How Digital Is Changing Family Health

By Krissy Goelz (@krisgoelz)

Twenty years ago, a Robitussin commercial called “Dr. Mom was a sexist, ham-handed parody of family division of labor. Its even a bit worse for wear when you watch it now – really, what ad exec ever thought it was funny? But in addition to giving us a view into the differences in acceptable humor in advertising in the past two decades – there are fewer incompetent dads in commercials now, thank goodness – it also helps us look at how family health management has changed.

Because, while maybe the tone of the ad is a bit dated, the facts are probably broadly true. In the nuclear family of 1990, Mom dosed the family with an OTC medicine, and if it didnt work, she took the kids, or herself, to the doctor, or suggested to her husband that he go.

Today, theres an awful lot more going on within that same process. Its not that moms arent still the primary purchasers of medications and the primary motivators to get their family members to see a physician. But just think of how digital has changed that simple process.

  1. The internet. What illness doesnt get diagnosed via WebMD before being seen by the doctor? What kid hasnt Googled the symptoms of whatever sickness they want to use to excuse tomorrows absence? What condition doesnt have an online support group? And, of course: what medication doesnt have a branded website, as well as several generic database entries, telling you all about it?
  2. Mobile. Parents get a call or text when Junior goes to the nurse ill; Grandmas activities in the assisted-living facility can be checked; chronic conditions and weight management can be tracked throughout the day with mobile apps.
  3. Electronic health records. Your exam room will have a laptop in it, not a manila folder of your records, and into it will be entered your weight, blood pressure, temperature, symptoms, diagnosis, and prescription, which will be sent to the pharmacy electronically before you even hop off the exam table.

Simultaneously, digital offers promise to adapt to the changing times. While some diseases, like chicken pox, have become less common since 1990 due to improvements and advances in health care, rates of asthma, allergies, ADHD, autism, and other childhood conditions have risen. The reasons for these rises are hotly debated, but new types of technology may help us screen for genetic causes, monitor the environment for triggers, and help track the progress of a condition once it is present. Digital is helping genetic screening, environmental reports and programs for lifestyle modification and prescription adherence to be more available and accessible, faster, and cheaper.

Theres a lot more to manage in family health today than where the bottle of Robitussin is and whether Dad knows how to iron a blouse. Its a good thing TV dads have gotten smarter since 1990, so now parents can work together to manage their familys health – and its a good thing that we have digital technology on our side in a way that, even two decades ago, we couldnt have imagined.




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