I attended the Digital Pharm East conference earlier this month where I heard about the latest digital health trends and innovations. I also presented on the topic at a client sponsored event last week which required me to do some detailed research in preparation. I thought I would share what I learned.
I believe digital health represents one of the most promising growth sectors in healthcare, primarily driven by the far-reaching applications for remote patient monitoring. As patients are driven to take a more active role in the management of their health, the industry is experiencing a dramatic shift from reactive care to proactive and preventive care.
Health plan, hospital and the life science industry leaders are all seeing major shifts in how care is being delivered, particularly with regards to digital devices, data collection and patient condition management.
Many of the headlines around digital health talk about macro trends such as increased smartphone use (two-thirds of Americans now using smartphones…more smartphones on earth than people) and how this will enable the adoption of digital health via mobile apps or devices syncing with smartphones. Or how healthcare costs continue to rise and digital health solutions can help reduce costs (Goldman Sachs estimates $200B in potential savings).
But there are five areas that I feel are true market drivers for the adoption of digital health solutions for remote patient monitoring…
1) Focused Funding
Rock Health tracks private equity / venture funding investments in digital health companies. Their mid-year report in July indicated that investments for the first half of 2015 ($2.1B) are in line with a record breaking 2014. But the interesting trend is that the investment mix is increasing in areas supporting remote patient monitoring and analytics versus “consumer” devices.
Money talks as they say and these trends are promising. Investments in these areas will lead to more robust solutions for remote patient monitoring and advanced analytic solutions that will allow stakeholders to take action on the data being collected.
2) Wiser Wearables
Continued technological advancements will improve remote patient monitoring solutions with things like longer battery life and better cellular connection. There are a few other interesting trends that will ultimately have a larger impact. First, the FDA is approving more digital health devices at a faster pace. Next, device manufactures are starting to build devices that can act as a “hub” where other devices pair with it via Bluetooth and all data is synchronized with backend systems via one device, ultimately simplifying deployment. And finally, wearable devices/sensors are becoming less cumbersome and intrusive which will make it easier for patients to adopt and continue to use.
Although I did hear about one development that seams intrusive to me – Tracy Yedlin (@tracyyedlin) talked at Digital Pharma East about clothing with sensors that can simulate giving a hug. I don’t think I will recommend that technology as part of a patient adherence program any time soon!
3) Shift Towards Value-based Healthcare
Another key trend that will drive the rapid adoption of digital health solutions, at least in the US, is an underlying shift in reimbursement practices. Payment models are quickly becoming more favorable to remote monitoring therapies with a movement from fee-for-service models towards value-based reimbursement practices.
CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) is leading the way, setting ambitious guidelines to increase value-based contracts to 50% of total contracts by 2018. Bolstered by federal mandates, commercial health plans are expected to follow closely behind – developing new reimbursement contracts that focus on improved patient outcomes and risk reduction. Proven digital health solutions that show evidence of improved patient health, successful preventative intervention, and cost reduction are a natural fit for payers to leverage to meet these new reimbursement goals
4) Advanced Ecosystem
A recent report from Accenture said that breakthroughs in digital health will not come from technology companies; it will come from healthcare professionals. I believe it will come from collaboration between these two groups. There have been a lot of announcements recently regarding partnerships between pharma and digital health technology companies (Otsuka and Proteus; GlaxoSmithKline and Propeller Health…). Digital health platform vendors are rapidly signing partnerships with device manufactures, and connecting devices to their platforms, which simplifies device data aggregation. And larger healthcare payers and pharmacy chains are becoming very active with digital health initiatives. These types of partnerships will continue to drive some real digital health innovation.
5) Adoption of Wearables and Remote Health Tracking
Remote monitoring solutions and condition-specific digital health programs are becoming increasingly popular, as patients are more willing to take an active role in managing their health and are substantially more comfortable with new technologies. Studies indicate 57% of US consumers self-track their health information electronically and 41% of consumers have a strong interest in remote monitoring devices to check conditions and share information.
Physician acceptance is also critically important in the digital health space and adoption is clearly on the rise. Research shows that roughly two-thirds of physicians would be willing to prescribe an app to help patients manage a chronic disease. And 88% of doctors would like their patients to monitor their health at home, particularly their weight, blood sugar and vital signs.
As wearables and digital sensors shift from fitness to clinical focus, physicians are taking the opportunity to recommend and even prescribe digital health solutions to meet critical objectives, including:
- Predicting and tracking diseases before they become acute
- Preventing recurring health episodes with a focus on positive behavior change
- Saving unnecessary healthcare spending through better chronic condition management
- Increasing patient-clinician data between visits
The hype around digital health is off the charts and it is probably justified. It offers a tremendous opportunity to help contain rising healthcare costs and, more importantly, improve patient outcomes.
This is the first of a series of posts from me on this topic. I hope you found this insightful and come back to read more.