Writer Mona Karaoui, nuviun’s Voice of the Consumer, talks about her introduction to the exciting world of digital health—and the possibilities she sees on the horizon.

Growing up in a family of healthcare devotees is no joke. When I read about the history of poetry, they read about the history of medicine, when I write a blog post about snow flakes, they write a white paper about heart valves. So when digital health was brought to the table, I instantly thought to myself:

This must be my turf for I am a fool for the world of digital. This is where we’ve got to find our middle ground.

We are living in a world brimming with technology, and our exposure and interactions with a multitude of easy-to-use electronic devices have made us tech-savvy with a cool appreciation for High Definition displays.

We have come a long way since the chirping of 56K modems and black and white televisions, and while many of us were lucky to witness this “digital” revolution unfold before our eyes, not many are yet party to the remarkable uses of technology that are reshaping the way we interact with our health.

Digital health is here. It’s young and beautiful; it’s paperless and data driven. It’s all about harnessing the power of data to deliver improvements in healthcare services design and delivery. For this to happen, it needs to be able to collect, store and quickly access vast amounts of data—including our personal medical health records so that our doctors can plan our patient journeys based on our specific medical conditions and needs.

Electronic Health Record: My “Health” Passport

Until very recently, the health records of patients visiting their doctors were kept on paper, grouped together in neat bundles, and arranged in alphabetical order in clunky filing cabinets waiting for patients to return—when the paperwork would be recalled for annotation. This “primitive” system meant that, in most cases, our medical records sitting in the clinic of a family practitioner, for example, could not be shared with our dentists, pharmacists or specialist doctors.

We hence had to be sure to remember our allergies (I am allergic to aspirin) and past treatments and hospitalizations, and were always at the mercy of a new (and at times potential mis-) diagnosis. Almost certainly, the inability to integrate our full medical histories meant that we could not receive the best possible healthcare plans that also take into account our exact medical requirements.

The rise and widespread adoption of EHRs is changing all of this. The digitization of our medical notes means that they can be shared with ease between our healthcare providers, giving them the information they need to propose appropriate treatments and care plans based on our specific medical histories (from cradle to grave).

So basically, it seems to me that our electronic health records are our “passports” to health. And like passports, it is crucial that they remain safe, with access permitted only to those with appropriate permissions.

This is not only because they contain personal information (hence making us vulnerable to others who misuse this data), but also because they define us by highlighting intimate and personal details about our private lives and medical experiences. A lot of investment is going into ensuring that EHRs are stored on secure servers, whilst also permitting their sharing and use by those with appropriate permissions in multiple locations.

My Virtual Medical Visits

An increasing level of “interoperability” between clinical systems, coupled with a widespread adoption of EHRs and other technologies are quickly paving the way for what is commonly referred to as Telehealth. Telehealth provides easier access, and when our EHRs can tag along with us wherever we may be, healthcare professionals can deliver personalized care plans based on our needs when and where, as needed.

So basically, we can now visit our doctors remotely (your brand new 27”iMac included) without having to actually “visit” their clinics. This arrangement is especially beneficial for those of us currently living in remote regions or isolated areas.

Communicating with our doctors via an interface not too dissimilar from Skype may sound odd to a few of us now, but there is no doubt that our children will grow up in the cool of a glossy environment where anything is made possible by interacting with future generation tablets and smartphones.

In a Nutshell

The future is looking bright, and further improvements in digital health—together with our increasing health literacy—promise to lead us to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

My siblings research the endless possibilities that digitizing healthcare could bring to the Middle East... whilst I eagerly unwrap my fine looking iPhone 6.... Meanwhile, further developments in digital health continue to bleep quietly in my app store...

Mona Karaoui is a writer and editor. In her posts for nuviun, she provides unique insights and perspectives on digital health through the eyes of the consumer. You can follow Mona on Twitter @monakaraoui or on her blog: fool4words.

The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.