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How Digital is Transforming Healthcare

When people think of healthcare in the home, they tend to think of aging populations, therapeutic treatments and stand-alone devices such as blood pressure monitors. But there is a much bigger data-led disruption taking place in personal healthcare, and it’s starting in the home.

By 2025 consumers will wear, use, and live with an abundance of affordable personal health devices, all generating a mountain of data. People will become proactive about using technology to capture personal health and wellness data.

Digital Health: How Cloud and Smart Devices Will Affect Your Healthcare

By 2025, many people will monitor, capture and store personal health data for a large portion of their adult lives, as opposed to previous generations when only a fraction of their lives was captured at times when they went to see a health care practitioner. Three factors are driving this change:

  1. The New Monitoring Models: Passive, Continuous, Digital

Wearables — fitness devices — are the most obvious sources of consumer generated health data. They monitor metrics like heart rate, blood pressure and ECG functions in addition to our fitness activity. This passive and continuous digital model of capturing health data is strikingly different from traditional models, where data is captured only as a snapshot, and only when a symptomatic person has seen a healthcare practitioner. A large and growing proportion of citizens already continuously capture terabytes of their own personal digital health-related data – all day, every day. And not just through wearables: in 2025 our homes will be able to contain affordable sensors capturing data: room temperature, humidity, air quality, the presence of pathogens, noise and other environmental factors that affect our health and wellbeing.

  1. Data has Gravity

A second factor is the impact of the ever-more powerful and ever-more affordable cloud. Today, most personal digital health data captured by consumer devices is not stored permanently, and only the aggregated and summarised data is retained. But by 2025, the cost of processing and storing personal digital health data in the cloud will have decreased to the point where individuals will be able to afford to retain all the data their body and home generate 24 hours a day. Cloud technologists like to say that data has gravity: it attracts more data, solutions and innovation. Applications and processing power move to where the data resides, and when applications run where the data is stored, they can analyse it in a timely and economical manner.

  1. Affordable Insights: AI and Machine Learning

And that leads to the third factor: the continuous evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning (ML) will help generate insights into the data:

  • Virtual assistants will log when we take – or forget to take – our medication, identify and record what we eat, how much sleep we get, and so on.
  • Computer vision, the ability for technology to use AI to recognise people, behaviours and objects is becoming more intelligent and accessible. Soon we will see virtual assistants able to identify when we are unwell, recognise when we fall and hurt ourselves or suffer heart attacks.
  • Analysis of this data will generate insights – previously unimaginable – into the health of individuals and across population groups.
  • Thanks to cloud computing, AI is becoming more affordable. Individuals will be able to have their own continuous AI analysis of their health data 24/7, alerting them when professional medical advice is needed.

How the Cloud is Transforming Digital Data for Public Healthcare

This means we will soon view personal health data in the same way as we now look at personal credit scores and financial records. But with two critical differences. First, patient records from government or insurance providers will be the smallest part of our personal health data compared to the volume of data collected 24/7. Second, while public and private healthcare providers will benefit from accessing individual health data when we’re unwell, they won’t own our data. They will only get access to it when a person chooses to provide access.

How Cloud Storage of Data Can Lead to a Healthcare Transformation

These changes have big implications for public healthcare organisations. They cannot download and analyse the vast repositories of our personal data, even if we gave them permission as it would be too inefficient and expensive. Instead they will need to achieve three measures to leverage the cloud more affordably and generate insights faster:

  • Maximise data stored in the cloud
  • Secure data privacy and sovereignty
  • Run all AI applications in the cloud

As our definition of personal health data expands beyond the traditional government and private organisation sources to include consumer generated data, it will incorporate not just biological metrics, but also what we did and, where we went and who we were with. Covid-19 has broadened our thinking about what we associate with our personal health data. We will want data such as personal location and people tracking to be stored and retained with our personal health data. We will want the answers to “where did I go and whom did I meet” to be stored in our personal health records in case we need it. This rich, continuously growing dataset represents a huge opportunity to gain more meaningful health insights, but only if we build systems in the cloud to make use of the exabytes of data that will reside there.

How the Healthcare Industry Can Protect Privacy in the Cloud

To leverage the cloud, the healthcare industry needs to have strategic clarity around the parts of the technology that are adapted to their businesses, and how this can be linked with the cloud in a secure way.

  • Every business has unique technology needs or regulations which require bespoke solutions or approaches. The challenge is to define the limits of those particular needs and, for everything else, take advantage of low-cost off-the shelf cloud solutions.
  • Government healthcare organisations will need to make sure their technology and systems are in close proximity to where the data is so that it can be quickly analysed for insights when we seek treatment. This is because applications need to be where the bulk of the data is stored so that it can be analysed and benefited from in a timely and economical manner.
  • Having local datacentres and infrastructure gives the government, the healthcare industry and individuals control of where their health data stays and lives. Healthcare, intelligence, military, multinational consumer and retail, local and central government all work with highly sensitive data, which must be kept secure, and have a strong focus on citizen or consumer privacy.

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