The future of health is being shaped by many global transformations, of which technology and connectivity are the most salient. Hence, “digital technologies and personalized medicines” was an appropriate tag line for this Annual Meeting session.
As an emerging domain – at the intersection of heath and technology – this should be viewed in two contexts:
The first one, centred on personalized technologies, is transforming the way in which patients engage with healthcare in chronic disease management settings; people in general enhance wellness independence. These are important objectives given the likely emphasis on non-communicable disease prevention and incentive-based wellness in the foreseeable future. By linking big data in the cloud with mobile applications, new engagement mechanisms and social media connectivity, a number of health endpoints can now being pursued – from safety, adherence and compliance, to improved access and healthy behaviour change.
The second emerging domain is digital health (eHealth, mHealth, tHealth and cHealth), where its context-specific applications can help achieve broader health systems goals: data management and information for policy can be transformed; e-learning can be enabled; costs and errors can be mitigated through e-solutions in healthcare settings; and transparency and efficiency can be institutionalized in health governance.
Digital health can be the single most important lever to lift heath systems out of their existing systemic problems. By linking entitlements with health data repositories, it can additionally help in the attainment of wider social objectives and universal health coverage goals, which are fast gaining traction as a policy agenda; at the international level as an umbrella post-MDG health goal and at the domestic level as a deterrent against Arab Spring type of social unrest.
The promise within these approaches underscores the need for policies to harness their potential and creates imperatives for global and domestic normative action. Recognition that this promise can only be fulfilled by leveraging the strength of technological tools, which are outside of traditional healthcare, necessitates multisectoral action and effective engagement with the private sector.
An out-of-the box domestic policy appetite needs to be generated for the establishment of an enabling environment for innovation and research. Capacity needs to be built for translating evidence into policy and taking pilots to scale. Governments need to appreciate the “business case” for investment in this area and should create enabling regulations, incentives as well as the necessary infrastructure.
Appropriate investment and partnerships can help achieve double bottom line objectives and a win-win situation for all stakeholders within and beyond the health sector.