26 May 2015 / 11:07 am
Jersey has the potential to be at the forefront of digital health applications that have far-reaching and profound benefits for every Islander’s life. Digital Health or eHealth is based on the principle that advanced technologies unlock and connect data that improves healthcare and the patient experience exponentially. Given our Island’s size, our independence and our personal and digital connectivity, we are able to implement technology and a connected system of data that is currently impossible elsewhere, and through it fundamentally improve the quality of Islanders’ lives, whilst giving us all far greater ownership of our own health and wellbeing.
What is Digital Health?
Digital Health is the application of the latest technological innovations to improve healthcare. It is multi-pronged in its revolutionary approach and includes:
Digital technology example
The AliveCor (CA, USA) is a hand-held electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart. It is a small portable device that attaches to a user’s smartphone and records a high-quality single channel ECG.
The recording is stored in the user’s cloud account and / or linked to their doctor’s account. ECGs can be remotely analysed, emailed or printed for clinical interpretation. The software now also has an FDA approved algorithm for the detection of a common rhythm condition called atrial fibrillation. This type of technology allows a rapid diagnosis for patients with symptoms of palpitation that would otherwise need prolonged monitoring with Holter ECGs and event recorders. It also allows for more remote follow-up of patients with complex arrhythmias who can discuss their symptoms over the telephone or internet whilst sharing their traces directly with their cardiologist.
Industry has made it resoundingly clear that the future of technology lies in innovations such as this one. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung have all centred their business development on digital health in 2014, with worldwide revenues from sports, fitness, and activity tracking devices worth $1 billion in 2014, a figure that is expected to almost double by 2019.
The impetus is not just from industry giants however. Social media has been absolutely pivotal in the digital health revolution, with many doctors – particularly in the field of cardiology – embracing social media platforms as a vital part of patient and community engagement. The LinkedIn group “Digital Health” for example, has grown over five years to a community of over 30,000 digital health professionals
What does this mean for Jersey?
As an Island we have to face the challenges of our aging population head on. The preventative care that Digital Health provides must be part of this response. We also need to see our specific circumstances as an opportunity: We are an Island of 100,000 people, in a closed system, with good links already between primary and secondary care. If we harness the technology capabilities, many of which we already have on-Island, to build on our strengths through the use of a data bus, then the possibilities are limitless.
Currently each sector of our healthcare has a separate data system with limited sharing between them, and only a degree of patient access enabled by freedom of information. This data can do so much more, and must do so much more. Our health depends on it.
It’s clear that Digital Health is absolutely vital and absolutely achievable for Jersey but we are also on the cusp of a make or break moment. Currently, progress is dependent on individuals and private investment and initiative. Naturally the driving force behind Digital Health on the Island has come from healthcare professionals, who are also focusing on their day job! Government needs to take a lead on this.
Digital Health proposals have fallen victim to unwillingness to coordinate and take ownership of at a governmental level. So far, Digital Health hasn’t been the priority it needs to be. Short termism and spending cuts now are going to cost us far more in a short space of time. In the realm of Digital Health, we must invest now to save extensively in the future – particularly in the field of preventative care with our aging population.
The Jersey Innovation Fund has failed to fulfill its basic function in this area by not investing in innovation that will bring such profound and long-term improvements to citizens’ lives. Following so many tortuous attempts to get Digital Health off the ground in Jersey, it’s clear a fundamental rethink is required about the function and operations of the JIF. If Digital Health is not a priority for them, what hope do other forms of innovation have? There are some truly outstanding global entrepreneurs and businesses that would welcome the opportunity to propel Digital Health technologies forwards in Jersey; why isn’t this seen as a priority and why isn’t this being enabled?
Alongside remodeling the JIF, Digital Jersey needs funding and support to play their role here. Digital Health is an area where the organisation’s goals coalesce perfectly to accelerate the digital economy for the benefit of the Island’s citizens. They are ideally placed to support the right people and ideas in coming over to the Island. Through Digital Jersey, the government should enable someone on the ground whose job it is to scout out the right opportunities, contact Digital Health companies and invite them over.
Entrepreneurs on the Island must also step up against the backdrop of this support. Digital Health is one of the largest growing areas of global opportunity and investment, and our next steps should reflect this. A goal perhaps could be to establish a Digital Health research unit, with researchers developing the most cutting edge health technology that will revolutionise Islanders’ lives, making us live longer and more healthily. This could be supported by a rapidly responsive technology investment fund.
A true collaboration of medical, digital and governmental forces need to come together to make Digital Health a reality for the good of us all and for the island economy. These are, quite literally, matters of life and death. With the right attitude, policies, funding and support we can make Jersey the premier global centre of Digital Health.
The time is now.