Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the use of digital technology in healthcare was on a steady rise; however, the pandemic has spurred rapid development of digital health technology as well as rapid adoption and utilization of that technology in the industry. This trajectory isn’t surprising. Digital health holds the promise of increased accessibility to high-quality, patient-centered care that can also increase patient engagement and reduce costs. However, the full realization of this promise may be threatened by policy and regulation that is failing to keep pace with and encourage this evolution.
What is Digital Health?
There is no universally accepted definition of digital health. In fact, researchers studying the definition recently came across no fewer than 95 published definitions for the concept of digital health.1 There were, however, some clear patterns: there is an emphasis on how data is used to improve care; there is a focus on the provision of healthcare, rather than the use of technology; and the definitions tend to highlight the well-being of people and populations over the caring of patients with diseases. As used in this article, digital health encompasses the use of digital tools and technologies to improve and manage an individual’s or a population’s health and wellness.
Current digital health landscape
Telehealth and wearables
Telehealth, the use of which has been on the rise in recent years, exploded in 2020 as the world fought the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients and healthcare providers turned to teleconferencing or mobile health to access consultations, diagnosis, treatments, prescriptions and other services they usually received in a hospital or clinic.
Telehealth services not only benefited patients, but also benefited healthcare providers who reduced their risk of exposure to COVID-19 by decreasing the amount of patients they saw in person. The use of telehealth also allowed providers to use less of the scarce personal protective equipment than they would otherwise use were there more in-person care. Despite appreciating the convenience of receiving telehealth services, patients still had significant concerns about privacy and security, the physician-patient relationship, and the ability to receive the right diagnosis and proper treatment.2 So while the pandemic put telehealth in the spotlight, it remains to be seen whether this interest in telehealth will continue post-pandemic.
Devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, which are typically purchased to improve fitness, took on new significance because many can provide users the ability to do things like monitor blood oxygen saturation levels, which can be helpful in diagnosing COVID-19.
We also saw a surge in the use of wearables due to the pandemic.3 Devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, which are typically purchased to improve fitness, took on new significance because many can provide users the ability to do things like monitor blood oxygen saturation levels, which can be helpful in diagnosing COVID-19. Wearables are diverse and plentiful and can track and monitor a vast number of health metrics, including blood glucose, blood pressure, and electrocardiograms to detect atrial fibrillation. It shouldn’t be surprising then that in a recent survey Insider Intelligence found that 80 percent of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology.4
Health and wellness
In 2020, the number of health and fitness app users increased by 27 percent from the prior year.5 Some apps focus on general wellness and health, while some apps are used for diagnosis and treatment of diseases. For example, some consumers use apps like Runkeeper and MyFitnessPal to track different health metrics for informational purposes, while others use apps to track specific health metrics that they can then send to their providers to use in developing and monitoring the patient’s treatment plan – apps like Glucose Buddy, which monitors and tracks glucose levels,…
Read More:The Future is Digital Healthcare