Digital health has experienced a steady climb the last few years and has been shaking up the healthcare industry. This can be in part thanks to people becoming more familiar with using telehealth services, embracing remote fitness classes, and trusting mental health apps. We are having a newfound appreciation for having spare time. That’s the benefit of digital health, it allows us access to remote care from the comfort of our home and makes the use of our time more efficient.
What is digital health?
Digital health can seem like a simple concept - using technology to help improve people’s health and wellness. It’s actually a wide field that includes categories such as mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (IT), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine. Technology has been driving a revolution in health care, from mobile apps, software that facilitates decision making for doctors, to artificial intelligence.
The main benefits include:
- lowering the cost of healthcare
- helping patients monitor and manage chronic conditions
- making medicine more tailored to individual needs
- Facilitating access
- Reducing overall cost
These are benefits for not only patients but also healthcare providers and give patients greater control over their health. Digital health tools could potentially help providers diagnose diseases earlier and help people ease their symptoms.
As if we needed further proof, according to CB Insights digital health startups pulled in a record-breaking $57.2B in funding in 2021, up 79% from 2020. This is fueled by the growing need to provide digital solutions and delivery models to patients during the pandemic. These companies are also scaling at a higher rate. They are taking less time than ever to progress from mid- to late-stage financing. Moving from Series C to D, which took 22 months in 2017, has taken only 15 months (at the median) in 2021.
Mental health and wellness tech in particular saw explosive growth in 2021. Funding to companies in this space increased by 139% YoY to $5.5 billion last year, according to CB Insights. Employers have started investing a lot more in corporate wellness and mental health. We have seen an increase in the use of apps such as: Headspace, Calm, and BetterUp.
Telemedicine can best be explained as the use of technology to gain access to healthcare. This can look like different things such as contacting your doctor to show or tell them about how you’re feeling to getting reminders on your phone to take your medicine on time and even monitoring your blood pressure, as well as so much more. While it has certainly been used for many years, it’s been on an exponential rise due to the pandemic. So much so that the CDC saw a 154% increase in telemedicine doctor visits during March 2020 as compared to the number of visits at the same time the year before.
Telemedicine is especially important for those living in remote areas, or who have limited access to travel, since it makes healthcare much more accessible. This way physicians can diagnose and treat many common physical ailments such as allergies, muscular and joint pain, and provide help for mental health issues like anxiety, depression or insomnia.
One important advancement in the telehealth area is the digitization of medical files. Instead of having to consult your doctor's office every time you need your files you are able to easily request and access them online. This benefits both medical professionals and patients because there is a more consistent method for information to travel between medical offices as well as to patients. However, these advancements do bring some problems such as security breaches, which is why it’s especially important to comply with HIPAA regulations. The use of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource (FHIR) standard which defines how healthcare information can be exchanged between different computer systems, can also be particularly useful. It allows healthcare information to be available securely to those who need access to it.
Looking forward, telemedicine will continue to grow, and it’s expected that many new platforms and technologies will pop up to improve patient experience.
Wearables and connected health devices
The application of wearable medical technology is evolving fast. The use of these devices helps patients and clinicians have as much information as possible in order to make better decisions. From continuous temperature monitoring devices (which can be used for children, post-op patients, cancer patients, and seniors) to wearable fitness trackers with more advanced technology for measuring long-term health data, wearable medical devices are rapidly evolving to meet the needs of telemedicine practices.
As telehealth needs progress, there has been a focus on wearables that offer more of a long-term purpose for patients. This goes beyond just patients wearing fitness trackers to monitor their daily activity level. The next step involves a network of smart medical devices which track a patient’s health everyday instead of the doctor just getting access to a patient once a year.
By using wearables and connected health devices we can accurately measure and transmit data such as temperature, blood oxygen, blood pressure, breathing rate, GPS location,, physical movement, elevation, changes in direction, among others. This ample information can help track exercise, stress, calorie expenditure, healthy posture, quality of sleep, cognitive decline, and sometimes even early warning signs of infection and inflammation. We can only manage what we can measure. That’s why wearables empower us to continuously measure our health and wellbeing without the need for visiting a healthcare provider.
2020 became known as the year that fitness trackers became health monitors. Physicians have embraced them and this has driven the companies that make them to innovate and improve them in order to keep up with regulations and industry standards. A clear example of this is the fact that Fitbit got its ECG app cleared by the FDA. Apple launched a watch dedicated in most part to health monitoring, including the measurement of blood oxygen levels (starting with the Series 6). Amazon is also diving into the health and wellness space with the launch of the Amazon Halo and Amazon Halo Band. The difference with these is they were made specifically for tracking health data and unlike smartwatches and fitness trackers, it doesn’t have a screen or constant notifications. The small sensor capsule delivers highly accurate data, and includes an accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a heart rate monitor, two microphones, an LED indicator light, and a button to turn the microphones on or off, among other functions. The app is designed to give customers a comprehensive understanding of their health and wellness—and the tools to take action to make improvements.
A smart body scale is an electronic scale that measures weight and other body composition metrics, and then sends them wirelessly to an app or online service that automatically records the data. Those other metrics generally include body fat, body water, and often body mass index (BMI). If you already use a fitness tracker, buying the accompanying smart scale will give you much more insight into how your activities, sleep, and food intake affect your weight. There are scales that work with trackers made by Fitbit, Garmin, Xiaomi, among others.
Blood Pressure Monitors
Blood pressure is an important data metric to measure one’s overall health. If you monitor your blood pressure and heart rate, you can establish a baseline you can refer to in the event of a health issue. Manual blood-pressure monitoring devices don't offer irregular heartbeat detection or provide your heart rate. Some popular smart blood pressure monitors include: Qardio and Withings.
Popular digital health apps
The number of consumer digital health apps has experienced an exponential growth.
It’s reported that there are over 350,000 digital health apps available to consumers. A big part of them are geared toward general wellness or fitness, but specific disease management apps have been on the rise. Mental health, diabetes and cardiovascular disease-related apps make up almost half of condition specific apps.
Some popular digital health apps are:
It is a flexible food and symptom diary that provides help to identify trigger foods in your diet. mySymptoms can track food, bowel health, stress, sleep, mood, periods, medications and symptoms to gain insights into your digestive health and well-being.
It’s an all-in-one tracker for activity, mindfulness, food logging, sleep, fertility, and more. You can set weight or activity goals, create meal plans, and sync the app with most fitness tracking devices and watches.
Through science-backed meditation and mindfulness tools, Headspace helps you create life-changing habits to support your mental health and find a healthier, happier you.
This is the period tracker that makes getting in tune with your body a little easier. In addition to the basics—like giving a relative sense of when you’re likely to ovulate and when you’ll probably get your period—Clue allows you to enter data that tracks your mood and sleep.
Known as one of the best sleep apps. It not only shows you the hours you caught quality shut-eye with, but it also gives advice on how to improve your quality of sleep.
Get affordable medical care with an online doctor or nurse practitioner from the comfort of your home. Lemonaid delivers most prescription Rx in discreet packaging with fast and convenient shipping.
MDLive allows you to connect to medical and pediatric doctors and access behavioral health therapy services and psychiatry whenever you need them. It is designed to offer fast, easy, and convenient access to a doctor for nonemergency issues when your primary care physician isn’t available.
In conclusion, digital health has become part of our everyday lives. Telemedicine will continue to grow, and it’s expected that many new platforms and technologies will pop up to improve patient experience. Digital health can help providers provide more personalized care, achieve increased patient engagement, and attain overall better health outcomes.