Digital health: Just what are we talking about?

Getting under the covers on digital health

digital health

Ask any two people what digital health or mobile health really means and you're likely to get three different answers (who knows, you might even get more). The convergence of several trends -- wider adoption of electronic medical records, advances in mobile technology, and payment reform -- is accelerating the pace of change in how we are all thinking (and in many cases rethinking) how healthcare is delivered.

For example, smartphones have become ubiquitous and we use them for everything from hailing a car service to ordering a pizza, from selling an old couch to texting friends and family (and some nostalgic individuals may even still make phone calls with them). We have been conditioned to expect fast, easy and reliable experiences on our smartphones; we want results in just a few taps or swipes.

But healthcare has been slow to the party. Oh, sure, there are a lot of health apps and gadgets out there, but they haven’t yet synthesized into a truly compelling, coordinated and integrated use case for healthcare.

So that brings us back to the question: Just what is digital health?

Digital health is the ability to engage patients as an integral member of their own care team working closely with their physicians and nurses to manage their health and wellness through a series of digital technologies, devices or apps. Digital health can mean tracking a patient's weight, activity levels or blood sugar levels, gathering heart data or information about dermatological conditions, making nutritional suggestions or even just sending out a reminder to apply sunscreen.

In other words, in healthcare we are finding ways to deconstruct the patient-doctor encounter and re-imagine how care can be delivered in a patient-centric world. How can we take what other industries are doing and apply it to healthcare?

This catalyst behind changing how healthcare will be delivered is technology. Technology is key to engaging patients more proactively in their own healthcare.

Digital health, then, is a series of tools that can be leveraged by both patients and their doctors to help patients maintain their own health and manage chronic illnesses.

Consider this statistic: By the year 2020, there will be about 110 million Americans over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those, roughly 40% will have two or more chronic diseases that they will need to manage, at cost of about $2,100 per disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That adds up to a looming economic problem for all of us.

That being said, there are still a lot of challenges on the immediate horizon. We are all thinking about questions such as these:

  • How to get the right apps to the right patients in a convenient and useful manner?
  • How to help physicians filter the thousands of health apps in the marketplace to find the ones that will really be useful?
  • How to ensure that the data will be meaningfully specific to the physician rather than unfocused and generalized clutter in the medical record? (Maybe not all data should be treated equally.)
  • What is the best use of an office visit for a physician? What's the value differentiator between a "virtual" visit and an in-person visit?

With so many new and exciting technologies to choose from that run the entire spectrum of healthcare, how do you even begin?

That is what we’ll tackle in my next post.

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