or free health clinic.
But modern healthcare tech as a great equalizer doesn’t even require human hands to make them work. Not so long ago, there were regions of this world that were so inaccessible that a medical or public health emergency could result in life-long disability or preventable death. In fact, studies show that 88% of injury-related fatalities occur in poverty-stricken areas of the globe where emergency medical care is scarce.
Drones are rapidly becoming healthcare technology; they can deliver life-saving equipment and medication, from blood products to therapeutics to dialysis machines, to far-flung regions otherwise accessible only by foot.
Modern health technologies have democratized health in ways that are, perhaps, less overt but are equally as important. With the advent of healthcare IT, patient data has increasingly gone digital. And this not only facilitates patient care and care provider information-sharing through the use of electronic health records (EHR), but it also enables the best of evidence-based, value-driven care.
Big data, for instance, allows the anonymized health data of literally billions of patients worldwide to be aggregated and continuously evaluated. This supports efficient and accurate diagnoses and the formulation of proven treatment strategies customized to patients’ particular health needs. That’s not only preventing costly treatment errors, but it’s also enhancing disease prevention and reducing disease progression and complications.
All this leads to more efficient and less expensive medical care. This helps reduce the financial burden of essential medical care on poor and working-class families and ensures that more services can be affordably provided to government health insurance and charitable organizations for those who cannot pay.
Power to the People
Today’s health technology is allowing healthcare providers to extend care to patients all around the world who have for too long been denied access to the services that so many take for granted.
But mHealth, which refers to an entire constellation of healthcare technologies, from wearables to apps to remote monitoring systems, is also empowering the average healthcare consumer in developed countries as well. Wearable health technologies, from smartwatches to Fitbits, are putting the power of knowledge into the hands of the patients, literally.
No longer does the healthcare provider have a monopoly on information. Now, the patient plays a more equitable role in the doctor-patient relationship, armed with more and better knowledge from which to make her own informed decisions. In addition, the patient’s access to her own medical data empowers her to hold her caregivers accountable.
Best of all, mHealth can be used as a therapeutic tool in its own right, especially when it comes to mental and emotional health. For example, a whole library of free and low-cost apps is available to patients who need support in managing stress and combating anxiety. Meditation apps, for instance, help users decompress at the end of a difficult day or find their equilibrium when life gets overwhelming.
No matter who you are, good health and a long life are something we all wish for ourselves and for those we love. And that begins and ends with consistent access to good healthcare. But pervasive inequities in global medicine have meant that, in every country around the world, there have been significant populations of patients left behind. Innovations in healthcare technology, however, are rapidly changing that. The result, in the end, will be a more democratic global healthcare system that ensures that all persons receive full and consistent access to medical care as a basic human right.