HealthcareThe Effect Of Digitalization On Health

The past couple of decades has been characterized mainly by increasing digitalization. This is particularly evident in the rapid development and adoption of nascent technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, cloud computing, etc. However, the most apparent impact of digitalization in the world has been the widespread use of the internet.

People are spending more time on the internet, with recent reports putting the daily average for each internet user at 7 hours. Many people spend a lot of time on the internet for work, while others spend a significant chunk of their recreational time interacting with others on social media platforms.

Now, while the increasing use of the internet is not in itself a bad thing, it has nevertheless been accompanied by significant consequences to people’s health. In this article, we will be observing some of the ways in which digitalization affects the health of people around the world. Let’s get into it:

Social Isolation

It might sound counterintuitive that increased internet use may lead to social isolation, given that the internet enables more social interaction. Studies have established, for instance, that increased use of Facebook could lead to feelings of social isolation and lower life satisfaction for teens and adults.

This view is corroborated by a 2017 study on young adults aged between 19 and 32 years, which found that people who use social media are more than three times more likely to experience feelings of social isolation than those with low social media use.

Several factors could possibly explain this phenomenon. For instance, it is possible that social relationships formed over the internet are simply not adequate to satisfy our social needs.

Depression & Anxiety

Increased internet usage has also been linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. While this is not the case for everybody, current research indicates that people who excessively use the internet are at a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety.

One large-scale study conducted by psychologists from the University of Leeds found that people categorized as ‘internet addicts’ are more likely to display depressive symptoms. Notably, a 2016 systematic review on the subject found mixed results. According to the review, people with more positive internet interactions had lower levels of depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, people with more negative interactions and were susceptible to social comparison, had higher levels of depression and anxiety. Overall, it is clear that several factors play into the development of depression and anxiety. Nevertheless, it does appear that internet addiction does more harm than good to people’s mental health.

Eye Strain

This could be one of the more direct consequences of increasing digitalization. People spending more time in front of phones, tablets, and computer screens may cause more strain on their eyes. This could lead to several conditions, such as dry eyes or computer vision syndrome. Similarly, eyestrain could result in pain in other parts of the body, like the neck and head.

Some factors could increase the likelihood of eyestrain, such as viewing screens up close, extended screen time, excessive screen brightness, and underlying vision issues. For various reasons, it might not be possible for most people to avoid viewing digital screens altogether. Nevertheless, some measures can be taken to reduce the strain on your eyes. This includes taking regular breaks when having to view screens for too long.

Adopting the 20-20-20 rule may also be helpful. This rule states that you should take a 20-second break after every 20 minutes of screen time to look at an item 20 feet away. You can also use protective eyewear or artificial tears, especially if you are prone to dry eyes.

Sleep Deprivation

Excessive use of digital technologies and the internet may also lead to sleep deprivation, especially when used too close to bedtime. This is mainly because the blue light emitted from phones, computers, and other electronic devices can stimulate the brain in ways that affect sleep.

Studies have found that blue light can be disruptive to the body’s natural circadian rhythm, thereby making it difficult for a person to fall asleep when they ordinarily should. Even when such a person is eventually able to sleep, they may experience less satisfactory sleep. This ultimately leads to the person being less alert during the day than those who get quality sleep.

It is well known that enough sleep is vital for your overall health. Thus, sleep deprivation could easily contribute to poor health outcomes if not properly managed.

Health benefits of digitalization

We have established that digitalization can adversely affect people’s health. This, however, does not mean that there are no ways in which digitalization is beneficial.

  • Online health education: One of the advantages of the world’s increasing digitalization is that medical professionals have access to a broader audience at once. This means they can educate more people about healthy practices and necessary lifestyle changes. In recent years, we have seen more health professionals leveraging social media platforms for this purpose.
  • Electronic Health Records (EHR): EHR systems are another product of digitalization that has significantly improved the health sector. An EHR is essentially a digital record of relevant health information about an individual. An EHR contains past medical history, vital signs, and diagnoses, so it can be instrumental in improving overall care for a patient.
  • Other digital/online tools: There are several digital tools out there that people can potentially leverage for better health outcomes. Mobile health (mHealth) apps are an example of this. mHealth apps can be useful for several aspects of health management. We also have wearable devices that help track and monitor key health indices. Similarly, there are online sites that may help people obtain a prescription discount card to get the necessary drugs they would need.

Final Thoughts

Undoubtedly, the digitalization of the world is having a profound impact on the health of people. Therefore, people must pay attention to ways in which the internet and electronic devices negatively affect their health and take appropriate measures to limit these adverse effects.

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Digital Health Buzz!

Digital Health Buzz!

Digital Health Buzz! aims to be the destination of choice when it comes to what’s happening in the digital health world. We are not about news and views, but informative articles and thoughts to apply in your business.

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