Necessity -- the Mother of Health Innovation

By Susan Manber, EVP, Brand Strategy & Planning, Digitas Health LifeBrands

Emerging technology is a hot topic in our constantly evolving work. A lot has been written on how new tech - wearables and mobile apps- will empower people to improve their health. When used well, those technologies can create tighter, stronger relationships between patients and their physicians and caregivers, too. In fact, technology that was designed specifically for mainstream consumer use has powerful health applications.

Recently, I experienced three instances in which technology improved health and caregiving.

A few weeks ago, my 89-year-old father called from his Manhattan apartment to let me know that his Access-a-Ride van had not shown up, and he was going to have to cancel his cardiologist appointment. He had been short of breath and unsteady on his feet, so this appointment was important for his wellbeing and my piece of mind. I called an Uber, and a few minutes later, he was on his way to his appointment. Dad didn't need to understand how Uber worked; he just needed to get to the cardiologist. A second car easily returned him home. As it turned out, Dad needed to have his medication adjusted and was soon feeling much steadier on his feet. Uber as a healthcare service? Absolutely!

While leading a workshop in San Francisco a few weeks ago, my daughter (at home in Westchester) texted me a picture of her severely swollen ankle, asking if she should go to the ER. During her appointment, I used my IPhone's FaceTime app to speak with the doctor. Remotely, I gave permission for the physician to examine my daughter's swollen ankle. We discussed his recommended treatment of a brace, ice, and three weeks of rest. This instance alone saved an emergency room visit, cost to the system, and hours of anxiety.

Closer to home, I got a bad case of what I thought was poison ivy. The following day, it started to hurt. I thought to myself, that the pain was odd because poison ivy shouldn't hurt, and a quick search showed that I could have shingles. I sent pictures to my allergist who told me to come in right away. Sure enough, she soon diagnosed me with shingles. Luckily, I contacted her within the 72-hour window to receive the proper antiviral treatment. Sending pictures was cost-efficient, quick, and provided me urgent care that I would otherwise have to wait to receive.

One family + every day technology = major health benefits.

Oh, The Possibilities

Two new apps, Periscope and Meerkat, enable real-time live video streaming on Twitter. Now, imagine you can use your Twitter account to share and learn from health experts around the world? What kinds of effect does this technology have on our understanding of medical education and knowledge sharing?

Concerns over language barriers will be erased with the continued advancement of Google Translate. Image not having to be worried about travelling to a different country and having to visit an emergency room if patients and experts can communicate effectively.

A new smart phone app called "Vula" was developed by a doctor in South Africa to diagnose cataracts. Previously, people in remote areas went undiagnosed and never knew a simple surgery could save their eyesight.

In today's world, it's a challenge for even the best doctors to keep abreast of all the advances in treatment. As one doctor put it "I'm up to date if I'm only a week behind." So don't be afraid to experiment or suggest using existing tech to make your relationship with your physician that much better. Technology has the power to connect us to better care if we use it to advocate for our families and ourselves.