The digital world has increasingly taken over our lives – and at a seemingly exponential speed. The primary drivers of this trend, unsurprisingly, are technology companies that provide solutions to improve or simplify our lives, companies who see these solutions as opportunities to reach and engage consumers, and consumers who demand information when, where, and how they want it.
The healthcare industry has generally lagged behind other industries with regard to digital innovations for many reasons. Some are related to general capabilities and technical constraints, such as paper-based patient records and lack of information flow efficiencies. Others are related to HIPAA and other security, privacy, and regulatory concerns. Understandably, many companies want to ensure that there will be sufficient demand and a strong business case before investing in such capabilities.
Over the last few years, however, there has been a noted uptick in activity in digital health. Largely through government mandates, funding, and incentives, hospital systems are investing in electronic medical record systems and the needed supporting system infrastructure to help achieve greater efficiencies and reduce errors. Most insurance companies provide web portals, and many also offer mobile device apps that allow easier and greater interaction between payers, providers, and patients. Manufacturers and innovators are increasingly providing digital methods for providers and patients to learn about their products, creating web communities for their targeted therapeutic areas.
Additionally, there are a large number of mobile device apps geared towards helping patients better understand and track their medicines and overall health. The latest trend is wearable devices that provide passive data to “the cloud” regarding physical activity and vital signs; this information can be used to motivate and inspire consumers to be more active, or to monitor patients’ therapies or progress.
Well, all that’s great, but what will actually come of it? Currently, we are seeing a shotgun approach to digital health innovation. Across the healthcare value chain – whether patients, hospitals, payers, or innovators – each is approaching digital health from a different perspective, producing thousands of applications and point solutions. If this type of approach continues, it will limit the value to healthcare in the United States, and may create deeper rifts in an already fragmented system.
I believe we are now reaching the point, however, when it is possible to align the needs, interests, and incentives of all those involved in the healthcare system, and focus on health outcomes and sustainability, creating value, and reducing overall healthcare costs.
So, why now? With advanced technical capabilities, mobile device innovations, and increased regulatory guidance issued by the FDA and others, this is an ideal time for collaboration in the digital space. Additionally, more people across generations are adopting digital solutions, becoming more accepting of data sharing and cloud storage, resulting in higher expectations for personalized digital solutions.
In subsequent blog posts, I’ll discuss where we believe the value lies with digital health solutions, considering what’s important for innovators/manufacturers, payers, providers, and patients. We’ll also explore what the digital health environment could look like in the near and distant future.