November 5, 2010
By Tiffany Hogan, Ph.D., Senior Research & Product Strategist
If you are looking to understand some of the developing trends in the use of technology in healthcare, I recommend PSFK’s impressive and insightful recent report, The Future of Health. Originally prepared for UNICEF, it is a 200+ page report that identifies 15 different trends that have developed or are developing, and speculates on their implication for the future of health care delivery. As you would expect, it is global in perspective and one of the aspects of the report that has most impressed me is PSFK’s knack for identifying how the trends may be technologically similar, but will have different implications and manifestations as they are adopted within different cultures and locales. For example, one trend that they identify is that of “temporary communities.” This is the idea that technologies such as SMS or open source group communication technology can be used in real time to connect people and share data within a specific geographic area and time frame. They point out that this could be useful for controlling information in an epidemic, or for bringing groups of people together for vaccination or emergency relief. For UNICEF, one of their identified challenges has been the development of trust and respect within communities, so that citizens can come together and honestly address local issues and seek solutions, as well as accept and trust health care workers. The PSFK team suggests that this kind of technology can also be used to set up local message exchanges, like a virtual bulletin board, that can help residents and health workers exchange information in a more sustained way, which can help build community and trust.
Other examples of trends that they identified were distance learning, the handheld hospital, consultation by SMS, wellness tracking and gaming for health.
Overall, though, the underlying message is that while advances in technology in general are allowing for the provision of health care information to the masses, the trend that is driving many of these is the adoption of mobile technology for many different needs. In particular, the most promising (but probably not terribly surprising) is the use of mobile technology for decentralizing health care by bringing information and in-field diagnostics and monitoring to the outer edges of less developed markets. For example, the use of SMS text messaging to help practitioners diagnose and treat illness far from hospitals. Additionally, many diagnostic tools are being modified and attached to cell phones – everything from microscopes to a device that can diagnose pneumonia. Cell phones have received a lot of attention as a category because of their impact on jobs and revenue creation in underdeveloped areas, but now they are demonstrating their use and impact as important health care tools.
Many of us here at Ximedica have been inspired and excited by the report (especially those of us in the Research and Strategy group). It’s well worth looking at the original report if you have the time. Cool stuff, nicely done, PSFK!