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What is Digital Health (Digital Healthcare)? Its Importance, Benefits, and the Future

By February 8, 2024February 9th, 2024Digital Strategy
what is digital healthcare

Digital health technologies have truly transformed the healthcare industry in recent years. What was once a nascent concept is now a major driving force shaping the future of patient care and medical innovation.

Back in 2016, digital health funding and adoption started gaining strong momentum. That year, Startup Health’s Moonshot initiative kickstarted its 25-year mission to improve global wellness through technology. Digital health funding reached over $8 billion invested across 500+ companies, according to CB Insights, with 4 deals seeing over $400 million each.

This growth has skyrocketed even further in recent times. In 2021 alone, global digital health funding reached a record $29.1 billion across 873 deals, up 135% from 2020, according to CB Insights. Virtual care saw enormous surges – total U.S. telehealth visits grew over 38% to nearly 54 million in 2021.

Artificial intelligence is also transforming healthcare, predicted to grow the AI health market size to over $47 billion by 2027 from $6.2 billion in 2021. Areas like imaging analysis, drug discovery, precision medicine, and clinical decision support are being revolutionized.

Wearables and mobile technologies continue booming as well. The global digital health market size is projected to reach $509.8 billion by 2026, growing at a 27.6% CAGR from 2021 to 2026.

It’s clear digital innovation has revamped healthcare from niche trend to mainstream force in both B2C and B2B spheres. Emerging areas around virtual reality, decentralzied trials, and predictive analytics promise to deepen this revolution for years to come.

What is Digital Health?

Digital health refers to the application of technologies like mobile devices, wearables, sensors and analytics to support healthcare systems and improve clinical outcomes. These tools facilitate remote healthcare services, precision diagnosis and access to medical expertise that promotes better management of chronic illnesses and preventative care.

At its core, digital health aims to leverage digital innovations to make healthcare more convenient, cost-effective, and targeted for both patients and providers. It involves using digital and electronic processes, information systems, and telecommunication technologies to help improve care delivery and minimize costs.

What is the Importance of Digital Health?

Digital health plays a vital role in transforming the entire healthcare ecosystem by addressing long-standing challenges around accessibility, engagement, costs and personalization. Some key reasons why digital health is so important include:

#1 Improving Access

Virtual care options have helped overcome geographical and socio-economic barriers increasing reach in remote/rural areas. This is critical given ongoing physician shortages worldwide.

#2 Enhancing Engagement & Experience

Patient portals, wearables and reminders via smartphone have made people active participants in their own well-being through better lifestyle management and care coordination.

#3 Lowering Costs

Technologies enabling remote monitoring, telehealth, and AI-driven efficiencies reduce unnecessary procedures and hospitalizations, easing the overburdened traditional care delivery model.

#4 Powering Prevention

Digital therapeutics and chronic disease management tools empower people to take control of pre-existing conditions through digital lifestyle/behavioral interventions.

#5 Personalizing Care

Analytics, real-world evidence and precision medicine help providers develop tailored treatment plans by leveraging a person’s unique health data, clinical profiles and genetic makeup.

#6 Care Continuum Support

From wellness to post-acute care, digital tools provide longitudinal care spanning all healthcare settings and needs through an integrated health record network.

Key Technologies in Digital Healthcare

Some notable technologies currently driving innovation in digital health include:

Telehealth – Remote video/audio consultations and clinical services through online platforms. During COVID, telehealth grew 38% to 54 million visits in the US in 2021.

mHealth – Mobile apps for conditions like diabetes or mental health using sensors. 200 billion+ medical apps downloads so far.

Wearables – Fitness trackers monitoring vitals non-invasively. The market will grow to ~$212B in revenues by 2025.

AI/Machine Learning – Advanced data analytics and algorithm, assisting in drug discovery, genomics, medical imaging analysis and clinical decision support. Global AI healthcare market projected to reach $47B by 2027.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) – Sensors and devices that monitor patients outside clinical settings enabling care from home. RPM market expected to hit $117B globally by 2025.

Digital Therapeutics – Software-based interventions for conditions like ADHD, substance abuse and insomnia clinically validated to effectively treat or manage them. Projected $9B industry by 2025.

Robot-Assisted Surgery – Automated surgical robots providing improved dexterity and precision over open/laparoscopic techniques. Global surgical robotics market to reach $11.4B by 2025.

Blockchain – Decentralized ledger recording transactions in a transparent and verifiable manner, aiding areas like clinical trials, health records and supply chain.

3D Printing – Custom medical devices, prosthetics and implants are manufactured using digital designs and 3D printed layer-by-layer at reduced costs and faster turnaround.

How Do Digital Health Tools Enhance Patient Engagement?

Digital technologies empower consumers to actively participate as equal partners in managing their own health. Some key ways engagement is boosted include:

Trackers and Dashboards: Visualizations of health metrics motivate lifestyle changes and medication/therapy adherence through easy tracking of progress over time.

Personalized Insights: Analytics uncover patterns to deliver actionable recommendations regarding risk factors, nutrition, activity levels, etc. tailored to the individual profile.

Peer Support: Online communities allow patients to seek advice and emotional support from others managing similar conditions.

Access to Info: Educational health resources address questions anytime via apps, wearables and provider portals for informed decision making.

Remote Monitoring: At-home devices paired with doctor supervision help manage chronic diseases efficiently between visits.

Reminders: Digital reminders for medications, appointments keep patients on track proactively for better outcomes.

