March 16, 2020

Report Looks at How Digital Health Technologies Are Impacting Healthcare in the US

According to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU), "A fundamental question surrounding the US healthcare system is 'How do we improve overall health while reducing costs?' Health care spending in the US greatly exceeds that in other wealthy countries, but does not achieve better health outcomes. By 2030, an estimated 171m people in the US will suffer from a chronic disease. This fact, coupled with an aging population in need of greater health services signals the need for change."

Digital Health: Transformation and Innovation within the USA explains that "[a] promising response to this question has come in the form of the digital health transformation. The internet of things, artificial intelligence (AI), and wearable technology are a few examples of digital transformations that have great opportunities in healthcare, and they have already begun to disrupt the healthcare landscape."

The report encouragingly notes: "Digital innovation, though an overwhelming space and daunting to adopt, has the potential to drive significant positive changes through streamlined workflows, optimized systems, improved patient outcomes, reduced human error, increased transparency, and, of course, lowered costs." What is more, "Medical technology (medtech) companies should be prepared with the knowledge of how digital transformation may impact their business environment and the understanding of how to successfully bring new innovations to the market."

Under the title of "Modes of digital disruption: The technologies reshaping healthcare," the report "looks at how trending digital health technologies are impacting healthcare, and the outlook on the adoption of these technologies."

Medical Internet of Things (mIOT) applications to watch:

  • Medical facility infrastructure and security
  • Workflow tracking and optimization
  • Medication compliance tracking
  • Data recording (EHRs)
  • Chronic condition management

"Impacted populations: Healthcare facilities and device manufacturers are already benefiting from the medical internet of things. Organizations can analyze processes at scale with mIoT to determine trends and improve efficiencies. Doctors are increasingly using mIoT to monitor patients with chronic diseases."

AI applications to watch:
  • Patient diagnosis based on pattern recognition from large databases (genomic and symptom information)
  • Early prediction of conditions likely to develop
  • Assistance in image analysis for scans and slides (e.g. X-ray interpretation for radiologists, slide interpretation for pathologists)

"Impacted populations: AI stands to improve on how well physicians can predict health risk, come to diagnoses, and draw insights from large sets of data. Workflow optimization centered around AI is already being used to reduce inefficiencies, and the technology's predictive power may be able to speed up R&D for medtech manufacturers. AI will be a key way to analyse the massive amounts of clinical data generated by increasing use of wearable sensors. This analysis will enable deeper understanding of patients' disease states, and support physician's decision-making process when providing care. Improved outcomes for patients and reduced costs for providers will be among the largest benefits of this technology."

Wearable technology/Remote patient monitoring applications to watch:
  • Activity monitors for sports and fitness
  • Heart rate and diabetes monitoring
  • Neurological disease monitoring to conduct large studies and track disease progression
  • Post-discharge patient monitoring for treatment response
  • Chronic condition management
  • Patient health risk assessment from activity and biometrics monitoring
  • Ingestible sensors for biomarker tracking and smart drug delivery

"Impacted populations: A component of the mIoT, wearable devices are capable of collecting and transmitting health data about the individuals wearing them. The growing elderly population will benefit heavily from this technology's adoption because physicians will be able to draw health insights from larger amounts of data than previously possible, and without the need for constant in-person visits. The same is true for people with chronic diseases. Their symptoms can vary immensely from day to day, making it difficult for doctors to make treatment decisions based off infrequent visits."

Telemedicine applications to watch:
  • Medical specialties well-suited for telemedicine, e.g. radiology, psychiatry, dermatology, ophthalmology
  • Follow-up doctor's visits
  • Healthcare access for rural populations
  • Remote chronic disease management
  • Assisted living center support
  • Preventative care support

"Impacted populations: Widespread adoption of telemedicine will be especially impactful for those unable to easily access a medical center. Major groups affected are those living in rural areas with a shortage of doctors, and the elderly who may be unable to travel for a clinician visit. The ease of visiting with a doctor via a phone or tablet may also lead to fewer appointments cancelled at the last minute."

Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) applications to watch:
  • Medical practitioner training
  • Remote surgery
  • Diagnosis support
  • Mental health support tools for patients
  • 3D patient rendering for improved surgery planning

"Impacted populations: VR and AR technologies will have the greatest impact on clinicians in the coming years. VR is already being used in some settings to train doctors by allowing them to practice operations in a realistic environment. AR gives doctors faster access to real-time information, aiding in diagnosis and treatment decisions. The technology can also be used to visualize patient organs and systems in 3D, a feature that will significantly improve the quality of surgery planning."

However, "challenges lie ahead for digital technology driven medtech innovation" including security, communication, regulation, and funding.

Based on my experiences of supporting and advising medtech companies, I concur that "[a]lthough we are in the midst of a transformative time for healthcare, it remains a challenge for emerging and established medtech players to keep up with increased competition and innovation from big tech organizations. The overlap amongst the different modes of digital disruption signals the importance of integration-friendly solutions. As the industry shifts into a more patient-centric and patient-owned environment it will be increasingly important for suppliers, providers, payers, and patients to embrace an end-to-end digital mindset. Key questions to consider along the way are:

  • As digital healthcare evolves, what innovations give medtech a lasting edge?
  • Is your company focused on the core areas for value creation?
  • How scalable is your innovation?
  • What organizations should you partner with to access the technologies and talent required for business model transformation?"

Moreover, "It is important to mention this transformation extends to well beyond the US – not just in developed markets, but also emerging ones. This raises key questions for medtech MNCs, such as:
  • Are your company's innovations aligned with the needs of emerging markets?
  • How much adaptation of your product to address the pockets and preferences of emerging markets is needed to successfully enter and capture the market?
  • What are the key drivers and barriers of adoption of innovations in emerging markets?
  • What does competition from innovative local players look like?"

Which digital health technologies do you think will provide the greatest impact on the healthcare ecosystem?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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