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Can Tech Completely Replace Traditional Healthcare?

Intouch Team

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The lines between tech and healthcare continue to blur. In this two-part, point/counterpoint series, we explore the dichotomy of humans and tech and if technology could someday completely replace traditional healthcare as we know it.

WebMD and Walgreens have announced a partnership to integrate each other’s digital health services. While this headline may go unnoticed by most, it is a sign of a drastic change in healthcare. They’re officially sharing and using each other’s API. Let’s talk about why this matters and what it presages.

An application programming interface (API) is a software intermediary that allows services to connect and share data. Let’s demonstrate what this would look like in practice: Imagine you’re an app designer who wants to create a weather app. First, you’d find a meteorological service that allows developers to use its data. Then, you’d code your app so that it would interact with their API. You’d send credentials and details like location, time, and whether you want Fahrenheit or Celsius. (The API documentation would tell you how to send that data.) The API will “answer” — for instance, the weather for Vienna tomorrow in degrees Celsius. It’s a fairly straightforward process that’s used by nearly every app that provides dynamic data.

The power in the Walgreens and WebMD announcement comes not from the what, but the why of their information-sharing. As was covered in MobiHealth News last month, Walgreens will offer customers content and coaching programs on a variety of health topics, from smoking to stress to nutrition. Walgreens is utilizing WebMD’s information and health expertise to educate visitors and help them make healthy decisions — which could include things like which over-the-counter pharmaceuticals to purchase. Walgreens and WebMD will jointly create this content as a value-add service to their customers. It’s an example of value-beyond-the-pill in action.

(Want to read more on value beyond the pill? Check out our other posts on this popular topic!)

As consumer trust in content from WebMD and other online sources grows, they may need to rely less and less on medical professionals. This may blaze a new pathway for how drugs are prescribed. Pharmaceutical companies could partner with mHealth leaders to create apps that utilize APIs from credible sources, providing trusted information for medication and health decisions.

Digital health and the innovation that accompanies it challenge the traditional roles of doctor and patient. New technology and access to medical content give patients abilities far beyond what they’ve had before.

Could pharmacists — even doctors — be pushed out of the picture? These new tools could allow patients to self-diagnose based on personal data and even aggregated population data, request prescriptions specifically, and be monitored for adherence and quality of life. Many laws and regulations would obviously need to be updated to allow for this vision, but it’s far from out of the question.

 

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