How will digital health technologies help tackle the number one cause of death worldwide?
by Caroline Clarke
Globally, ischemic heart disease (IHD) has again emerged the top cause of death,1 and according to Philips’ Future Health Index 2019 findings a further 34 percent of individuals across 15 countries surveyed report cardiology-related health issues. This is in line with the World Health Organization’s statistics2 reporting that IHD and stroke are the world’s biggest killers.
Asia Pacific is a heterogenous region with diets, lifestyles, and health demographics differing across countries. According to the white paper on the total cost of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by the Economist Intelligence Unit3 – The Cost of Silence – estimated the total cost of US$53 billion amongst eight countries for IHD and stroke. The countries and territories included China, Australia, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. The cost was due to four modifiable risk factors, smoking, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol.
Singapore takes up almost 10 percent of that amount – here, the same modifiable risk factors account for an estimated US$4.9 billion or 60 percent of the total indirect and direct costs. Based on Singapore Heart Foundation’s statistics,4 17 people die every day from CVD in Singapore and nearly one in three deaths in Singapore is due to heart disease or stroke.
CVD can seemingly be asymptomatic, resulting in symptoms and complications to develop later and may escalate into more serious outcomes. This thus proves the need for early intervention and treatment to reduce preventable deaths and improve patient outcomes. The Philips Heart Health quiz, launched ahead of World Heart Day 2019 (commemorated on 29 September annually), aims to help the public recognize risk factors and early symptoms of heart disease, and to be more aware of individual heart health and lifestyle habits that impact it.
There is a need to encourage early detection of heart disease, especially as a heart health survey by Manulife indicated that one out of two Singaporeans perceive having little or no personal risk of getting heart disease, while close to half disclosed a low understanding of heart disease – suggesting a false sense of safety created by an awareness gap.5
The Future Health Index 2019 also reported that more than half of Singaporean healthcare professionals often, or always, advise their patients to track key indicators of health such as their blood pressure (61%), physical activity (57%) and weight (53%). However, 43 percent of Singaporeans have never shared health data that they have collected from digital technology or mobile apps with healthcare professionals. As a result, Singaporeans fall below the 15-country average (47%) in contacting healthcare professionals and taking action based on the health-related data they have collected (34%). This is a missed opportunity for proactive health management as we found that globally, when patients share data with their healthcare professionals, they perceive the quality of care they receive to be higher (74% vs 66%). In the face of CVD that is notoriously known as a clinically silent disease, this could help tremendously with early detection.
On a more fundamental level, there is a clear need for individuals to track personal health indicators. Only 31 percent of individuals who have a medical history of cardiac health issues report always/often using digital health technology or mobile health apps to track their blood pressure, compared with an even lower 20 percent of individuals overall.
Digital health technology and mobile apps provide a sense of control of one’s own health. Surveyed individuals who have a medical history of cardiac health issues are more likely than individuals overall to agree that they use digital health technology or mobile health apps because they make them feel more in control of their health.
A fundamental shift in the approach to heart health and cardiac care is needed. At varying degrees, CVD affects family dynamics, financial situations and individual employment, and can lead to severe disabilities, frequent hospitalizations and intensive long-term care.
Regular health screenings to pre-empt issues and more active dialogue with medical practitioners should be reinforced by the individual’s access to self-monitoring tools, preventative care and reciprocal data sharing with their healthcare professionals.
On an ecosystem level, patient-centric digital technologies that enable better data access and information flow between patients and practitioners across the health continuum – healthy living, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and home care – will help evolve the future of healthcare into a more connected, integrated system with patients at its core and health outcomes as the ultimate goal. [APBN]
- The Lancet, (2018) Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study. Retrieved from: http://www.healthdata.org/sites/default/files/files/policy_report/2019/GBD_2017_Booklet.pdf
- World Health Organization, (2018, May 24), Top 10 Causes of Death. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
- Economist Intelligence Unit, (2018), The Cost of Silence: Cardiovascular disease in Asia, Retrieved from: https://eiuperspectives.economist.com/sites/default/files/The_cost_of_silence.pdf
- Singapore Heart Foundation, (2018), Singapore Statistics, Retrieved from: https://www.myheart.org.sg/my-heart/heart-statistics/singapore-statistics/
- Manulife, (2019, March 08), Manulife Heart Health Survey, Retrieved from: https://www.manulife.com.sg/about-us/newsroom/manulife-heart-health-survey.shtml
About the Author
Caroline Clarke, CEO, Philips ASEAN Pacific