The Digital Health revolution is gathering pace and is likely to become an important part of healthcare delivery in the not so distant future. So what is it, and why should we be paying close attention?
Digital Health is an emerging industry with the potential to transform healthcare delivery, increase access and improve outcomes for patients. The term Digital Health refers to the arena where healthcare meets technology, including IT, mobile and smart devices. The astronomical success of smart tech and its global appeal means that Digital Health is becoming more widely accepted as a necessity for the future of healthcare and in recent years, why it has become the focus of research and investment from both inside and outside of the healthcare industry.
Hi tech companies like Fitbit and Apple are already ahead of the curve, and the devices they are pioneering are helping to develop the Digital Health sector and further the possibilities for their use on the front line of healthcare delivery.
In 2009, Fitbit launched Tracker, a small device which could be clipped on to clothing to record a person’s steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, activity intensity and sleep. This information could then be uploaded to the Fitbit website to help users track their daily activity and fitness goals. Following the huge success of the Tracker, Fitbit has gone on to launch to wristbands and watches, and even scales, which can also track health and activity levels.
The Apple Watch was launched in April 2015. The innovative smartwatch incorporates fitness tracking and health-orientated functions, as well as being able to link to other Apple products and services. The Apple Watch quickly became the bestselling wearable device, with more than 4 million units sold in the three months that followed1.
These fitness tracking devices are aimed primarily at engaging a health conscious demographic and helping consumers make decisions about wellness. But they also have the potential to handle more confidential data about health and activity which can be used by clinicians, patients or hospital system reporting. It is here that there is the greatest scope to improve healthcare outcomes.
When we add together the information from smart healthcare devices, medical records and genomics research, we potentially have almost a complete view of a patient’s health taking into account their past (the conditions they are pre-disposed to develop from their genetic makeup), their present (their medical history) and also their future (information about their lifestyle and environmental factors which could lead to other illnesses).
One of the most exciting things about Digital Health is its possible implications for the pharma industry. The data collected by digital healthcare devices could offer new insights into drug targets and treatment plans if the pharma industry is able to work in harmony with tech companies and healthcare professio als.
The main barrier to this will be the issue of privacy and how the health data collected by smart devices is protected. Health data recorded by tech manufacturers like Fitbit isn’t legally protected in the same way as normal medical records but this is not to say that changes will not be made to legislation ahead of any widespread implementation of Digital Health solutions.
We are currently in a very unique time for healthcare where new technologies are pushing the boundaries faster that we can accommodate them. The implications for Digital Health are far reaching and for patients, clinicians, pharma and tech companies, it’s certainly a leap into the unknown