Towards digital health: the user at the center of the health care system

The impact of new technologies in the health sector

The impact of new technologies in the health sector

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If I look back and think about health over the course of my life, what springs to mind is a succession of periods of illness, more or less serious, from the common cold to having my tonsils out. Some of these were solved through the public health system and others privately, all in a satisfactory way and yet completely disconnected from each other. This is what health is all about for the majority of people: the list of the illnesses you have had, in which the focus of your health is on your illness and the doctor who treated you. And your part in all of this? No more than just a patient.

But society is now expanding its concept of health and is no longer limited to the mere absence of illness. Greater life expectancy on the one hand and the development of the welfare state on the other, make people more conscious of their health, even when they are healthy. And nowadays, healthy lifestyles and habits are very much part of the equation.

Digital technology also has a leading role to play in these changes. The explosion of digital technologies onto the market through mobile apps, wearable devices and IoT has made it simple and accessible for all of us to carry around a record of specific health variables such as physical activity, hours of sleep, heart rate and blood pressure, and even levels of glucose and cholesterol in the blood. That is why it is starting to become a reality that people have an unprecedented knowledge and awareness of their own health. People are starting to understand that health begins by looking after yourself, by taking frequent moderate exercise and by watching what you eat and drink. Technology helps to record these habits, through knowing that fewer than 10,000 steps per day are insufficient, to the point of letting you know if you don’t meet the recommended minimum. In short, we are starting to talk about people being “empowered” with regard to their health.

But digital technology doesn’t just stop there. It goes much further. It’s worth taking a look at what has happened in other areas of society. When deciding on the hotel to stay at for a vacation or which restaurant to dine in, it’s the user who decides, based on all of the information available on the internet. It’s no longer somebody else who decides for you what you are going to watch on TV tonight, and there is no longer any need to buy a DVD featuring a whole collection of songs by an artist when you are only interested in two tracks. Even when it comes to taxis, where before the user always  got into whichever was the next available one (with more or less good fortune), it’s no longer the case. The decision is centered on the user, who chooses which taxi to use each time by using a mobile phone app. The user is in control. The user holds the power.

Transferring these concepts to the field of health, it is no longer a utopia to believe that, in the near future, people will be more demanding and knowledgeable about their interactions with the health care professionals and medical centers involved in the various processes they go through (both in sickness and in health). They will take control of their own medical history, sharing it at all times with the medical professionals they feel to be most appropriate, taking active informed decisions about the treatments and medication they feel to be most suited to maintaining their desired level of health. In short, digital health is a new scenario where the individual (no longer just a patient) is genuinely at the heart of their own health ecosystem and where the user, speaking in digital terms, is at the center of the healthcare system.

About the author:

Pedro Díaz Yuste is the Director of Digital Health at MAPFRE, responsible for launching a new Digital Health initiative within MAPFRE. Pedro previously spent four years as Business Director in the finance sector of Google Spain, helping Spanish banking and insurance companies take advantage of Google’s digital business development opportunities. Prior to that, Pedro was the Internet Director of Sanitas, heading up the company’s digital transformation. Pedro also spent part of his career at Yellow Pages, where he was responsible for launching the company’s telephone information services, 11888 in Spain and 1288 in Italy, before later becoming Director of Online Marketing. Pedro graduated as a senior telecommunications engineer from the technical university UPM and went through the Management Development Program at the IESE business school.