Is Digital Health Living up to the Hype?

The Digital Health Summit at CES 2017, some new industry reports, and the likelihood of large scale changes to the ACA in the very near future, make now a good time to ask: “Is digital health living up to the hype?”

Digital Health is Still Growing

No doubt digital health is big business. The global market, according to a recent report, is valued at $11.47 billion in 2014 and is projected to grow to $102 billion by 2022.  Blood pressure monitors and blood glucose meters have the largest share of the market which includes pulse oximeters, multi-parameter trackers, sleep & apnea monitors, fitness sensors, neurological monitors, heart rate meters, EKG monitors, cardiac monitors, and more.

No Real Clinical Utility for Pricey Conditions

While there has been a sharp increase in consumer adoption of both mHealth and telemedicine the majority of mhealth users are still people who are in good health. More than half of those who report using a wearable are not doing so to monitor a health condition. An Accenture report found that only 2 percent of the patients at the 100 largest hospitals are using mobile health apps even though 66 of those hospitals offer them.

While the digital health market is growing, it has not established itself (or begun to do so) as effective in treating the chronic conditions that drive-up healthcare costs. A recent analysis of spending by disease identified diabetes as the most expensive condition accounting for $101 billion in diagnosis and treatment costs in 2013 and its cost is growing 36 times the second most pricey condition, ischemic heart disease. Real clinical utility for these chronic conditions is not yet at hand. Brian Kalis, managing director in Accenture’s Health practice says that apps are not engaging patients.

MHealth experts: Healthcare Providers need to take Digital Health Seriously

While some say that the apps are not good enough, others say that healthcare is not taking them seriously enough. In fact, healthcare is beginning to move toward serious adoption of mhealth but have continuing concerns about efficacy, privacy, and safety.

Last month, the AMA adopted a set of principles on mHealth apps. Among the guidelines for incorporating digital tools into their practices were effectiveness, data protection, and safety. The AMA recommends that physicians consult lawyers to ensure that privacy and security laws are met.  However, the recently passed 21st Century Cures act limited the FDA’s ability to regulate apps and devices and this could reduce the clarity about safety and effectiveness.

Patients share their physician’s concerns about privacy.  No doubt privacy concerns are fueled by ongoing hacks of healthcare data. A recent poll of consumers found that patient concerns about data privacy are climbing. Interestingly, this feeling also involves their assessment of their physician’s tech abilities.  69% of patients confirm their belief that their current primary care physician does not demonstrate enough technology prowess for them to trust divulging all their personal information.

Healthcare providers are beginning to show up at CES. The 2017 Health Care Summit at CES includes executives from Phillips, UnitedHealth Group, Harvard Medical School, the Cedars-Sinai Health System, the Mount Sinai Health System and more. Topics on the agenda include gamification in diabetes management, digital tech and obesity, the opioid epidemic, precision medicine and more. Additionally, this year, Dr. Mehmet Oz & ResMed are expected to release the results of a national sleep study. Interestingly, it could be that apps that promote our sleep health may also have an impact on diabetes costs because our sleep health appears to be tied to risks for both obesity and type 2 diabetes.