Digital Health

Introduce You The Real Meaning Of Digital Health

Digital health has come a long way – you can see a doctor without leaving your house,  you can track your vital statistics via an app on your phone, and doctors can access medical information securely and remotely from almost anywhere in the world, potentially saving time and lives.

But a true digital health revolution isn’t just about potential: it’s about adoption too, and the truth is we’re just not there yet. Recent research from the Council of Accountable Physician Practices found a significant gap between availability of/interest in digital health solutions and use of them. For example, 26 percent of those surveyed in the US said they were interested in submitting photos of conditions in preparation for phone or email consultations, yet only 3 percent had used such tools. Meanwhile, virtual care innovations, such as telemedicine, were found to be almost “completely inaccessible to the average patient”.

So what’s the hold up?

Push and pull

The good news is that most of the necessary pieces are in place for digital health to really take off – for it to reach the ‘tipping point’, enabling the move from high cost, high tech, low access healthcare to low cost, high tech, high access healthcare. This is nicely illustrated by Goldman Sachs in its report, The Digital Revolution comes to US Healthcare.

goldman sachs tipping point

  • Patient pressure: The push from patients is a big driver for digital health. They expect the same benefits to their health as they have seen with their social, shopping, banking and entertainment experiences. This means they have high expectations when it comes to quality, choice, immediacy, transparency and cost-effectiveness.
  • Payer pressure: Those who pay for healthcare, such as governments and insurers need to pay less for healthcare, as cost growth is becoming unsustainable, driven by societal issues such as an aging population and the growth in obesity and chronic diseases. The report by Goldman Sachs estimates that digital healthcare provides a near-term addressable market of over $30 billion in the US alone, and a potential savings opportunity for US healthcare of over $300 billion.
  • Technology advances: Advances in technology are enabling these expectations, and we are seeing increasingly rapid developments in mobile communication, networking and sensor technologies to make digital health solutions possible.
  • Money talks: These strong drivers mean that money is pouring into digital health companies, and this is always a strong sign that the tipping point is close – investors put their dollars where they think the market is going, and they can’t afford to be wrong too often. Large amounts of venture funding are flowing into digital health startups, and there have already been the first initial public offerings of over a billion dollars for digital health companies.
Not so fast

With these factors in mind, 2016 and beyond look positive for the digital healthcare sector – not just for tech companies but, crucially, for patients, healthcare providers and payers too. However, we mustn’t be complacent. The road ahead is not clear of obstructions and there are some serious issues that, if not addressed, could derail digital health’s progress.

  • Lack of interoperability: As in many areas of IoT, interoperability looms large. An article on Tech Crunch late last year suggested that lack of interoperability and APIs are “What’s really killing digital health startups”. Small companies with exciting technology are running out of money before they can scale, due to the challenges in integrating with legacy systems, many of which do not provide the open APIs that allow innovative startups to integrate easily. This risks dampening the creative ways in which data sources and tools could be shared for the good of patients.There is no other way: We must take a patient-centric approach, and this is evidenced by the fact that some patients are now fighting back. For example, Patient Knows Best, the world’s first fully patient-controlled online medical records system, has been set up specifically to address the legal and technical issues associated with sharing medical records across multiple care providers. True patient power!
  • Security and privacy: People tend to pay lip service to security and privacy until something goes wrong. We have seen a number of high-profile data breaches covered in the media, from TalkTalk to Ashley Madison. While these breaches were not linked to healthcare per se, they still create uncertainty and mistrust among users about their data being held in the cloud. A new report from Accenture found that “security has moved from being a nagging problem to a top barrier as consumers are now choosing to abandon IoT devices and services over security concerns”.
  • Tech-savvyness: The same report found that another major barrier to IoT adoption is ease of use – the tech-savvy have little patience with devices and tools that are not intuitive, or that require them to fiddle around with multiple apps. Those who are not as tech-literate could be left out altogether if they are too intimidated by, or unable to use, digital health tools. The shift towards remote, non-intrusive health monitoring is an interesting development in this space, but the same issues of security and interoperability crop up once again.
The big push

Addressing these challenges will determine how fast the promise of digital health can be realized. They are not just for tech companies to solve: if we really are to tip the balance towards reaping the benefits of digital healthcare, then the whole industry – including healthcare providers, suppliers, insurers, patient representatives and tech companies – needs to come together to push in the same direction. That’s exactly the type of ecosystem that we are trying to foster in the Smart Health program at TM Forum. You can see this in action already in the new Smart Health Catalysts that we are launching (click the Open Digital tab). These teams are tackling digital health issues such as privacy, integration, cloud sharing, and user experience. If you’re interested in taking part, please get in touch – the more brains the better!

I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic in the comments below.

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