Benefits and challenges of digital health technology: What the research says

The pandemic has accelerated our use of digital health technology - such as wearables and health-tracking apps - and most of us now use some sort of digital health tech as part of our daily lives.

National Institute for Health and Care research infographic. Text displays: Research shows that the best games, apps and e-therapy to help young people manage their long-term conditions...are personalised, involve parents, are engaging and include support from healthcare professionals.

Digital health technology aims to boost our health and wellbeing, or to improve health systems and services. It includes smartphone apps, wearable devices (such as step trackers), and platforms that provide remote healthcare (telehealth), as well as software to help track symptoms, online tools to diagnose conditions, and programmes that analyse data from medical devices such as blood pressure monitors.

As a blind person, I am hugely grateful that I now have access to a fully accessible heart rate and blood oxygen monitor in the shape of my Apple watch. Moreover, it can alert me of potentially dangerous irregularities in my heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) – and alert others when I’ve had a fall or been involved in a car accident when I’m not able to myself. Literally life-saving stuff.
The benefits of digital health technology are enormous. It is convenient and can be used anytime, anywhere. Virtual care can reach more people than face-to-face and is often cheaper. It can empower people to manage their own conditions and can reduce travel and emissions, resulting in benefits to the environment.
However, there are also concerns. New tech can be challenging to use. Can an app really help you manage your condition? Does online therapy actually work? Who will have access to your electronic health records and all your personal data? Have these apps and tools been properly researched and evaluated?

Evidence collected by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) drew on a wide range of recent research exploring the real-life benefits and challenges around digital health technology to create an invaluable evidence collection; What is digital health technology and what can it do for me?

National Institute for health and care research infographic. Text displays: Several studies have shown that digital therapy can be effective for people with anxiety, depression and psychosis. But further research is still needed to develop interventions that are as effective as possible.
The research covered areas ranging from games to help children exercise, tech to help ward off loneliness for care home residents, whether apps can help us manage conditions or remember to take medications and whether online therapy is effective.

When it comes to disabled people and their families and carers, it explores everything from the potential power of digital health tech to transform health and care access and services as these tools become more prevalent, to concerns raised about how accessible and easy-to-use is, and how robust and trustworthy these tools are for often vulnerable and isolated users. The collection isn’t solely aimed at professionals or practitioners, it’s intended for everyone - including the general public.

Digital health technology is playing an ever-more-important role in all of our lives. Why not check out the digital health technology collection today?

Useful resources:

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