Healthcare as we know it is changing. Healthcare Specialist organisations are disrupting the sector with a digital shot-in-the-arm; fast forwarding smart ideas and innovations and solving everyday patient and clinician problems.

Digital health companies received a record-breaking $4.5 billion of venture funding in 2016, a figure which has remained the same in 2017 despite all expectations for it to fall. So, for those organisations able to adapt and meet these new challenges in the market, this highlights a real opportunity for development.

Using digital communications these specialists have made patient information and healthcare knowledge ever more accessible, helping improve the health of patients and treating them in more efficient and effective ways than ever before.

So how are they doing it?

Firstly, apps. An app is able to provide the patient, and the specialist with what no healthcare professional can in person – 24/7 patient monitoring in real-time, no matter what the time or location.

This data, tracked by any one of over 100,000 health & fitness apps available on iTunes and Google Play, can provide healthcare professionals with the quick, accurate and continuously monitored information – particularly when it comes to activity levels and key health indications.

The integration of apps and devices ranges from familiar wearables such as Fitbit-style items to more elaborate (and more costly) devices, such as graphene-based skin patches used to monitor blood glucose levels.

The success of such technology can already be seen in the bespoke apps used across hospitals today. Relax, a tablet app designed to help calm and distract children who are being anesthetised uses profiling information to suggest the best art, music and games to suit each child. Already, Relax has been credited with saving masses of valuable time by reducing patient distress and dramatically lowering the number of cancelled operations as a result.

Whatever the app used or the hardware needed to support it, the link between mobile apps and real-time tracking generates significant new opportunities for tailored patient care.

As we take this shift in focus from the quantity of patients being seen to the quality of care provided, the need for accurate, up to date patient information, right when it’s needed is more important than ever. This is an area in which the development of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and their ability to sync between healthcare systems will play a huge role – particularly where the patient pays directly in part or full for their care.

Advanced EHRs will allow for accurate, up-to-date information to be accessed by patients and practitioners instantly and cohesively.  From consultants and surgeons, to care nurses and GPs, the patient’s history will be tracked and can be accessed on a priority and needs basis – within secure networks – all along the chain of care.

So digital transformation in the healthcare sector is quite clearly accelerating. From ‘virtual clinics’, where doctors can schedule a video call to have a follow-up with specific patients, to a more in-depth remote analysis where doctors can track a patient’s day-to-day health metrics, digital is supplementing (not replacing) traditional GP appointments. It’s providing doctors with more options to see patients in an industry with ever-increasing demand, time and resource pressures.

Of course we need to recognise the challenges too, especially in relation to privacy, data protection and patient confidentiality.  So we will need to address who sees what, how much is shared with who and regulation will need to play its part.

But undoubtedly even the few opportunities highlighted here mean that digital technology will be key in helping to realise the common goals of improving healthcare accessibility and the health of patients, whilst reducing the need for hospital admission and overall costs.