Defining Digital Health
Quantifying digital health into a succinct and all-encompassing definition is not a straightforward task. Digital health represents as much a change in attitudes, and approaches towards healthcare provision and solutions as it represents a fundamental development of technology itself.
Digital health is the application of new technology in a healthcare setting. Whether this be telemedicine, mHealth, or wearable technology, digital health is changing the life sciences and healthcare industry from being in the hands of the practitioners to being in the hands of the patient.
Digital health, therefore, has the opportunity to provide many solutions that the healthcare sector thought were impossible. But with the advent of new technologies and new approaches to the sector, come new ethical dilemmas and challenges such as lack of regulation and data management security.
Branches of Digital Health
Telehealth delivers health solutions outside of hospitals and other care facilities. Telehealth has been particularly effective at helping elderly patients or those with limited mobility get the right healthcare solutions for them. This can help to reduce the strain on transport systems, hospitals and also allows healthcare professionals in rural areas to provide diagnoses.
Examples: CareClix, ICliniq, Babylon Health
Personalised Medicine focuses on each patient as a unique case, rather than one with a condition. Although the idea of tailoring medicine to an individual isn't new, as technology has improved it has become easier than ever to monitor patients in this way. External factors such as our lifestyles, diets and home environments can be tracked as having an impact on our health. Clinicians can diagnose therapies which can look to achieve the best result for a particular patient as opposed to for a specific condition or disease.
Examples: Sophia Genetics, Horizon Discovery, Nightingale Health
mHealth specifically focuses on the use of mobile devices to collect patient data and deliver this information to clinicians. The use of mHealth technology has become most prevalent in developing economies, where individuals, particularly in rural communities are more likely to have access to mobile phones, but to care facilities and local healthcare provision. One of the challenges of mHealth is a lack of regulation, with the FDA classifying such technology as low-risk. This could become more of a challenge as use becomes more and more widespread.
Examples: CardioNet, FitBit
Wearable technologies have seen a rapid rise to market over the course of the last decade. Wearables have become a crucial part of real-time patient monitoring - clinicians can track patient factors such as calorie intake, heart rate and physical activity rates. However, the use of data can be a double-edged sword, with data accuracy and data security concerns being major challenges.
Examples: MediSafe, Biotricity, Crescent Technologies
The Future & Challenges for DigiHealth
Hospitals and care-providers are increasingly in more demand than ever before. As the USA and Europe has to face up to the realities of an ageing population, digital health solutions provide a commercial and scalable alternative to traditional healthcare methods. Disruptive digital innovations will be vital in reducing healthcare costs and providing better quality patient-centric solutions. mHealth has also had a systemic impact upon healthcare provision in poorer areas of the world.
However, there are concerns that digital health is not living up to the hype. Clinicians and stakeholders in healthcare provision have raised problems for many years about the difficulty of applying digihealth solutions in real healthcare settings. There are continual concerns about regulation and security issues - apps in particular are perceived to be low-risk by the FDA and are therefore not subjected to the same regulation as traditional healthcare providers.
Digital health solutions have an important part to play in meeting healthcare challenges of the 21st century. To meet the innovators making this happen, check out our DigiHealth Leaders event, taking place later in the year!