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Digital Health: 5 Things You Should Know

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Digital health is a hot topic in the healthcare industry. This field was already growing rapidly prior to 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic has supercharged its growth this year. This trend is expected to be one of the biggest in healthcare for 2021 as well.

The importance of digital health cannot be overstated, so for anyone in or interested in the world of healthcare and the technology used in it, knowing more about digital health is a must. To help you get the basics of this increasingly important technology, we have put together a digital health primer.

This guide will cover what digital health is as well as some key facts you need to know about it. This includes points about its rapid development, the buy-in needed for it to become accepted, its fast feedback loop, and the role big data plays in the field. Here are five elements you should know about digital health.

An image of a gym
Photo by Javier Santos Guzmán on Unsplash

1. What is digital health?

When you hear the words “digital health” it is important to know exactly what people are talking about. The answer may vary slightly based on context, but basically digital health is a term used to refer to any type of digital medical technology that aids medical professionals in diagnosing or treating patients.

This category includes medical devices such as connected mobile medical devices (CMMD), Software as a Medical Device (SaMD), mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (HIT), wearable devices, telemedicine technology, and more. Almost any digital technology used to improve healthcare fits in this category.

Digital health technology helps medical professionals and patients in numerous aspects of healthcare. It helps reduce inefficiencies in the current way healthcare is usually provided and improves access to healthcare for patients around the world. It also helps bring down the cost of healthcare while simultaneously improving the quality of healthcare provided. It also helps make healthcare more personalized for individual patients.

2. It’s accelerating at a rapid pace

In 2019, according to Bloomberg, the global digital health market was a $103.1 billion industry. Experts estimate that in the next five years, the industry will experience a 24.6% compound annual growth rate, making it a $385.8 billion industry by the year 2025. This is an incredibly fast rate of growth and, since these predictions were made before the intense acceleration brought on with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not unreasonable to assume growth will be even higher.

As Orthogonal discusses in-depth here, several components factor into the pace of digital health adoption. A worldwide public health crisis, coupled with damaged economies and vital social distancing measures are the main reasons for the enhanced need for digital health products in 2020. “Flattening the curve” to protect our stressed medical resources became the call of the day and innovations in how to see and treat patients remotely took center stage.

The upward trajectory digital health was already riding, coupled with the enhanced need for this method due to the pandemic combined to create a rapid acceleration of the technology. Things like medical device apps and medical video-conferencing technology that was once considered a luxury became a necessity almost overnight. This rapid pace of acceleration is expected to grow in 2021 and beyond.

3. Provider and patient buy-in is essential

The adoption of digital health products is a two-way street. For digital health to grow and go from a trend to a normal piece of the healthcare process, the devices must make sense and be seen as an improvement to the lives of both the healthcare provider and the patient using them. Technology that only benefits one side or the other is unlikely to ever find widespread acceptance.

An electronic health record (EHR) system that helps doctors and nurses access patient data faster and easier is a great tool. However, If it is hard for patients to use, it will not be successful. Likewise, a mobile device app that helps patients monitor an aspect of their health might be great but if it doesn’t generate useful information for medical professionals, its uses are limited.

On the patient side, the key is that digital health products make their interaction with the healthcare system more efficient while keeping a human element and avoiding making them feel as if they are only a patient number or that they are dealing with a robot. On the provider side, digital health products need to do their job without creating extra or redundant work for medical professionals.

4. Fast improvement is key 

The fast feedback loop that digital health products offer is one of the biggest reasons they are so quickly growing in popularity. In the past, traditional medical devices could only respond to feedback and were improved when the next generation of the product was created, manufactured, and released.

Now, digital healthcare product developers can get feedback about how a device is working in real-time. They can make changes on the fly and quickly push out software updates to respond to challenges patients or providers are facing when using the technology. The pace of improvement digital health products provide is a major factor in their success in dealing with the pandemic and their adoption.

5. It uses big data

The healthcare industry produces as much, if not more, data than almost any industry in the world. Digital healthcare products offer incredible computing power in a portable size that allows them to utilize this data in important ways.

Previously, a doctor acquired a patient’s health information during an initial visit and again at the follow-up visit. Doctors then compared these two data sets and combined them with anecdotal evidence from the patient to ascertain how the patient did in the intervening time period.

Now, patients have wearable technology and apps that can report to medical professionals in real-time and under real-world conditions. This allows faster and more accurate diagnosis and treatment programs to improve overall patient care.

Conclusion

Get to know as much as you can about digital health now because it is a permanent fixture in the healthcare industry. Knowing what digital health refers to, how it is used, and some of its capabilities is a very good place to start. When you know these basics, you can start investigating specific technologies that may one day, or already do, apply to your interaction with healthcare.