The need for public access to care during the pandemic, despite lockdowns and contingent entry into hospitals, has led to a progressive and rapid adoption of digital tools for some areas of disease care. At first marginal, over the months it has become a necessary and very convenient means of obtaining medical assistance.
If accompanied by instruments for measuring parameters (thermometers, pressure gauges, oximeters, etc.), the private citizen can provide a series of information to facilitate the doctor's diagnosis. Undoubtedly, the citizen becomes a more active subject in the digital world: he is more informed and aware of the measurements to be followed and which parameters to keep as a reference.
At the population level, the great advantage of digital medicine can be easily understood. Especially in Italy - where the longevity and average age of the population are very high - it is unthinkable to hope to have quality medicine with the methods of the past (one of which is the lack of medical personnel).
The traditional model of the Italian National Health System is composed of the central unit of the hospital (where you have access to specific or emergency care and treatments), flanked by a network of general practitioners (for first accesses and cases that can be resolved on site) .
A new health model would require the introduction of a new figure in the health sector: an ICT expert. The need to visit patients safely gave the idea to some doctors in the private sector to organize video calls; subsequently, institutions such as regions began to outline guidelines to adapt this model to the public sector, to develop ad hoc software and to inform doctors.
The private sector has provided and continues to provide devices and sensors for measuring vital signs. An example of this is the Empatica bracelet, a company that manufactures these wearable devices for calculating and storing data from the user. Once these data are taken, they are analyzed and studied through the application of different algorithms to try to understand what happens to the individual in real time. For now, Empatica specializes in neurological disorders such as epilepsy, autism, chronic migraines, depression and anxiety. But there is no lack of studies to apply this technology to other branches of medicine, one of these being the ability to signal when the immune system is activating to fight an infection and notify the user in real time. This is possible thanks to the sensors that observe the parameters continuously and can therefore perceive a minimal alteration in a very sophisticated way. These parameters are integrated through the predictive mathematical model, which can provide an estimate on the probability that a user is sick or not.
The new wearable technological gadgets - such as smartwatches - allow constant observation of our vital parameters, our sleep-wake cycle and our physical activity. All these observations can be collected, analyzed and visualized by ourselves and by doctors, to make the context of our general health even better. This wealth of personalized and specific knowledge can lead to the preventive diagnosis of pathologies that could arise in the future, provide a probabilistic estimate and act today on how to have the best chance of avoiding them. It is an incredible change: if before a disease was treated after the manifestation of symptoms, in the future it will be possible to foresee and act accordingly. Undoubtedly the healthy lifestyle will remain the basis for everyone, but the strong specificity of these personal microdata can be useful for improving and personalizing decisions to prevent even serious pathologies.
Artificial intelligence gives its best when it has a huge amount of data to operate on. A wearable device generates an impressive amount of data in a single day and does it every day 24/7. If you then multiply this amount for each user, the AI and its algorithms can provide knowledge that until recently was unimaginable, finding correlations between data patterns and pathologies is just a case study. Other examples can be diagnostic imaging and radiographs that can identify fractures, tumors and other problems earlier and more precisely than human radiologists.
Human contact certainly cannot be replaced by a technological tool, however sophisticated it may be. However, there are platforms to connect patients and doctors such as Medical Pages, a free portal for booking specialist visits. It is mainly used in the private sector, but it provides the public with user data when required. In the future, these tools, rather than replace the public sector, will support and enhance it. Of the more efficient hospitals we will go to less and for specific cases, a general practitioner and a pharmacist as proximity points trained to interpret the data we will have produced, for better and tailor-made health.
Translated by Veronica Giustiniani