Virtual patient, the new age of the healthcare sector

Paciente Digital


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Virtual patient, the new age of the healthcare sector

When trying to define virtual patient and the future of the healthcare sector, in addition to the search for an effective and efficient model and the increasing use of new technologies (MHealth), there are two factors having an enormous influence: the changes in the population and its values which result in a healthcare system designed to be a service, individual and based on quality; and above all, the role of the patient. The virtual patient.

Firstly, the ageing of the population, the proliferation of chronic diseases such as diabetes and the exponential increase in the number of people with mental illness (such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and dementia), demonstrates the need to make changes toward a new medicine that improves diagnosis and treatment. A predictive, personalised, participative medicine, which is therefore very different to the traditional version.

Traditional medicine

New medicine

Based on the population Individualised
Isolated, in the doctor’s surgery In everyday life, with real-time monitoring
The doctor orders tests and analyses The patient generates data
Internal medical record, not accessible The patient holds the record of their data
Expensive, cutting-edge technology Cheaper chips
Limited Cross-cutting and global


*Source: “El paciente digital. De la disrupción a la transformación digital del sector farmacéutico” (The digital patient. From disruption to the digital transformation of the pharmaceutical sector). Coolhunting Group

Although patients do not have a voluntary role in the ageing of the population, where they are active is in their attitude to the health sector. As noted by Rafael Palomino in Value Based Healthcare y el problema de la última milla (Value Based Healthcare and the problem of the last mile), if there is anything that has changed drastically in recent years it is the virtual patient. Once a universal service is guaranteed, we demand the same opportunities to be cured as our neighbour, meaning that we need to know (and therefore measure) the quality of the clinical treatments our health providers are giving us. This is possible through the new medicine.

Therefore, the cultural change in the patient online is clear: they want more information and demand the same opportunities of getting better as the rest.

The virtual patient can be quantified, empowered or involved

Based on this, we can establish a classification of patients and their connection or degree of involvement in their health care.

  1. Quantified patient:

    This is the patient using mobile applications, wearable technology and cloud computing. Here diabetes patients stand out because according to a study by the ASD, the Spanish Diabetes Society (SED), the Spanish Diabetes Federation (FEDE) and Abbott Diabetes Care, 43% of patients with this disease make regular use of these digital solutions, a percentage which is above the figure for the general population, which stands at 33%.

  2. Empowered patient:

    By making greater use of technology, the patient is better informed than ever and capable of taking more decisions. However, they also run the risk of cyberchondria, or in other words, the syndrome of compulsively checking their symptoms on Internet search engines instead of asking a doctor about them. According to figures from Eurostat, 55% of Spaniards use the Internet to search for health information, a figure which is above the European average of 53%.

  3. Involved patient:

    The patient’s engagement can be divided into five levels:

  • Consumer of health services: patients as consumers of medical services
  • Connected patient: the patient who, thanks to the use of technology, helps simplify the communication of the results of tests, the making of appointments and the information flow.
  • Contributing patient: the patient as a contributor to the documentation of their medical records
  • Conferring patient: proactively seeks out their healthcare team with questions, information and education beyond the traditional visit to the medical centre
  • Challenge-setting patient: this is an engaged patient who actively manages their health; establishes wellness goals (diet, physical exercise, etc.) with full access to medical information and a healthcare team

Virtual patient pyramid

Conclusion; the virtual patient is at the heart of the system

The healthcare sector is evolving to provide results-based medicine that will guide us toward a patient who, being at the heart of the system, values the positive results that a treatment has had on their disease and their quality of life; therefore, focussing more on quality rather than quantity. Without forget, the balance between technology and the human touch, the key to the future of medicine. This model is known as Value Based Healthcare.

In this new paradigm, in which the healthcare professional or the medical service will be assessed on the basis of their positive results and not on the volume of tests or treatments carried out, there will be a greater role for activity measuring devices, telemedicine and big data. This new scenario will entail the transformation of the healthcare sector into one in which the patient will be in control. The age of the patient online.