Some of digital health's most promising players
Digital Health is by no means a new concept. Since 2014, CNBC has noted that there has been more than $16 Billion in venture funding invested in nearly 1,000 companies in the digital healthcare space. Investment has bred a rich start-up landscape, but the biggest names in technology are not being left behind – with Google alone investing nearly a billion in its healthcare companies, Verily and Calico in 2016. We see Apple digging in deep with their wearable technologies and IBM and Watson are using data to explore everything from genomics to drug discovery and beyond. While there have been transformational movements in healthcare in past decades, what is unique and different about this point in time is that the technology has finally caught up to the other foundational elements. Sensors, AI, apps, and wearables have ushered in an exciting time unlike any in recent memory. The days where companies developed medical devices simply because they could, are long gone.
Patients are healthcare consumers and they expect innovations with real and meaningful benefits.
Nowhere is this more the case than with chronic conditions, where self-management plays a critical role in overall disease state management. Technologies have played a role in self-management for decades, but it has taken time for the information generated by these products to become both actionable and outcome-based allowing their users to make informed decisions. Additionally, provider involvement aligned with reimbursement changes adds the necessary clinical component for overall care. In diabetes, sensor technology and continuous glucose monitors provide information that informs the user’s insulin dosing and glucose adjustments on the fly. In COPD, apps record daily symptoms and trigger intervention if a nurse reviewing the data determines one is necessary.
The shifting vision from individual components or products to communal outcomes elevates digital health’s core mission statement and the way the players in the space operate.
Another differentiator of today’s digital health from prior periods of change, is the desire to provide a benefit to society.
The shifting vision from individual components or products to communal outcomes elevates digital health’s core mission statement and the way the players in the space operate. Emphasis moves from providing a product to creating systemic solutions. It requires an intense understanding of the customer journey at every interception point. One example of this can be seen with Livongo, a Mountain View, California based company who has changed the paradigm in diabetes management. Livongo provides a smart blood glucose (BG) monitor to its customers and provides an unlimited supply of test strips as part of a monthly subscription. Once the monitor is used, the data is seamlessly uploaded to the cloud and insights are shared with the user (the more you check your BG the more data you have to mine and more patterns are recognized). If an acute situation is noticed, like a low BG, a coach will reach out to the customer and assist with intervention. This highly customized, high touch model is netting some big results in both improved clinical outcomes and cost savings. Looking beyond only BG monitoring, Livongo is adding blood pressure monitoring as well, with designs on using this data to support medication management across health conditions.
New entrants into the digital health space drive the need for traditional health brands to take a consumer-centric, patient-centered point of view.
An unlikely digital health participant is ride-share provider, Lyft. They have worked across industries to cement partnerships with care providers (Ascension hospital systems), payers (Blue Cross Blue Shield Association), service providers (Medtrans Network and Everseat) to help tackle one of the largest problems in healthcare – getting patients to appointments. Data suggests that there are more than 3.6 million people who miss or delay medical care as a result of not having transportation. The Lyft-powered network, was created to assist this population of highly vulnerable, high needs patients with low or no-cost transportation. Clinics are able to gather key quality of life metrics during the appointments as well as schedule follow up appointments with the ride included. The preliminary data showed a reduction in wait times and missed appointments as well as very high customer satisfaction ratings.
Healthcare will continue to change. The pressures for cost containment are not going anywhere and payment will increasingly be married to the delivery of quality care and other outcome measures.
For a growing number of large employers, the biggest spenders of healthcare, the answer to controlling costs is to create self-funded health plans – with a small few contracting directly with accountable care organizations and implementing a pay for performance model versus the traditional pay for service, making benefits executives major decision makers in digital health. The companies who are participating in this space have unique opportunities to innovate, collaborate and impact society in ways that have never been experienced purely based on the boundaries that are being pushed in the technology front. The challenge is to try to tackle some really big problems in integrated yet simple ways that will make an impact.