Is digital the future of medicine?

SUMMARY: McKinsey estimates that global digital-health revenues—from telemedicine, online pharmacies, wearable devices, and so on—will rise from $350bn last year to $600bn in 2024. I’m not so sure.

EHR’s have been a failure. Some 70% of American hospitals still fax and post patient records, and patients don’t have one record to share among all their doctors. Besides, the user experience of EHR’s is horrible, with many people only logging on when necessary.

Digital medicine has been thrust into the spotlight because of the pandemic and the media hype is in overdrive. Money is also pouring in. According to CB Insights, a research firm, a record $8.4bn of equity funding flowed into privately-held digital-health darlings in the third quarter of 2020, more than double the amount a year ago because nobody wants to miss out.

A study of some 16m American ones just reported in jamaInternal Medicine, a journal, found that their use of telemedicine surged 30-fold between January and June. American consumers surveyed in May by Gartner were increasingly using internet and mobile apps for a variety of medical needs but what they fail to show is that patients are afraid to go to the doctor’s office because of COVID.

Don’t get me wrong here. Digital healthcare will increase, but the idea that it could increase so quickly is myopic. Yesterday I listed some physicians in an advisory board meeting, and they all expressed concerns about digital medicine. From not understanding results to failing to use digital medicine correctly, digital medical tools, they feel, have a long way to go.

What’s needed is for Apple, Microsoft, Google, or Amazon to really disrupt digital medicine with simplicity and a focus on the user experience. They can’t do it alone; they need help from the medical community players who often ask, “what’s in it for me?”.

Digital medicine also needs better clarification. Should it include wearables and telehealth? What about EHR’s? There are so many players because providing an EHR solution is profitable, so patients will have to deal with the inconveniences. That is unacceptable.

The result of all this is that digital health is blazing trails, many of which will lead to a dead end. Pharma marketers need to listen carefully to the digital medical market and opt to try several to learn what works and what doesn’t. Their organizations are not prepared for the digital health revolution. For them, it’s more of “wait and see,” and once again, they will arrive late to the party.