Demographic and social changes are the leading causes of public healthcare spending, a significant issue that affects countries worldwide (WHO,2019). One solution to increasing costs in healthcare is innovation in the form of digital transformation. Digital transformation in healthcare consists of several different digital technologies such as virtual reality tools, wearable medical devices, telehealth, 5G technology, and AI-powered systems (Hermes et al., 2020). The technologies mentioned above enable streamlining physicians’ work, optimizing systems, improving patients’ outcomes, reducing human error, and lowering costs in general (Hermes et al., 2020). Therefore, this article structures digital transformation technologies in healthcare into the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and artificial intelligence (AI). At last, the adverse effects and an example of digital technologies in the fight against COVID-19 in Brazil are analyzed.
The Internet of Things definition is: “the proliferation of sensors and actuators embedded in everyday things, coupled with the wide availability of high-speed Internet” (Bougouettaya et al., 2021, p.86). The trend of wearable medical devices strongly supports this technology. Heart rate sensors, exercise trackers, sweat meters, and oximeters are just a few examples of new wearable devices. Further, wearable devices enable medical technology companies and public health institutions to track better the well-being of individuals (Haghi et al., 2017). Additionally, patients are encouraged to focus on the prevention of diseases and maintenance of their well-being. Furthermore, the data collected from wearable devices and IoT can help personalize the healthcare experience and provide incentives for individuals.
In the next step, the data collected through IoT flows into the trend of big data. Big data in healthcare commonly refers to electronic health data, which are highly complex and hard to manage. Healthcare data can originate from different sources in the healthcare industry, for example, from clinical data, prescriptions, medical imaging, laboratories, pharmacies, insurances, and many more (Raghupathi, 2014). Healthcare data volumes have grown exponentially within the last years, and the growth is unlikely to slow down (Lv et al., 2020). The effective use of the data available can lead to benefits on an individual level, such as detecting diseases at earlier stages and on public health level: managing population health more quickly and efficiently (Raghupathi, 2014).
One application of big data in healthcare is artificial intelligence (AI), which has a broad scope of application. Contrary to common belief, AI will not replace the work of healthcare staff but rather facilitate and enhance their day-to-day work. The most common applications of AI in healthcare are to improve administrative workflows, image analysis, robotic surgery, virtual assistance, and clinical decision support (Marr, 2018). Moreover, there are even applications to find genetics-based solutions, opening many new opportunities to find genetically based treatments.
The digital transformation opens many new possibilities, ranging from technological advancements such as wearables to collect data to extensive data analysis, which structures the data for further applications. Finally, AI creates actual value for patients and public healthcare. These digital technologies are just a few more that can fundamentally change and improve healthcare from an individual and a public healthcare perspective.
Regardless of the many benefits, digital technologies bring along, there are also downsides to the digital transformation in healthcare (Lupton, 2014). One possible risk is data security and the mishandling of personal patient data. However, the data created and used within the healthcare ecosystem is precious to patients, public health institutions, and commercial companies (Mazanderani, 2013). Another downside to digital transformation is the lack of access for patients without access to the internet and other digital technologies (Lupton, 2014).
For instance, digital technologies have enabled the public healthcare response to the COVID-19 pandemic in countries globally. Accordingly, Brazil introduced several digital initiatives to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. A coronavirus app, a chatbot, a WhatsApp helpline, and telemedicine are just some of the many solutions introduced by public healthcare institutions (Celuppi et al., 2021). Further, public healthcare institutions introduced initiatives to collect and access data more efficiently, which is fundamental for efficient application.
In conclusion, digital transformation in healthcare has vast potential and can help overcome some of the most challenging public and global healthcare issues. Nevertheless, it is crucial to enable these technologies to everyone as their effect is dependent on the number of users and data. Therefore, digital technologies will play an essential role in the healthcare industry and have to be adjusted to social and local circumstances to enable the best solution for everyone.
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