It seems as though most everyone is health tech happy these days. Some (of the brave) go gaga over Google Glass. Others wax poetic about the potential of
wearables to improve health — hopefully fashionably. And, there’s no shortage of people fascinated by the potential of big data to revolutionize medical care by streamlining how doctors
make decisions and even helping to predict — and prevent — illness.
There’s no doubt these technologies are growing in
prominence and importance. But, their influence pales in comparison to another ubiquitous digital tool that is reliable, friendly and has had a tremendous impact on health.
What is the most powerful technology in health? The Web. Yes, the Internet.
Why do I say
this? There are many criteria a technology has to satisfy to make a significant impact on health and medicine. The Web meets many, if not all of them. Some of the most critical
- It Must Fit Seamlessly into the Health Stream: Last month, I shared my view that, to be successful, digital health tools must be embedded into
users’ daily lives and health journeys. The Web is the ultimate embedded technology. Dr. Google regularly makes house calls and medical professionals all over the globe frequently reference
- It Must Provide Emotional Support: Recently, I recorded a wide-ranging session with Matthew Zachary,
cancer survivor and founder of the non-profit Stupid Cancer, for an upcoming virtual digital health summit I’m leading. He explained how a simple, but
decidedly non-sexy Internet technology, online forums have helped Stupid Cancer provide a vital resource for young adults grappling with cancer and its aftermath.
- It Must Drive Innovation: Interested in getting a fuller picture of how the Web has sparked innovation in health and medicine? Go no further than the
Journal of Medical Internet Research. Since 1999, this journal has published a wealth of in-depth, relevant and practical research exploring how the Web has
influenced everything from preventive medicine to communities in the analog world to health marketing.
- It Must Bring
People Together: Perhaps the Web’s most important contribution has been its ability to help people forge connections and develop vibrant health communities online. Over the past several
years, Twitter has become a major center of health community, as hundreds of thousands of people around the world conduct conversations, exchange resources and more each day about a range of subjects,
including breast cancer, leadership, social media and health advertising.
- It Must Be Easily Integrated into Other
Technologies: People in the health technology arena often talk about problems associated with interoperability and data standards. Simply put, many health tools and technologies exist in silos
where it’s hard to get data out and proprietary technologies don’t communicate with each other easily. Not the Web. Internet-enabled devices can communicate using standard protocols and
it’s easy to extract data from it. The Web is so powerful that it is even driving the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT), or connected devices such as appliances, thermostats and more. A
new report released this week by the Pew Research Center suggests the IoT may have the most impact on health.
Twenty-five years ago Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a groundbreaking paper proposing the
development of an “information management” system consisting of a “web of notes with links (like references) between them.” Berners-Lee went on to give us the ultimate
Christmas present in 1990 when he released the first set of code from his web system — free of charge — to the world. Patients, health professionals, marketers, caregivers and others from
every part of the globe have — and will continue to — benefit from his gift for years to come.
If you'd like to learn more about this
subject, please click here to read a Pew series on the world's most powerful health technology.