Benefits of Digital Health

The widespread adoption of digital health provides tangible benefits across the healthcare ecosystem:

Digital Health Benefits For Patients

  • Greater access to specialists through telehealth regardless of location
  • Personalized care using individual health data
  • Ability to manage conditions remotely via monitoring apps and devices
  • Convenience through online consultations, prescription renewals
  • Empowerment through access to own records and health education

Digital Health Benefits For Physicians

  • Streamlined workflows with electronic health records and digital tools
  • Access to comprehensive patient histories while on the move
  • Faster referrals through remote collaboration software
  • Reduction in no-shows via online appointment scheduling
  • Insights from aggregated clinical data to improve decision making

Digital Health Benefits For Payers and Providers

  • Cost savings from remote care models lowering hospitalizations
  • Early detection and prevention through data-driven risk analysis
  • Analytics identifying wasteful spending and quality gaps
  • Paperwork reduction boosting staff productivity
  • Population health management using big data

Real-World Examples of Digital Healthcare Applications

Here are some updated real-world examples of digital healthcare applications:

Telehealth Apps

Pulsenmore – Virtual physical therapy platform using IoT sensors and video to treat musculoskeletal injuries at scale.

Babylon Health – On-demand chat-based clinics providing AI-powered symptom checking and medical advice via mobile apps.

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Apple Heart Study – Large-scale study using Apple Watches to identify atrial fibrillation in partnership with Stanford Medicine.

Whoop – Fitness tracker worn by professional athletes analyzing strain, recovery and sleep to optimize performance and reduce injury risk.

mHealth Apps

Omada Health – Digital therapeutics program leveraging connected tools and coaches to prevent diabetes and address prediabetes.

Noom – Behavior change application combining cognitive behavioral therapy, nutrition guidance and community support for weight management.

Analytics Platforms Examples

Anthropic – PBC – AI-based contextual assistance platform helping clinicians find relevant information from medical literature to aid decision making at the point of care.

Suki – Voice-enabled AI assistant automating documentation tasks like note writing from listening to physician-patient conversations.

Precision Medicine Examples

Color – At-home DNA testingservice paired with apptracking lifestyle factors and genetic risks to detect conditionsearly and personalizetreatment.

Foundation Medicine – Genomic profiling of tumor samples to identify targeted therapies and clinical trial eligibility for cancer patients.

Challenges and Solutions For A Startup Launching Into Digital Healthcare

1. Data Security and Privacy

Implementing robust data encryption, secure infrastructure, and compliance with privacy regulations ensure patient data confidentiality.

2. Interoperability

Developing standardized protocols and health information exchange systems enable seamless data sharing and interoperability among different healthcare systems.

3. Digital Divide

Addressing disparities in technology access, digital literacy, and connectivity is crucial to ensure equitable access to digital health solutions.

Telehealth and the Global Impact

Telehealth has become increasingly vital globally, transforming how healthcare is delivered. Even before the pandemic, the telehealth market was growing rapidly due to its ability to expand access and lower costs. However, COVID-19 dramatically accelerated its uptake, increasing everything from basic video visits to remote patient monitoring.

According to recent estimates, the global telehealth market size surpassed $185 billion in 2022 and is projected to exceed $625 billion by 2028 as accessibility remains a core driver of growth. During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, an estimated 250 million people utilized telehealth services compared to just 11 million in 2019. Over 40% of U.S. consumers now report being comfortable with virtual visits.

Telehealth removes geographic barriers that have historically limited medical resources. It allows connecting patients in isolated areas with specialists hundreds of miles away. For example, telestroke networks help facilitate timely treatment for those in rural stroke belts. Developing nations are also leveraging telehealth to distribute care more equitably.

India’s eSanjeevani national telemedicine platform now supports over 300,000 patients daily across 30 states. Similarly, Mexico launched a program to connect clinics via telehealth in areas with doctor shortages. Sub-Saharan Africa is another promising frontier, with cell phone-based services rising to address challenges like infectious diseases and maternal care.

Looking ahead, hybrid models integrating virtual and in-person options are expected to continue expanding access globally. Ongoing tech innovations around AR/VR, AI assistants and 5G/edge computing also hold potential to further telehealth’s impact, particularly for underserved communities lacking infrastructure and specialists. The pandemic fueled a paradigm shift cementing telehealth as essential worldwide.

Regulatory Landscape and Standards in Digital Health

Regulatory landscape and standards in digital health are crucial for ensuring patient safety, data protection, and the responsible use of technology. Key areas of focus include data protection and privacy, medical device regulations, telemedicine licensure, cybersecurity, data interoperability, and ethical considerations. Harmonization efforts are underway to establish global frameworks and facilitate the safe and effective use of digital health technologies. Adhering to these regulations is essential for healthcare organizations, technology developers, and healthcare professionals to navigate the complex regulatory landscape and deliver high-quality digital health solutions.

What is the Future Development Outlook for Digital Health?

The future of digital health holds immense potential. Advancements in AI, machine learning, genomics, and data analytics will further revolutionize healthcare delivery, enabling precision medicine, personalized interventions, and predictive analytics for disease prevention. Integration of digital health solutions into routine care practices and collaboration among stakeholders are key to unlocking the full potential of digital health.

The future will see healthcare costs slashed, as a diagnosis will be available at fingertips, an increase in the ease and speed of communication between doctors and patients and a significant rise in the well being of societies. Digital healthcare is undergoing a revolution like never before and will soon be the biggest game-changer.

Raj Sanghvi

Raj Sanghvi is a technologist and founder of BitCot, a full-service award-winning software development company. With over 15 years of innovative coding experience creating complex technology solutions for businesses like IBM, Sony, Nissan, Micron, Dicks Sporting Goods, HDSupply, Bombardier and more, Sanghvi helps build for both major brands and entrepreneurs to launch their own technologies platforms. Visit Raj Sanghvi on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter. View Full Bio