Recent advances in digital technology have revolutionized healthcare as we know it. In 2018, the global digital health market size was valued at $95.8B, expected to quintuple at $509.2B by 2025 (Grand View Research, 2019).
Increasing demand for remote monitoring devices to manage chronic ailments, a significant rise in the penetration of smartphones, and a plethora of mobile health apps are all potential drivers for the expected growth of market size. Another contributing factor to the growth is global investment in digital health – it hit a record high of $14.6B in 2018, marking the sector’s eighth consecutive year in growth, according to Fortune.
This begs the question “What is the value of digital health tech in patient care?”
To answer that question, let’s first take a closer look at what encompasses digital health - it includes mobile health apps, wearables, big data, telehealth, personalized medicine and everything in between. These technologies provide an overall picture of patient health abetting informed clinical decisions, better management of chronic conditions, early disease diagnosis and timely intervention and prevention.
Utilization of the right digital tools and strategy can improve the ability of the healthcare system to take a more consumer-centric, proactive approach to improve patient outcomes, increase operational efficiencies and reduce costs all while building a system that benefits providers and consumers alike.
The Provider Perspective
From a provider’s standpoint, benefits include:
· improved diagnostic ability and quality of personalized care
· increased patient access, and
· reduced inefficiencies & costs.
Unlike the point-in-time data acquired in a clinical setting, health data generated through smart devices and wearables provide an outlook on the patient’s overall health over a period of time rendering the data more useful for disease detection and diagnosis and therefore, improved clinical decision making.
Furthermore, some mobile health apps go a step further and provide a portal for patients and providers to have a direct line of interaction, which understandably increases patient satisfaction and quality of care.
When it comes to cost savings, a 2015 Accenture study found that the use of virtual health solutions could save the US $10B annually! For example, as per this study, the use of digital tools like biometric devices and virtual medical assistants to gather patient information during an annual visit can streamline the process to the extent of saving each Primary Care Physician (PCP) an average of 5 minutes, which is the timesaving equivalent of 18% of the US PCP workforce at an economic value of >$7B annually.
The Consumer Perspective
Wearables and mobile health apps have substantially driven the consumer side of digital health; the modern patient/consumer can use digital tech to track physical, mental and wellness aspects of their health. Instead of an annual physician visit painting the picture of patient health, consumers now have the ability to view and manage their health everyday and in the comfort of their homes.
This is putting the power of health management in the consumers’ hands in a meaningful way for the first time. It also raises the hope and expectation that consumers will gain a deeper understanding of their health and will be engaged to make better self-care decisions.
What’s next in the digital health revolution?
Based on the growth of the digital health market and associated investment, some key questions might get answered over the next half-decade:
Will the consumer be King? With increasing proactive engagement from consumers, will the current provider-driven system shift to consumer-centric care? Will consumers will set their own health goals and preferences, driven by a better understanding of their health data? Perhaps the growth of digital health will lead to a consumerization of health care that hasn’t been witnessed before.
Will true Integration and interoperability of data across platforms be finally achieved? Consumer-centric healthcare and individual hunger for control over one’s own health data could lead to a stronger push for a digital infrastructure that enables data interoperability, allowing the data to flow between clinicians and patients.
How will Data governance evolve? With the widespread use of data across health systems comes the growing risk to security and privacy that can compromise data integrity and ownership. Policy frameworks in a consumer-centric health system will need to strictly enforce safe and secure access of personal heath data by providers and consumers to achieve the best outcomes.
Will we finally shift to Prevention? Healthcare of the future could be preventive, predictive and participative. With the rapid progress of digital and artificial intelligence capabilities, organizations could use predictive analytics to identify high risk populations, prioritize care and proactively mitigate risk BEFORE individuals become sick.
The power of digital health tech rings especially true during the current COVID-19 pandemic that has encapsulated the world. The ongoing crisis has definitely pushed digital tracking, remote monitoring and telemedicine to the forefront, finding virtual ways to substitute in-person visits. Although the global markets are unsteady at the moment and there is only a slim chance of emerging on the other side unscathed, forging a path to progress through trying times has always been the American way – and in that way forward, the pulse of digital health tech in everyday life will be felt stronger than ever.