Appy and healthy – advances in AI and digital tech drive new age of self-managed health

16 October 2017

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From  mobile sperm-testing to greater independence for Alzheimer's sufferers, artificial intelligence and digital technology is helping to empower consumers to better self-manage and prevent health conditions - a process known as self-care.

Improved access to medicines and self-care is the focus of the World Self Medication Industry (WSMI) General Assembly, which meets in Sydney this week. High on the agenda is how advances in technology can be used to meet the needs of 'the new consumer' with a personalisation of healthcare delivery that can help shape the future of self-care and responsible self-medication.

"In the new approach to health, consumers drive health - it's not health driving consumers," says Monica Feldman, consumer health strategist and Group Director of Client Services for the Nicholas Hall Group of Companies.

"In the past, people would feel sick and then do something about their health, mostly by reaching out to the general practitioner of pharmacist for advice or treatment. This was the passive way," adds Feldman, who will present The Impact of Digital Self Care in the Future at the WSMI General Assembly.

"At present, the traditional approach to health is shifting from treatment to prevention. This is the active way. More than ever, consumers are seeking ways to stay as healthy as possible."

The advent of health apps, the digitalization of health records, and personal health monitors from wearables is transforming the manner how consumers understand, track, and monitor their health day-to-day.
"These developments are not only taking place in developed economies; rather, they first started in emerging markets where mhealth and telehealth became an essential part of life for millions of consumers living in remote areas with no access to a pharmacy or a clinic," Feldham says. "For this reason, smartphones are becoming an extension of health and self-care."

An IPSOS global consumer survey found that:

  • 61 percent of respondents always try to find health information themselves, rather than just relying on what their doctor told them
  • 65 percent know they can find the right information to make their own decisions and choices about their health
  • 77 percent of consumers want to take more control over decisions about their health.

In a keynote address at the WSMI Gala Dinner, Feldham will introduce AI and mhealth innovations from around the world, including:

  • Seem - a healthcare device that lets consumers check their sperm concentration and motility with their smartphone. This became Amazon's #1 selling healthcare kit and 33% of Seem users went on to visit a medical facility.
  • Chat Yourself - a 'chatbot' that gives Alzheimer's sufferers independence by collecting details about their life and providing responses to simple questions in real time. This allows sufferers to take back control of daily routines.
  • Nurx - an app that allows women to be screened and assessed online by doctors who will review requests and prescribe the most suitable oral contraceptive, which will then be delivered to their door.
  • Bepanthen The 10th Month - a content-led website that offers impartial advice on all subjects relating to post-partum recovery, ranging from health and healing to emotional wellbeing and relationships.

Digital technology is changing self-reporting, identity verification and health screening processes, and it can be used to prompt better medicine usage and adherence. Label-scanning technology also provides consumers with knowledge about products and adverse effects far beyond what can be read on labels. All these processes should help allow more medicines to made available to consumers without the need for a prescription.

"More consumers are seeking options that will help them reduce the emotional, physiological and financial burden of sick years while increasing their quality of life," says Feldham.

"People want the power to take ownership of their health and drive it. Today, consumers want to find health information easily, reach out to their general practitioner and/or pharmacist, and most importantly, have access to affordable over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to help them stay healthy."

Monica Feldman will all present at the World Self Medication Industry Conference 2017, October 18-19 at the International Convention Centre, Sydney. Ms Feldman is available for media this week.