Digital health is coming but….

KEY TAKEAWAY: The digital health market continues to grow due to a lot of low interest cash and the promise that one day digital health will become the “norm” for consumers.  However, the market will continue to see a lot of companies come and grow as consumers, and HCP’s, chose the winners.

The overall medical device market is expected to reach $343 billion by 2021 and is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 4.6% between 2016 and 2021, according to Research and Markets. The medical device connectivity market is maturing too, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 38% until 2020. An ageing population, demand for personalized treatment, and increased availability of health care are the major drivers behind this growth. In accordance with this trend, the remote and virtual healthcare industries are anticipated to benefit from this growth.  But what about the reliability of these devices and clinical trials?

Medical devices are less rigorously regulated than drugs: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Only 1 percent of medical devices get FDA approval with high-quality clinical trials behind them[/inlinetweet]. Even in these cases, devices typically reach the market based on data from a single small, short-term trial.  So how can we be sure that “digital health” will in fact work?

Back in 2015, the British Medical Journal published a studystudy evaluating symptom checkers used for self-diagnosis. The research looked at 23 English-language symptom checkers and determined whether they listed the correct diagnosis first or within up to 20 possible options. For the symptom checkers that then offered a care recommendation, the academics also looked at the type of healthcare recommended.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]The work concluded that 34 per cent of the time the checkers managed to make the correct diagnosis[/inlinetweet]. Within the top 20 diagnosis given, they were correct 58 per cent of the time. Care advice was correct almost two-thirds of the times (ranging from 33 per cent to 78 per cent).

So who will decide?

In the end, consumers will decide the fate of digital health.  Right now most doctors treat conditions not patients so it’s easy to see why younger demographics, who grew up with digital, might substitute digital health instead of a real doctor.

The other huge issue is that the public uses these digital health tools the way they were intended to be used.  However, even then no doctor is going to make a diagnosis based on digital health alone.  They are likely to order more tests like MRI’s or a full blood work-up.

Digital health is coming, but like the early PC market there is going to be a lot of shakeout of players.  With pharma reluctant to try anything without a guarantee of an ROI I doubt they will lead the charge.