Did you already hear about digital health, and more specifically e-health and m-health? We can assert that this new trend is taking the digital world by storm.
E-health is all digital supports related to healthcare, and M-health refers to health apps. Nowadays, these are major players when it comes to data collection and medical care. Thanks to social networks and mobile apps, sharing knowledge about its condition or illness is becoming more and more huge and useful. E-Health first emerged in the United States, and is promptly growing in France.
What are the major issues of e-health and m-health on their users and the medical sector?
A community of online sharing…
Since the beginning of the Internet, health system is undergoing substantial changes. People used to physically consult a healthcare professional. Now, we consider that almost 60 % of them use internet to inquire about their health.
These networks allow us to ask ourselves about a subject concerning health while remaining anonymous. We can now see on the same platform health experts and patients who exchange on healthcare, and this interaction is to the benefit of each party, the professionals and users. The expert gives a hand by sharing his knowledge and expertise and the user finds the immediate answers he was looking for.
These kind of social networks, such as www.curetogether.com and www.23andme.com, hide massive data which can influence the medical research. All profiles and testimonies of users leave a fingerprint on sites by forming a solid, credible and useful base by all the actors of healthcare sector. This trend was already observed in the United-States on the www.patientslikeme.com site which brings together more than 400 000 Internet users. People affected by specific diseases gather on this social networks to be able to share details about their condition, their illness, their treatment or, sometimes, tips that could be useful.
According to Professor Bruno STRASSER, a science historian at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), this patients’ community has already allowed to detect the ineffectiveness of a new medicine against the Lou Gehrig syndrome (degeneration muscular disease). It happened thanks to feedbacks of users using the treatment. It is generally acknowledged that within the Healthcare sector can have positive effects on the biomedical research due to the active involvement of the Internet users.
E-health is not the only digital support in the Healthcare sector to share instantaneous information.
… Surrounded by apps and connected objects
The new digital trend goes on m-health. Nowadays, people are more and more connected on their smartphone.
In January 2015, a study carried out by Odoxa asserted that 1 French out of 3 possesses a connected appliances allowing to record physiological and physical measures.
This kind of apps is more and more used. The study ” Santé connectée : le digital au cœur du nouvel écosystème de santé ” (meaning “Connected health : the digital at the heart of the new ecosystem of health”) highlighted that more than 24% of people, having a smartphone and/or a tablet, has already used Health apps. This result increase by 40% compared with the data of 2014. These health apps can take several forms either as a sport coach, a dietary coach or as a medical record. For example, the Stava apps allows users to run while being accompanied by a fictitious sport coach. It records the sports performances and the progress realized against previous training.
The App boosts users to improve their results and to foster the practice of a regular activity. Other apps called “medical apps” stock multitude of personal medical information such as the weight or the heartbeat. This is the case of Apple. Apple leaned on the idea of storage to develop an App dedicated to the health. This App, called Health Kit, offers to users the possibility to store their whole medical record such as the nutritional diet, sport activity, medical treatments or physical and morphological characteristics. This kind of Apps allows to users to monitor in real time their health status. The e-health and the m-health are beneficial for users, thanks to the storage of personal data, the practice of a regular sport activity or a daily follow-up of their state of health.
Big data for the Health sector
The full data set by users on the Apps or on patients’ networks establishes a database called “Big Data”. These data is handled and stored in a different ways according to companies. Since 2015, Apple partnered with IBM to increase its storage capacity and to analyse data stemming from the Healthkit Apps. IBM, thanks to its computer Watson, can synthesize these data forthwith. Those analyses, very coveted by the Healthcare sector, remain, at the moment, the property of IBM and Apple. The real destination of medical data, coming from networks or from Apps, remain unknown. Professionally, a doctor is kept under the medical secrecy. Information revealed by the patient remains private and confidential between the doctor and his patient.
What about Apps and networks? The conditions of data protection are usually lightly read by users who necessarily have to give their consent before being able to use the App. The risk is the current owners of these medical personal data pass on or sell this information to companies which could have an excessive use behind the back of users. The ethical issues of Big Data remain with uncertainties.