Jul 12, 2017

What is eHealth and why you can’t miss this trend

blogpost author photo
Jakub Borowczyk
blogpost cover image
eHealth apps and devices are typically viewed as gadgets these days, designed to aggregate data on our well-being and everyday tasks. We think of them as ways to monitor and support a healthier lifestyle. This is just one side of the story though. 

eHealth apps and equipment are basically a collection of technologies enabling us to maintain and preserve our health regardless of its state. A rapid growth of this technology in recent years is related to a higher availability of various mobile and medical devices on the market both for doctors and their patients.

Wellness apps are most popular right now as they gather information related to our current lifestyle. However, figures like a number of burned calories, distance traveled, activity time, heart rate and other data can be useful in something more that just monitoring your diet. We can use it in more advanced healthcare programs, for example, for patients with diabetes who use insulin pumps or for people suffering from heart diseases.

We can gather data on processes we didn’t give much thought until now and it seems like we should start doing that as soon as possible.

For example: since 2011, Polish hospitals have been performing over 24,000 coronary artery stent grafts a year. After a surgery every patient has to undergo an antiplatelet therapy, otherwise, clots will appear in the stent. That, in turn, may lead to myocardial infarction and death. A small percentage of patients disregards doctors’ orders and either stops taking their medicines or takes them in irregular doses.

Who is eHealth for?

As mentioned above, eHealth apps are no longer limited to losing weight or monitoring workout progress. Several new groups of users are already here. 

On one hand, target users of eHealth apps are not a coherent group. Reasons for reading and monitoring your body health data and aggregating them for further analysis may vary greatly from person to person.

There are also people who use apps to measure and control their own activities, for example, how a certain diet or other nutrients affect their body or how physical efforts affect their well-being.

The third group consists of patients who need apps to remind them to perform certain actions like self-check procedures or just to take medications in a course of their day. eHealth also includes devices for post-surgery patients (typically heart surgery, intravascular surgery, and neurosurgery), who need to take medications in precise dosage and time intervals to avoid serious complications.

What is equally important is that these groups constantly grow in numbers. Research shows that number of people with diagnosed diabetes is growing, both in Poland and worldwide. There are also more and more patients who require heart monitoring or need to stick to a certain diet or lifestyle.

What is more, an average age of these users is declining and we have to remember that young people embrace technology in everyday life as something perfectly natural. That doesn’t prevent the elderly or children (with parental supervision) from using eHealth apps as long as the UI is properly adjusted to their needs.

What do doctors say?

Apparently, the technology affects doctors’ work as well. And we’re not talking about advanced medical technology like CT scanning or other imaging equipment used in hospitals for years - there are much more simple solutions that emerged quite recently.

We can identify at least two areas of use here. On one hand, we have apps and devices for everyday use that allow patients to control and automate tasks. We put strain gages on a patient’s leg for post-surgery recovery and these use digital, patient-specific information on maximum turning radius to prevent from injury. As of yet, this technology is used in exoskeletons for neurological limb paresis patients.

On the other hand, we have developed solutions for regular patient diagnosis. eHealth apps and devices, which are often called eMedicine in such cases, facilitate data collection and analysis for better patient diagnosis, for example, with digital records or 3d models based on X-ray or MRI images. Doctors can use these tools to prescribe better, more effective medications and use less invasive treatments.

There are also future diagnostic technologies, still in development, but somewhat familiar through the lens of pop culture, like nano-machines, which will be swallowed by patients to produce a diagnosis.

Healthy business

Healthcare is often viewed as a market that will never get saturated. There will always be a sufficient number of patients since at least one is born every day.

People in this industry, in somewhat cold manner, believe that people who are healthy think so only because they don’t know they have an ailment – yet. It is a known fact, however, that more and more babies are born with various diseases.

On the other side of this spectrum, we have a growing trend of “health perfectionism” - we don’t want to have any flaws in our bodies and progress in medicine allows us to diagnose early. That means getting treatment earlier and in more frequent manner. (To get some perspective, remember that over a decade ago, a baby with a sixth finger or toe wasn’t considered serious dysfunction.)   

At the same time, typically in big cities, we see more focus on prophylaxis. This yields better results in terms of healthcare and it’s also far cheaper than long-term treatments. It’s both lower cost incurred by patients and lower public healthcare/social care expenses, for example, in the case of diseases preventing people from getting jobs or performing their duties.

At this point, developments in technology will allow us to prevent diseases like diabetes. What is equally important is that technology is relatively affordable, which means it will be commonly available. Potential users are there, so all it needs is a provider. This is a great opportunity for startups and investors.

Many eHealth technology advancements had already been invented, but big corporations didn’t want to introduce them into a mass market, as they invested in other solutions and waited for ROI.  Smaller companies, who can be more agile and smart, will deliver this technology much quicker.

And let’s not forget, this is only the beginning. There’s a vast sea of opportunities before us. It seems like this industry will flourish for many years to come.

eHealth app examples

Swimmo – app for optimizing swimming workouts, designed by Polish software house for US market. It uses a dedicated smartwatch to monitor the distance and swimmer movement.

Radiant – scans x-ray images to create 3d models; allows thorough diagnosis without exploratory surgery.

AlleRad – integrated x-ray image archive, supports many types of workstations. System browser enables users to send images and descriptions between hospitals.

FindAir – app for asthma patients; it indicates times and places that increase the probability of asthma attacks. Currently, it requires user input for inhaler usage. With the release of special overlay this data will be recorded automatically.

Dignio PL – Polish company developing a medical telemetry system for the elderly. This is a result of cooperation between Lodz Medical University and Norwegian company Dignio As. The app measures blood pressure, body temperature, or e.g. glucose levels.