What Is Digital Health and Why This Field Is Interesting for Users and Investors Alike?
June 6th, 2016
Digital health is an IT sector that is experiencing a particularly strong surge of interest in recent years. More and more people wear fitness bands and smartwatches and want to know everything about their bodies; more and more investors invest in new startups and devices; more and more doctors learn to work in this changing environment. Let’s figure out what digital health is and why all of a sudden the world began to pay such attention to this field.
Digital health is a convergence of a number of technologies - especially digital and genetic - with healthcare sector as well as society as a whole. Digital health tech presupposes that average person can easily track his own body status as well as family members’ health. Strategically thinking, this will improve the quality of life, making it more productive. It also enhances the effectiveness of medical help, improves access to health services, reduces healthcare costs, and boosts its quality. In addition, digital health will also make medical prescriptions and usage more personalized and accurate.
The main technological components of the digital health today are various types of wireless devices, hardware sensors, microprocessors and integrated circuits, software technologies for managing all of the abovementioned devices as well as their communication technologies: Internet, social networking, mobile and body area networks.
To dispel the misconceptions about the digital health, let’s begin from what digital health is not.
Digital health is not using websites in clinical practice. It is also not an idea of using social networks in the healthcare field. All this confusion in terminology begins with the word “digital.” For example, it is a pretty serious misconception when the term “digital health” is applied to all technologies connected with mobile communications and / or IT related to health and healthcare.
For greater clarity, digital health can be compared with the indicator displayed on the dashboard that lights up when the engine - in our case, human body - has to be checked.
Here are a few examples that will help us understand how digital health can affect the lives of ordinary people directly as well to change the very essence of medical practice, expanding the opportunities and actively taking care of the health and well-being of man. These examples describe the use of the digital health concept in everyday medicine and healthcare.
Personal “pocket” cardiograph
Today, anyone can get an ECG (electrocardiogram) and the smart devices will send the data on heart’s electrical activity directly to the attending physician. This means that symptoms of an approaching illness can be detected early and preventive measures can be taken in almost real-time.
Blood sugar level dynamic observation and analysis
Instead of the usual manual measurement of glucose levels in the blood, constant monitoring and dynamic analysis will provide information about the changes in real time. This allows predicting potential problems associated with high or low blood sugar levels, or, alternatively, its abrupt change.
Personal heart attack warning system
This tool will be able to warn about the threat of a heart attack two weeks in advance. At the moment, this technology is just an outline for the future that requires painstaking clinical studies, certain markers have already been discovered in the blood that may appear as an early sign of impending heart attack. And since time for a qualified intervention in the case of this disease is especially important for the future, this “indicator light” that reminds you to check your “engine” can be a very useful preventive tool that might be able to save your life.
Determining antibiotics effectiveness and infection detection
A simple pill or band-aid applied to the skin will also measure body temperature, noting the slightest changes. Even before the substantial rise in temperature, which will indicate that the antibiotic isn’t working, your smartphone will notify you (and your doctor) about the need to revise the treatment strategy and / or change the drug.
Separate measurements are an important part of the digital health revolution. Combined with data analysis, it will evaluate different aspects of one’s body functioning and provide a comprehensive analysis of the obtained data. This information will make digital health even more efficient. For example, an indicator of oxygen level in blood in conjunction with ECG can become a more reliable and valid reason for “alarm” than the result of one of these tests alone.
Recent studies emphasize the growing importance of digital health industry. For example, Goldman and Sachs’ report says that connected devices and IoT-solutions will allow saving more than $300 billion for the healthcare sector in the US alone. In particular, the report focuses on telemedicine and remote monitoring of the patient body’s state. Report authors called these two areas the most important for the development of the digital health industry.
Digital health sector will cause a revolution in healthcare and this revolution will focus primarily on the various types of benefits for the patient. It is widely known that healthcare doesn’t offer the most user-friendly experience for their customers, i.e. patients. One reason for this - the difficulty in accessing the patients’ medical records. This situation will change thanks to the first digital health technologies. Major manufacturers of electronic medical records’ storage offer systems with awkward user interfaces and rather poor functionality. For patients, it is problematic to access their health data and even harder to control it. However, large IT companies, such as Apple, FitBit, and other, understand the person’s need to know what is happening to their body at various times and to store that data and they are offering solutions. Fitness bracelets, smartwatches, sensors and platforms to manage and store data from such devices will complement the medical records.
In the beginning of 2015, 136 new companies, operating in the digital health sector, have attracted more than $2 million each.
How successful will these new technologies be? History tells us that it will happen one day when people will realize they can no longer do without a particular technology whether it is a fitness tracker on their wrist or biosensors in underwear. In the beginning of 2015, 136 new companies, operating in the digital health sector, have attracted more than $2 million each. These figures may be one of the most important indicators that digital revolution of health is coming.