Sunday, 24 May 2015

Digital Health: tensions between hype and reality

There are many articles predicting an amazing future for digital technologies for healthcare: wearables, implantables, wirelessly enabled to gather vital signs information and collate it for future sensemaking, by the individual, clinicians and population health researchers. Two examples that have recently come to my attention are a video by the American Psychiatry Association and a report by Deloitte. The possibilities are truly transformational.

Meanwhile, I recently visited a friend who has Type II diabetes. On his floor, half hidden by a table, I spotted what I thought was a pen lid. It turned out to be the top of his new lancing kit. Although he had been doing blood glucose checks daily for well over a decade, he hadn't done one for over two weeks. Not just because he'd lost an essential part of the equipment, but because he'd been prescribed the new tool and hadn't been able to work out how to use it. So losing part of it wasn't a big deal: it was useless to him anyway. He told me that when he'd reported his difficulties to his clinician, he'd... been prescribed a second issue of exactly the same equipment. So now he has three sets of equipment: the original (AccuChek) lancing device and blood glucose meter, which he has used successfully for many years, but which he can't use now because he doesn't have spare consumables; and two lancing devices and meters (from a different manufacturer), with plenty of spare consumables, which he can't use because he finds the lancing device too difficult to use. And in trying to work out with him what the problem was, we managed to break one of them. Good thing he's got a spare!

If we think it's just isolated individuals who struggle, it's not: a recent report from Forbes reports similar issues at scale: poor usability of electronic health records and patient portals that are making work less efficient and effective rather than more.

So on the one hand we have the excitement of future possibilities that are gradually becoming reality for many people, and on the other hand we have the lived experiences of individuals. And for some people, change is not necessarily good. The real challenge is to design a future that can benefit all, not just the most technology-savvy in society.