Disruptive Technology #3: The digital home

by Hans on 2005/05/28

While we’re loathe to admit it, the digital home will likely alter the face of health care/ehealth in ways that we can only begin to imagine. The “digital home” is the technology that I will discuss in this post.

In Canada, health care interactions have traditionally been conducted in either a hospital or a physician’s office. While the “place” of health care is not likely to change too much in the near future, we must recognize that there is a growing push toward outpatient and community/home based services, mostly for economic reasons. Now, with information and communications technologies becoming more sophisticated, we are fast approaching a time when the home may be the dominant place of health care.

In previous posts, I have profiled video games and mobile devices as potentially being disruptive technologies. The home, with all of the convergence of technologies, is likely to be a disruptive technology – not as a singular technology, but as a package of technologies.

I think that many people (innocently) believe that health care the in future will similar to how it is today with the exception of a greater proportion of home and community based services. But, the thinking is that “home care” will be similar to how it is delivered today. I think that this line of thinking is completely wrong. At this year’s e-Health 2005 conference, we heard Dr. Louise Liang talk about how Kaiser-Permanente is moving towards a model of the “home as hub”, where the home is the primary place where health care takes place. This new thinking will likely have radical affects on how health care services are organized, delivered, and even accessed.

I’m not exactly sure how this will all turn out, but think about some of the technologies converging in the home that can have some affect:

  • High-speed broadband Internet connections;
  • Increasing computer power;
  • High definition television and media; and,
  • Multimedia convergence of audio, video, and text.

We also have access to an advanced courier/delivery system that could be used to deliver services, diagnostic tests, and other things that are not required immediately. One of my committee members, Peter Coyte, argues that the only rational explanation for the existence of hospitals is an economic one – “economies of scale”. He argues that almost all of the things that happen in an institution like a hospital can take place in the home. Currently, it’s just more convenient to have most things concentrated in a hospital, but with advances in technology, this economic argument may soon break down.

Imagine being able to consult via the web with your physician for follow-ups and diagnoses, while a home care provider visits every so often to check-up on you. A courier service could delivery any needed supplies and pick-up any bio-matter for testing. High-definition media could be used in real time (or not) to communicate with specialists in different time zones around the world. If a surgery or procedure is required, a physician can schedule to drop by and perform minor procedures in the comfort of your own home.

I’m not saying that the digital home will mean the end of the hospital, but I think that the convergence of technologies in the home will affect health care/eHealth in significant ways. I may be totally off the mark – maybe health care professionals will turn their own homes into miniature clinics and perform procedures, linked-up with and supported by regional “hubs” that we currently call “hospitals”.

“Home as the hub” may have greater meaning in just a few years. The digital home will be more than just an entertainment nirvana. We just have to figure out what it will mean for health care.

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{ 1 comment }

Ann June 4, 2007 at 9:48 pm

Nice observation, thanks.

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