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article imageDo digital health interventions work?

By Tim Sandle     Jul 28, 2017 in Health
Do digital health interventions help patients to make lifestyle changes leading to improved health outcomes? This is an important question for health policy makers, especially as many health organizations are going through digital transformation.
By digital health interventions this essentially means sending mass or targeted emails to patients about specific health topics, such ‘quit smoking’ or ‘take more exercises’. In doing so health instiutions are taking advantage of their mass databases about patients and the information that can sometimes been gleaned from medical data (different countries have different rule of the subject of data sharing).
Digital health interventions also mean the development of health apps, offering things like treatment programs, recipe suggestions, and exercise regimes and so on. These apps are typically accessed through smartphones and tablets. Apps can also be linked to various wearable devices.
READ MORE: Digital health solutions for caregivers
Adding a digital health tool to traditional cardiac rehabilitation, for example, can help people recovering from a heart attack lose more weight in a relatively short period of time compared with those who use conventional reminders. This is based on research presented to the American College of Cardiology's 65th Annual Scientific Session this year.
The AliveCor EKG app  yet to be made available to the public
The AliveCor EKG app, yet to be made available to the public
Courtesy AliveCor
The findings come from an assessment of health tools on smartphones plus the use of web-based portals. The patients in the study lost four times as much weight compared with those undergoing 12 weeks of cardiac rehabilitation alone. This was based on a randomized controlled trial.
Commenting on this, lead researcher Robert Jay Widmer, who works at the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, said: “We were surprised by the magnitude of difference between the two groups. These results are exciting because they demonstrate improvement in cardiovascular risk factors over and above guideline-based cardiac rehabilitation." This shows that clinical expertise and know-how can be married with information technology in a successful way.
A typical email inbox
A typical email inbox
by ambib
There is less good news about targeted emails, according to separate research from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Here a research group examined of a digital health intervention, using email and text messages, with the aim of changing diet and physical activity improved heart attack risk among a South Asian population.
READ MORE: How the Internet of Things will shape healthcare
The researchers found that the digital health intervention using motivational messages and health tips was not effective in reducing the risk of premature myocardial infarction. These findings have been reported to the journal JAMA Cardiology (“A Digital Health Intervention to Lower Cardiovascular Risk.”)
These contrasting studies show that digital health can be effective, but the medium needs to be thought through and carefully considered as part of an overall health prevention strategy.
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