October 16 2023
COVID-19 highlighted the immense value of digital solutions to healthcare systems through increasing patients’ access to care. The industry has already seen a huge surge of adoption for digital patient care with use increasing by a significant 38x by early 2021, compared to pre-pandemic usage.
Current uses of digital health to aid patient care can be split into two main categories:
Telemedicine enhances health care services by using digital modalities to facilitate patient-centric HCP interactions in a virtual setting. Studies evaluating the impact of telemedicine on patients have demonstrated reduced disparities in access to care resulting in improved patient outcomes due to:
Alongside telemedicine driving positive outcomes on patient care, it has also delivered impact to healthcare systems. Studies have demonstrated that diverting patients from emergency departments, through the use of telemedicine, can save the healthcare system up to $1,500 per visit. Subsequent research from Cigna has shown telemedicine not only reduces costs (Figure 1) but alleviates the need for urgent care visits by ~20%.
Telemedicine has demonstrated patient & healthcare benefit, especially during the COIVD-19 pandemic, however challenges remain. For example, while telemedicine can help physicians reach more patients, current regulations in the USA require physicians to obtain appropriate state licenses to treat patients out of state, even via telemedicine, which could prove to be costly and hinder overall adoption.
Personal health devices such as remote patient monitoring (RPM) tools are valuable. They provide physicians with the means to passively collect patient data to serve as early warning systems for disease prevention and management. RPMs can range from simple wearable devices, such as Apple watches, to earbuds that can monitor brain activity to warn users of potential seizures. With estimations that by 2025 26.2% of the US population will be using RPM tools, the opportunity exists to further integrate these devices, and the patient data they collect, into clinical practice.
However, similarly to telemedicine, personal health devices are not without their drawbacks. A key purpose of digital health is to reduce disparities in care. However, novel personal health devices have the potential to exacerbate these inequities due to their cost & the technical know-how needed to use them correctly. These are important considerations for payers and healthcare systems looking to implement these devices, and for developers of future devices.
Challenges in digital health hindering widespread adoption
While digital health has shown to be incredibly valuable to both patients & healthcare systems there is still a lack of awareness and education, alongside established healthcare system infrastructure challenges. These are preventing widespread integration of many digital health tools and devices.
Despite increased use over the last couple of years, digital health does not play a significant role in today’s healthcare system. For digital health’s potential to be truly realized, healthcare systems still need to overcome challenges such as:
Despite this, there are numerous global initiatives and national programs (most noticeably from WHO) aimed at bringing digital health to the forefront of the medical community and facilitating it’s integration into health care systems.
As the industry continually transitions into a post-pandemic landscape, digital patient care isn’t going anywhere with its continued investment
While digital health funding and deals have stabilized, with only $3.4B funding in Q1 of 2023 (-78% from all-time high in Q2 2021), the digital health market is still anticipated to grow to $504B by 2030 from $143B in 2023. With continued market growth alongside constant technological advancements, the potential of digital patient care, across the healthcare system, is tremendous.
Innovation in technology will continue to create new and improved digital solutions, and opportunities for patients to receive high quality care. For example, virtual reality is a technology that has already shown to be effective aiding physical therapy in patients with neuromuscular conditions. Alternative VR based therapies allow patients to perform immersive and engaging exercises which simulate movements they may not be able to perform in the real world. VR also presents opportunities for engaging ways to digitally assess and collect data on patients, potentially leading to more accurate diagnosis and prognosis across neurological conditions.
As the digital health market continues to grow and consumer adoption continues to increase, there is hope that seamless digital patient care could start to be envisioned over the next 5 years.