In the past six months since the onset of the pandemic, technology and healthcare have become increasingly intertwined. The COVID-19 pandemic has motivated many doctors and patients to switch from in-person to virtual visits, and technology also been used to collect and track data about the virus' spread.

In the United States, collecting real-time data around COVID-19 and determining who has access to it has been an ongoing challenge. The U.S. health care system is composed of disconnected entities, including doctors' offices, insurance companies, hospital systems, and pharmaceutical companies. These entities all serve different purposes in the system. They all collect data on individual patients, but government regulations limit how much patient information they share with each other.

Patients are making healthcare a personal priority

In past decades, patients used to trust a doctor’s recommendation without much outside research or debate about the best course of action. Today, technological advances have made it possible for patients not only to do their own research, but also to monitor their own health data using wearables like smart watches. This trend will continue and 20 years from now, healthcare will be organized around the consumer instead of individual institutions.

Tech companies see healthcare as an opportunity for growth

The rapid changes occurring in the healthcare system have attracted interest from technology giants such as Google and Apple that are eager to modernize the industry. The Apple Watch already includes a heart monitor, and a recent patent application suggests that Apple is exploring ways to use biometric data to manage chronic diseases. While new digital tools may help consumers manage their health and avoid preventable illnesses, they also raise privacy concerns.

When news broke last year that Google was working with Ascension to collect and analyze health data on millions of Americans, both companies quickly issued statements that they were adhering to privacy regulations regarding patient data.

To keep patients’ personal information and medical records secure, companies can implement practices such as multi-factor authentication, encryption, and educating patients about cybersecurity threats to minimize the risk of a data breach.

Health apps don’t replace in-person care

As a health advisor, I encourage patients to take advantage of new tools and devices that help them track their health, but I caution them against being seduced by the technology. Don’t equate using these tools with overall health. Health apps and wearable trackers can be valuable additions to your wellness plan, but they should never become the primary way that you’re taking care of yourself.

For example, a virtual doctor’s appointment can be a great option for someone who can’t get to the doctor’s office, but a doctor can better assess the patient’s health in person. During an in-office visit, your doctor may notice things they wouldn’t be able to see on video, such as a change in how you walk. A routine checkup that includes palpations of lymph nodes and glands can help diagnose a patient before they know they are ill.

To incorporate digital tools into your wellness routine, talk to your doctor or health advisor about how these apps and devices can be most effective. They can be valuable, but only if used in a thoughtful, intentional way.

This article is the third in a series for Advisor Perspectives and can be found here.