“The web has fixed a lot of broken industries; it’s time to do it for healthcare.”
Dr. Marty Tenenbaum said this at the first Health 2.0 Conference back in 2007. At this point, the focus was on eHealth, the early embrace of all things digital in the era of personal computers. What was clear from Matt Holt and Indu Subaiya’s conference (which continues today) is that a new dawn was upon the industry.
In 2008, the term mHealth entered the vernacular at a conference in Bellagio, Italy hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation. Originally describing the use of mobile phones for healthcare usage in developing countries, it now embodies the integration of wireless and smart technology into healthcare, such as electronic remote monitoring.
Today, the phrase “digital health” is used to describe the latest wave of change within healthcare. Some say it’s another way to identify the ideas and methods of eHealth and mHealth.
But the reality is that in 2018, digital health is much bigger and more expansive than you think.
In a paper published last year by the Medical Futurist Institute, researchers in Budapest defined digital health as:
“The cultural transformation of how disruptive technologies that provide digital and objective data accessible to both caregivers and patients leads to an equal level doctor–patient relationship with shared decision–making and the democratization of care.”
In short, digital health is a paradigm shift on how healthcare is thought about and achieved.
“I don’t think digital just represents the electronification, the connectedness of services and tools to the Internet. It’s creating this rift between the old way toward the new way,” said David Haddad, Overlap CEO. “What it’s doing is disrupting the business model, it’s disrupting workflow processes. It’s becoming more of that now.”
Close to 97% of the nearly $3.3 trillion dollars spent on healthcare goes toward what is known as the “traditional healthcare” model of fee-for-service and physician-centric care. And progress is being made. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is moving toward a value-based care system, while patients are moving away from the “ivory tower” of medical knowledge exclusivity and toward digital services.
The opportunities for substantial improvement are there: The Harvard Business Review says that with the embrace of innovative methods and digital health technologies, the U.S. government could save $1 trillion that currently is considered wasteful spending.
What falls under digital health is more than just electronic health records. It includes direct-to-consumer testing like the genetic company 23andMe, sports performance tracking apps, and bionome and micronome analysis.
In areas of research, Apple’s ResearchKit are implementing new ways of providing consent, eschewing IRB processes. The Quantified Self, and the progression toward the Contextualized Self, is a leading driver of digital health and it’s growing in usage. Researchers estimate that 44% percent of U.S. consumers use a sport and fitness gadget like a Fitbit, Garmin or another activity tracker on a daily basis. The global wearable market is projected to reach $3.33 billion USD by 2022.
Digital therapeutic methods — healthcare interventions through smart devices to manage chronic diseases — are expected to generate $8.5 million in revenue by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of 24%.
It’s not just digital care that is considered digital health. Using platforms to raise funds for medical procedures is a undervalued but crucial part of the digital health movement. The fundraising platform GoFundMe estimates that more than 250,000 medical campaigns, totally more than $650 million, are generated yearly.
These are just a few components of what is seen as digital health in 2018. The definition is true: It is transformation across all aspects of healthcare.
Conversely, fear and resistance is palpable. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania also note that the biggest obstacles to full-scale embrace of digital health is the “recalcitrant mindset” of the healthcare community and the overreach of regulations. The infrastructure and workforce within hospitals and providers to enact the full potential of digital health isn’t in place yet and without continued pressure from the government and from patients, neither is the incentive.
The future of digital health is uncertain but one thing is clear: The movement is here to stay.