The last decade saw tremendous development in digital health. With the growing penetration of smartphone ownership globally, having tools at your fingertips to support health and wellness is commonplace. Whether these digital tools lead to better health outcomes is something that needs to be delivered on emphatically in this decade if digital health is to prosper and survive.
This next decade will see an increase in mergers and acquisitions with more established digital therapeutics buying newer solutions to expand their product portfolio. Additionally, traditional pharma will increasingly see the value of adding these solutions to their existing drug development pipeline. Early attempts are being closely observed to identify viable business models. These new models and markets still have a lot of volatility.
What does this mean for newer players? New products won’t be as successful if they only copy what already exists- differentiation will be a crucial factor for success in this new decade. A preponderance of digital solutions has translated existing workbook-style content into a digital user experience. Next-generation products will need to go beyond that translation of health education content to determine patterns of use that lead to optimal symptom monitoring and management.
New models of care will emerge that balance the human to digital touchpoints to better manage and monitor chronic conditions. More control will be in the consumer’s hands so they can fit their treatment protocols into their daily lives with appropriate supports from their healthcare teams. Solutions will also have to go beyond English speaksing populations and focus on diversity and inclusion to move us beyond current state models of care.
Currently, the app store or Google play is filled with apps for proport to support health and wellness. The challenge is most of these are not based on evidence and are little more than ways to monitor data that companies can sell onto third parties. Consumers have little more than a Net Promoter Score (NPS) to indicated if a product is “good,” which is not going lead to meaningful value to support health.
Many groups are working on standards like the Digital Therapeutic Alliance, and professional bodies like the American Psychiatric Association are shaping the areas of focus we need to develop further. Bottom line we need far stronger signals on what works and why and much less noise if digital health is to be taken seriously.
The nature of funding for digital health often means a good idea will be funded even if there is no evidence to demonstrate the concept when digitized can improve health. Venture capital firms would benefit from also thinking about the evidence base with increased emphasis as part of their due diligence when investing. This broader emphasis on evidence, data use, and transparency would begin to close the gap between product hype and value that is commonplace today. Health systems are risk-averse by nature and hype without a demonstrable evidence health or health outcomes will mean a longer timeline to adoption and deployment of digital therapeutics. The good news is more health systems will see the value of adding these tools to their existing care models in this next decade.
Payment models will also need to be developed and deployed, like in value-based payment (VBP) mechanisms. Even though the majority of health care systems in the USA operate from a fee-for-service model since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, more VBP are becoming standard. Benefit packages will need to be structured to allow for ease of paying for digital tools, and new codes will need to be developed to enable care teams to apply these tools are their standard of care.
Lastly, understanding how to boost engagement in using these tools and what patterns of use lead to sustained change and improved health outcomes will be a crucial area for development. App companies will need to look beyond monthly recurring revenue, user acquisition, and user retention costs to develop new metrics that matter to health care systems and consumers.
Consumers and health systems will expect more transparency in how data is used and by whom. While tremendous strides have been made in how we have integrated technology into our daily lives, many cautionary tales should inform more prudent and broadly beneficial pathways for the future development of technology.
Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own – Happy New Year)