We need evidence-based digital health

Digital health companies aim to address the numerous health care challenges, including poor patient engagement, communication gaps between patients and providers, lack of longitudinal data, inconvenience of care delivery, and insufficient clinical decision support for providers and patients. Maybe, however, they should check with patients first.

A 2016 study reported that 259,000 digital health apps were available for consumers. Global consumers will spend $49 billion by 2020 on digital health solutions. A record number (296) of private digital health companies received venture funding in 2016, funding that totaled more than $4.2 billion that year and approached $6 billion the following year.

The excitement about these technologies partially stems from their potential to address health care system challenges that have slightly improved with traditional health care processes, payment models, regulations, guidelines, and innovations such as drugs and devices. Still, there is objective real-world evidence that these technologies work.

Little is known about the peer-reviewed publications related to digital health products and services, how their potential for impact has been measured, and whether patients with the greatest burden of disease have been studied even by leading companies in the marketplace.

Heath Affairs

The digital health industry needs to build products and services that are impact-focused and evidence-based and that provide high value for patients and the health care system. Policymakers may address two areas to foster such an environment: clarifying the regulatory requirements for such technologies and developing incentives that lead to a more robust customer market.

Over the past three to five years, I have listened to many HCPs talk about digital health. While they understand the possibilities, they are concerned that patients will use the technology to benefit them. They see digital health as one of the tools that can help patients monitor their health issues, but they want and need strong clinical evidence that digital health interventions can work and provide better outcomes.

When talking about digital health, it’s also interesting to hear HCPs try and differentiate between health apps and wellness apps. They want more precise definitions of what constitutes a digital health app.

What about patients? You would think that younger generations would embrace digital health, but that’s not especially true as Boomers are also embracing digital health products like Apple’s watch.

When it comes to digital health, most Americans want their data to be more accessible and better protected. For example, although most respondents want to use apps on smartphones, tablets, and computers to access their health information, those who expressed serious privacy concerns nearly doubled—from 35% to 62%—when they were told that federal privacy protections do not cover data stored on apps.

Telehealth, also being hyped, has slowed down since the peak of COVID, but the apps keep coming, and right now, there are so many that patients can get confused or get insufficient data. This is why the FDA is going to need to establish a division to monitor digital health products.

Pharma has a unique opportunity to link digital health to their products to test them and prove to doctors that they provide better patient outcomes. It won’t be easy, but it’s a way to change the playing field and bring people into the brand.