Written by Emanuele Arcà on Monday 6th March 2023
Telemedicine. Electronic health records. Digital Medicines. Wearable health technology that tracks individuals’ sleep patterns, activity, heart rate and rhythm.
These digital health technologies have already changed the ways in which patients and providers interact. They have blurred lines, altered the traditional balance of power and expanded the reach—and potential—of healthcare. Moving forward, digital health is poised to help individuals, health systems and societies pivot toward prevention and personalized medicine.
How helpful health technology will be, however, depends on human use. A digital tool that is not deployed cannot effect change, no matter how innovative the technology.
Awareness and acceptability of digital health technology must become a priority for those hoping to use it to improve human health.
Digital Health Defined
The World Health Organization says digital health is “a broad umbrella term encompassing eHealth … as well as emerging areas, such as the use of advanced computing sciences in ‘big data,’ genomics and artificial intelligence.” It includes telemedicine, IoT (Internet of Things) medical devices (such as remote, real-time heart monitoring or “smart” blood glucose monitors) and digital therapeutics (DTx), therapeutic interventions that are driven by high-quality software programs to treat, manage or prevent a disease or disorder.
The challenges and disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic led to a global upswing in willingness to use digital health products, and the potential revealed by increased use of technology in healthcare has stirred excitement. Globally, the market is expected to expand. The global digital health market is projected to exceed $802 billion USD by 2030, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.6%. The global DTx market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 26.1% from 2022 to 2030.
Data + People
Though many people focus on the algorithms and technology undergirding digital health, people and data are the true foundation. Those working in health, medicine and digital health technology must put human users at the center by acknowledging and addressing their needs and concerns.
Responsible and ethical use of data is key. It’s also extremely important to educate patients and providers—and to incorporate their input and ideas into new technologies.
In Germany, the first country to establish a national health technology assessment and reimbursement framework for DTx, uptake of innovative technologies is not limited by lack of a regulatory framework or reimbursement. Instead, it has to do with knowledge and trust, the primary reason particular technologies are not used is because patients and providers are often not aware of or adequately educated about the technology. Another important reason for limited adoption and uptake: Patient and provider perspectives are not considered during the creation of digital tools.
Digital therapeutics and other digital health technology are not like medications or medical devices. Sophisticated software is virtually useless if a human being will not interact with it. Awareness and acceptability will drive adoption of this technology, so industry leaders and policymakers should consider the needs of human users early in the development and regulatory process.
Identifying and consulting with key stakeholders is essential for successfully integrating digital health technology into systems of care. Market access strategies also should emphasize stakeholder engagement.
Digital Health Technology Can Improve Human Well-Being
At present, most healthcare spending is still focused on disease management. Digital health technologies can certainly help with disease management, but they can also make personalized prevention a key target area while increasing access to care, improving equity and ultimately improving human functioning.
Countries around the world are establishing policies to pave the way for a digital transformation of health and healthcare. Through debates and landmark decisions, they are setting regulatory structures and reimbursement requirements. Germany appears to have the most comprehensive system, at least for DTx. France is expected to establish a similar framework this year, while integration and reimbursement are more fragmented in the United Kingdom. The United States Food and Drug Administration has established some forward-looking digital health policies, but lack of governance around evidence assessment, privacy and product integration may jeopardize the uptake of digital health technologies there.
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