Futurist and founder of the consultancy Enspektos talks how digital health is moving into what he calls the “Age of Implementation” and about a new study designed to map digital innovation progress globally.
2015 has been another banner year for digital health. According to StartUp Health, nearly $5 billion has been invested into digital health companies to date. And, digital health has become a truly global phenomenon, with innovation hubs emerging in Finland, Israel, Canada and other parts of the world.
But, in the midst of all this activity, it’s only natural to ask: What can we expect to see in digital health in 2016 and beyond? And, how long will it take for the hype surrounding digital health to match reality?
To answer these questions, HIT Consultant spoke with digital health industry futurist Fard Johnmar for his perspective on how digital health is maturing and outlines a new research initiative he’s launched designed to close what he calls the “data gap” in digital innovation.
This year, a number of research studies have emerged that seem to point to the fact that digital health is becoming more established globally. Rock Health identified how consumers are starting to embrace some digital health tools. StartUp Health notes that the digital health investment landscape appears to be maturing with fewer deals, but higher dollar amounts. Has digital health finally arrived?
I’m excited by the progress we’ve made in digital health. And, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way over the past decade. But, it’s also important to remember that the innovation cycle in health is very long. Part of this has to do with the way new technologies and innovations have traditionally been integrated into global health. It takes time for health systems and physicians to adapt and integrate new technologies, partly due to the need for these solutions to be clinically validated.
Of course, the pace of innovation in digital is much faster than what people in global health are used to. There’s an ongoing tension between the need to move quickly in terms of evaluating and integrating new solutions and the financial, legal and medical incentives (or disincentives) that shape how rapidly technologies are adopted. Consumers, of course, are very willing to experiment with digital technologies. But, there’s always a time lag between when patients adopt a technology and organizations understand how they can be integrated into existing environments and workflows.
We see this tension playing out right now with fitness trackers like FitBit. Consumers are experimenting with these wearables and using them to monitor their health and fitness. But, clinicians the world over are saying: “Great, but this data is useless to me.” Thanks to new research, FitBit’s push to become HIPAA compliant and other factors, this is starting to change, but it will take time.
So, has digital health arrived? I’d say we’re getting there.
Traditionally, the United States has been viewed as a major driver of digital health. But, in 2015 we began to see countries such as Canada, India, the United Kingdom, Israel and Finland become centers of innovation activity. Can we expect more of this in 2016?
Absolutely. To fully appreciate the globalization of digital health, it can be helpful to take a step back to look at how the industry has evolved over the last decade and where it is going.
Recently, I’ve begun to describe digital health’s evolution as a series of “ages” defined by certain types of perceptions and activities, which is outlined in an infographic I developed (see below).
For nearly a decade we were in what I call “The Age of Learning.” During this period, there was a great deal of skepticism about digital. This was fueled by the fact that many of digital health’s enabling technologies, such as the Internet, mobile and data analytics, were immature. Consumers were, as usual, leading the way in terms of adoption. And, it was partly because people began to realize that tools like social media and the Internet could have a big impact on consumers’ health perceptions and behaviors that these technologies began to be taken seriously.
Starting in 2010, we entered into the “Age of Interest.” Health organizations, physicians and others began to recognize the importance of digital. And, the question became: how can we seed innovation to understand how digital tools can play a role in health, wellness and medicine? This is why we’re seeing a lot of investment in digital health and the acceleration of the hub and spoke innovation model globally. This is where institutions, governments, corporations and other entities develop accelerators, partnerships and other projects designed to bring together a critical mass of innovators, physicians, researchers and others to pilot test technologies and understand how they can benefit patients, physicians and others.
We’ll see a lot of seeding activity continue to happen over the next several years. But, we’re also rapidly entering into the “Age of Implementation,” which will span a ten-year period (and will begin to accelerate in 2016). This will be characterized by organizations asking (and seeking to answer) a basic question: What’s the best way to implement digital solutions so that they truly have an impact on what Dave Chase calls the quadruple aim: improved health outcomes, lower costs, better patient experiences and clinician satisfaction?
This is where the rubber will really meet the road in digital health. And, where the most difficult decisions will be made about what’s actually feasible and achievable versus what we’d like to see happen.
After this difficult period we’ll enter into the “Age of Scale” where for many technologies we’ll have figured out what works and doesn’t and really deploy them in transformative ways that will be very, very visible to patients, caregivers, physicians and others. And, it’s because we are just entering the Age of Implementation that research suggests that many patients are still living in a very analog world when it comes to how health is experienced in the U.S. The same can be said for many other parts of the world.