Digital health encompasses a vast set of scientific concepts and technologies. It combines digital technologies, networking, connectivity, and increasing computing power, with big data and health information systems.
It means the use of digital technologies to improve health, healthcare, and living conditions. Digital tools vastly enhance diagnoses and patient outcomes. They also have multiple uses, ranging from improving personal fitness to building more robust national health systems. They are applied in diagnosis, treatment, and care management, and delivery.
Digital health helps users practice lifestyle medicine, such as improving fitness, with just a smartphone and an app. It also offers patients ways to better monitor and manage their lives.
The Latest Digital Health Tools and Their Impact
The global digital health market is growing, buoyed by the introduction of digital technologies that have many healthcare applications. The following are some examples of such technologies:
Telehealth technology helps patients in remote locations to access quality healthcare. Telehealth also benefits healthcare providers as outpatient care is less expensive than inpatient care.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The use of AI has improved many areas in healthcare, especially imaging technology. AI helps improve processes, determines effective pharmaceutical compositions, lowers expenses, prevents identity theft, etc.
Wearables and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
The healthcare industry uses connected wearables and data collection via IMT in innovative ways, especially in preventative medicine. Wearables and apps now help facilitate virtual clinical trials that enable patients to participate from anywhere.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)
AR already helps doctors learn complex procedures, such as heart surgery. It also helps them perform the actual procedures by using 3D mapping and imagery.
AR and VR are also used to help retrieve the memories of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, by letting them experience an important time or stimulus from the past.
A digital twin, the virtual replica of a physical object or system, offers a safe way to test procedures or treatments by experimenting on virtual versions of patients or devices.
Healthcare providers need to provide personalized clinical guidance to patients who visit any facility or physician across the country. Blockchain technology can be used to record, store, and classify patient data, without fear of security breaches.
Companies at the Forefront of Digital Health Tech
US health spending is expected to reach around $6.0 trillion by 2027. Funding in the digital health arena increased from US$1.2 billion in 2010 to US$ 14.6 billion in 2018.
Major tech companies, such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, are entering the arena with innovative products to exploit this opportunity.
- Apart from Wear OS, its Android operating system designed for wearables, Google aims to apply its AI capabilities in healthcare.
- Apple has many healthcare products, such as Apple Health Records and the FDA-approved Apple Watch.
- Amazon is now entering the wearables space with wireless earbuds. It also recently launched its Amazon Care pilot program.
- Microsoft’s flagship initiative Healthcare NExT aims to transform healthcare.
Some of the other companies that develop wearables are Proteus Digital Health, Neurotech, Augmedix, Atlas Tracking, Fitbit, and Garmin. Examples of companies that develop other diverse products and apps are AdhereTech, Mediktor, Sopris Health, FundamentalVR, RDMD, 98point6, VitaScan, etc.
The Future of Digital Health
The digital health market will see further growth, as well as the following changes in the future:
- With the entry of non-traditional companies into healthcare, all products and services may be aimed at ensuring greater customer engagement. In exchange for personal data, all companies may need to improve consumer experience and price transparency.
- The consumer or lifestyle medicine and pure medicine-oriented sides of digital health tech are likely to merge, as in the recent addition of ECG into the latest Apple Watch. Similarly, medical hardware will integrate digital functionality.
- Such changes imply consumerization of healthcare, which raises the need for identifying and validating authentic and usable technologies. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its Digital Health Action Plan to develop a precertification program that reduces standard authorization requirements for some types of software and apps. In 2020, Europe is expected to implement Medical Devices Regulation (MDR), which will define medical devices, software, and apps, and improve their traceability.
- Health insurers may start using digital solutions to improve customer engagement and build loyalty. Data from wearables may also affect pricing and eligibility in the future.
Digital health is of immense help in achieving the healthcare industry’s myriad, complex and varied aims. In the future, digital health tech will flourish further, driven by user demands, compliance requirements, and easily distinguishable value propositions.