How Digital Technologies Disrupt the Health Industry

Not long ago, the health industry used to act exclusively in terms of human-to-human interaction. Doctors treating patients, salesperson selling health insurance to customers, caregiver caring for an elderly person.

This approach to providing health services has certainly changed in the last years. An increasing percentage of traditional health services has been replaced by technological counterparts. Let’s have a look at some examples…

Doctor treating patient —> people look up information online or with help of AI

We have all been there: you have some form of physical pain or issue and you immediately ask Google what type of disease you might have. According to a study 60% of Americans google their symptoms before consulting a doctor. If you are anything like most people, you are likely to focus on the worst stated possibility. This not only increases your fear and anxiety but is also most likely to be plainly false (only 34% of symptom search queries showed the correct diagnosis first). Despite this issue there has been constant advances in the field.

Have a look at Ada:

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Ada – Personal Health Companion (Source)

Ada promises to be a personal health assistant that learns over time about your physical wellbeing. It uses Artificial Intelligence to “feel” as human as possible.

Selling health insurance through salespeople –> using comparison websites to find best offering

In a lot of countries now you have the choice between several health insurance providers. Similar to online services providing flight price comparisons, these websites offer a broad picture of existing solutions.

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iSelect Health Insurance Comparison (Source)

Instead of salespeople initializing the purchase of health covers, now the customer starts the search and quest for a suitable offering. Thereby creating a more transparent and competitive market.

Human caregivers –> addition of robots

Caring for elderly or disabled people is usually a highly physical job, making the replacement by machines less likely than the first two scenarios. Nevertheless, there are parts of “caring” that can be automated. Consider the following video:

The robot can easily remind people of taking medications or providing an easy way to call a doctor or friend. This obviously does not get rid of the need of human caregivers but it offers a reliable solution to rather mundane tasks.

Where is this trend going?

While we are still highly dependent on doctors or caregivers to provide health services anytime soon, there are clear trends towards more automation in this industry. The interpretative and physical nature of these jobs make them less susceptible to be replaced by machines and computers, but more and more simple tasks can be provided using technology. I would not be anxious about job losses though, especially since demographic change will demand more services in the future. Moreover, automation will drive costs down, thus allowing previously uncovered people to enjoy health benefits.

Where do you see the health industry heading? Will using an app replace going to the doctor in the future? Will technology help to close the gap between developed and developing countries in terms of health services?


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