In healthcare these days, ‘There’s an app for that’… unless you really need it

TechCrunch | 7/21/2019 | Staff
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Sarah Lisker is a Program Manager at the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations and a collaborator in The OpEd Project. She manages SOLVE Health Tech, which bridges private sector innovation with public health expertise to make digital health accessible.

When a digital health company announces a new app, everyone seems to think it’s going to improve health. Not me.

San - Francisco - Health - System - Hospital

Where I work, in San Francisco’s public health system, in a hospital named after the founder of Facebook, digital solutions promising to improve health feel far away.

The patients and providers in our public delivery system are deeply familiar with the real-world barriers to leveraging technology to improve health. Our patients are low-income (nearly all of them receive public insurance) and diverse (more than 140 languages are spoken). Many of them manage multiple chronic conditions. The providers that care for them struggle with fragmented health records and outdated methods of communication, like faxes and pagers.

Companies - Diseases - Costs - Lives - Technology

So when companies tell us they will cure diseases, drive down costs, and save lives with state-of-the-art technology, I am often hesitant.

More than thirty billion dollars have been invested in digital health since 2011. The resulting technological innovations, such as mobile applications, telemedicine, and wearables, promise to help patients fight diabetes, treat chronic disease, or lose weight, for example.

Health - Drive - Improvements - Health - Outcomes

However, we have yet to see digital health drive meaningful improvements in health outcomes and reductions in health expenditures. This lack of impact is because digital health companies build products that often don’t reach beyond the “worried well” – primarily healthy people who make up a small proportion of health expenditures and are already engaged in the healthcare system.

If we’re designing health apps for those who already have access to healthcare, nutritious food, clean air to breathe, and stable housing, we’re missing the point.

Surprise - Health - Apps

It’s no surprise that health apps are incongruous...
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