Technology has long been touted as the remedy that will lead to more efficient and effective healthcare delivery. A recent white paper released by research firm Tractica uncovered the top trends in the ongoing evolution of digital health sector — and found that return on investment (ROI) is a top priority and digital health use cases are expanding.
Tractica attributes the increased interest in digital health to three main factors: a desire to reduce healthcare costs, the need to find new ways to handle the growing number of individuals with chronic diseases, and the desire to provide better and safer medical care.
According to the research firm, digital health has hit the point where organizations are no longer investing in technology for just the sake of technology. Experimentation and proof of concepts yielding to technology deployments that have a clear ROI that is reflected either in improvements to the bottom line and/or in patient care, according to Tractica, and vendors are responding by providing ways to prove ROI with their offerings.
It might be reflected in a reduction in admissions, for example, which saves money.
Telehealth video consultations (TVCs) easily lend themselves to better ROI, as they are linked to the cost of an office visit and shorter hospital stays. New concepts such as telehealth intensive care units (TeleICUs) enable faster responses to emergencies, alarms, and degradation in patient health, and TeleICUs remove some burden on ICU staff, allowing hospitals to better manage their staffing costs. Similarly, remote patient monitoring also reduces the length of hospital stays, although in the area of wearables, ROI is difficult to quantity, Tractica said, as the number of commercially available products in the medical area are still rather limited.
Another major trend seen by the research firm which dovetails with the benefits of telehealth is remote monitoring and use of wearables as part of a transition to a virtual care model as healthcare providers look to decrease costs but provide a higher level of care as the number of people. This includes those chronic conditions, a segment which is growing and expected to increase for the foreseeable future. All of these trends place a greater burden on the healthcare system, so it is more cost effective to remotely monitor a patient at home rather than keep them in the hospital or send them to another care facility, especially as technology allows more patients to be treated or monitored through virtual care.
There are still challenges as some technologies are quite expensive to deploy at a scale required by a healthcare organization, and these deployments can take time. In addition, it may take more than a year for the ROI to be realized, Tractica noted.
Digital health uses cases are expanding, however. In the past few years, there has been growth in TVC usage, for example. Once limited to supporting physician-to-physician interaction in an ICU or for specialties such as tele-psychiatry between practitioner and patient, TVCs are now being used for primary care as well as by specialists such as cardiologists and dermatologists. In addition, new therapeutic uses, such as physical and occupational therapy, are also leveraging TVCs. Tractica is forecasting strong and steady growth in TVCs. Starting from a base of 19.7 million consults in 2014, the market will expand at 34.7 per cent CAGR through 2020 to 158.4 million TVC sessions performed annually with an equal mix of clinical and non-clinical consultations by 2019.
Not surprisingly, eldercare is expected to be key application for digital mobile health in coming years. Tractica cites a 2013 United Nations report that states the percentage of people age 60 and above increased from 9.2 per cent of the world’s population in 1990 to 11.7 per cent by 2013, and will reach 21.1 per cent by 2050. In terms of actual individuals, this equates to an increase from 841 million people age 60 and over in 2013 to more than 2 billion in 2050. As people age, they are also more likely to develop chronic conditions, adding to the healthcare burden.
Tractica also describes data analytics as a “key pillar” of digital health, thanks to advances in machine learning and analytics along with the digitization of heath information and the growth of big data. The research firm is not alone in this view. A report released last fall by Technavio Research found that big data spending in the healthcare industry is 42 per cent CAGR from 2015 through 2019, citing cloud computing, social network and big data analytics as key influences on smart mobile technologies which healthcare organizations are leveraging to reduce medical costs and help in more effective remote patient monitoring.
Use of big data in healthcare is boosting the scope for personalized healthcare, according to the Technavio report, while medicines and treatments are being customized according to a patient’s health requirements, and patients are updated with a variety of health information and take an active role in healthcare decisions.
Meanwhile, other trends Tractica noted in its white paper are the adoption of biometrics, wearable biosensors and patches, and the use of artificial intelligence as a key enabler of digital health capabilities.