What is Digital Health?

It might sound funny to say, but there’s never been a better time to be a medical patient in the United States.

The rise of digital health, coupled with breakthroughs in genome research that identify genetic factors in common diseases, is creating dynamic advancements in patient care, lifestyle choices, population study and healthcare administration.

Digital health, which encompasses a variety of online resources, is poised to improve healthcare while helping individuals live better, healthier and more productive lives. Digital health also is making significant strides in eliminating inefficient and outdated healthcare practices, as well as increasing access to personal medical records, reducing the overall cost of healthcare and increasing the quality of care provided by practitioners.

Entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals have joined the digital health surge by creating startup companies to develop cutting-edge applications, such as ViSi Mobile System, a portable vital-signs monitoring device from Sotera Wireless, which allows clinical doctors and staff to stay connected to individual patients, whether that patient is in bed or in transit.

In addition to wearable technology, digital health applications include new approaches to collecting, storing and sharing electronic medical records, improvements in mobile health and advancements in personalized medicine. The thrust of digital health is to essentially break down and replace traditional healthcare with a new and improved system that personalizes care for every patient.

Many of the current startups are directing attention outside the traditional realm of patient-provider evaluation and diagnosis to focus on other areas of health, such as personal wellness and healthcare administration. The companies are taking advantage of the proliferation of portable devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to make medical information immediately accessible and to enable instantaneous, direct communication with peers, other patients suffering from similar symptoms and healthcare providers.

According to a story on the Rock Health website, since 2012 funding for digital health endeavors has continued to increase substantially even as investment in traditional healthcare operations has declined. In 2012 alone, hundreds of millions of dollars was invested in new applications as varied as personal health tools, consumer engagement and electronic health record management and collection.

Individuals dreaming of someday working for a digital health startup need to consider several factors, according to 2013 report on LinkedIn.

Startups represent a risk, but also can be an opportunity for a life-changing experience. Research is critical — before joining a startup, you should thoroughly check the background of its founders and look for evidence of past success. Startups are a labor of love and inspiration, but they are not a traditional 9-to-5 job. Creative ideas come from creative people, and creative people often can be eccentric and not used to behaving like a traditional boss.

By understanding the non-traditional environment that makes up many startup digital health companies, individuals can be better prepared to hit the ground running and begin working on the next great healthcare breakthrough.

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