Digital health can be simply defined as both healthcare innovation and its future. Digital health tools provide a means for patient-centered care that was previously available only to a select few. As a population, we are more aware of what is considered healthy, but for many of us, our health continues to decline. Historically, this issue has largely been due to a lack of healthcare access, a lack of coordinated care and/or issues with interoperability. Digital health can address each of these problems in a streamlined way that is personalized to each patient's condition. This can result in improved outcomes.
Digital health has successfully integrated technology into healthcare by facilitating on-demand, whole-person monitoring. Whole-person care focuses on and tracks individuals from labs to diagnostics to disease management and intervention, when necessary. Yet, digital healthcare penetration continues to face many challenges. Those challenges threaten innovation by slowing our pace.
While digital health is trending, and a focus of innovators worldwide, many current healthcare solutions remain outdated. As an entrepreneur in the healthcare space, I've found that innovation is often hindered by regulatory hurdles. Products are required to meet safety, quality, data security, functionality, data protection and interoperability guidelines. Once products meet those requirements, they become eligible for regulatory review and may qualify for insurance reimbursements. The review timeline and requirements vary depending on the type of product. Some, for example, require long studies and long-term clinical data. All hurdles aside, digital tools are well-suited to improve morbidity, mortality, costs and quality of life.
In contrast, we have the simplest form of healthcare products with the fastest path to commercialization: healthcare apps. Acquiring clinical data for them is often hard because data is gathered from mobile apps and widely used by the public. That data is naturally skewed since individuals accessing those apps are on average younger and healthier. This data is self-regulated by mobile users and, in my experience, is often abandoned before you gain any long-term data or substantial insights. There is usually no way to prove data reliability, validity or the effectiveness of those tools. To achieve accountability and ensure data reliability, physicians would need to monitor. The problem is, why would physicians be motivated to review self-generated data for free?
Depending on what healthcare problem you’re tackling, it can become more complicated when you consider medical codes for provider reimbursement. It can be difficult and time-consuming for new medical codes to be developed for innovative technologies and treatments. This can further stretch commercialization timelines. Such hurdles can add costs and make healthcare innovation expensive and market penetration more difficult.
Depending on the area of focus, costs can be higher still. For example, it's expensive and time-consuming to manufacture new drugs. Drug developers need to show clinical evidence that their drugs are safe and effective before approval. However, it may be difficult to observe side effects with so many limitations in duration and scope. Often, adverse effects only surface after the drug has been widely used. This is where digital health can provide valuable insights into improving the quality of care and lowering its costs.
Consider Where You Choose To Innovate
We know that chronic conditions account for 75% of healthcare spending, so innovation in chronic diseases is paramount. How can we innovate without slowing down? First, innovate to support the institutions that deliver care or develop technologies that eventually service the patient directly. We already know what’s accessible to patients: electronic patient portals, telemedicine services, wearable devices and online chats. We know what they should achieve as an ecosystem, but are patients really empowered? Is the quality of care really improved? We can innovate to correct deficiencies and misconceptions to improve the overall patient experience.
Consider How You Choose To Innovate
Focus on connectivity. Get the ball rolling with interconnected therapeutic and diagnostic products and services. That way, you can generate valid long-term data that you can use to improve precision medicine and leverage predictive analytics.
Align With An Existing Reimbursement Code
The former two give you the fastest path to commercialization if you can figure out reimbursement, a key issue in healthcare innovation. I've found that the best approach is to hire a reimbursement specialist and analyze reimbursement in the space in which you are trying to innovate—look for an established medical code that is directly related to your space. Based on that, you can innovate and shorten the whole process and develop a solution that fits within that code.
Digital Health: The Final Frontier
The benefits of digital health technologies for clinical care and research will be appreciated when you've resolved the aforementioned challenges. Digital health will interconnect patient data from telehealth, remote patient monitoring and remote diagnostics, creating more holistic patient views. This will ultimately drive the adoption of more evidence-based technologies.
We can innovate without getting bogged down. We must examine our current challenges and restrictions and proactively change the status quo. Data quality, safety, privacy, user-friendliness and reimbursement issues can all be mitigated. We need to work closely with our stakeholders and create early collaborations to iron out kinks and leverage existing reimbursement codes. This is how we ensure that digital health improves outcomes, reduces costs and improves the quality of care.