Is Digital Health Dead? How to tackle costs, waste, and confusion in healthcare

By Cynthia Nustad
Jun. 6, 2017

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Last month, an industry colleague shared in a presentation that he thought digital health was dead. I was a bit defensive and thought to myself “No way, there is still so much work to do.” However, as I thought through my response, I pondered where we are today and where we need to be in the future.

In the past decade, we have seen significant financial investment pour into healthcare start-ups. Several of the start-ups have already made an impact, and hundreds of others support small enterprises who innovated a creative point solution but have yet to see industry traction.

Innovation is key as healthcare is such a large problem to solve. In this next decade I hope to see a more focused approach to tackling the costs, waste, and confusion in healthcare. Our industry is complex, and we need stakeholders to lock arms toward a common goal of improving the whole of healthcare.

Industry Pivots and Innovation Needs for 2017 and Beyond

Integrated Workflow-based Solutions
A first step is developing integrated solutions that take the burden of work away from healthcare consumers. Far too often, we expect them to jump in and out of several applications or websites, and this places a major workload on healthcare recipients. We all frown at remembering many passwords, URLs, and other pieces of information; it is a hassle when the only thing syncing up the information across tools is our brain.

The provider and care teams need integrated data that is precise and ready at the point of care, and so do consumers. We must push interoperability. We have seen the personal health record (PHR) phase rise and fall, and the electronic health record (EHR) phase creates even more disparate point solutions. Our next phase should use new capabilities — such as blockchain — and secure patterns for knitting disparate pieces of information together to improve workflow and value.

Longitudinal Patterns and Analysis
As consumers, we have different needs across our lifetimes, so we need tools that paint the most comprehensive picture possible and at the time of need. We need to understand the changing phases of life needs, including physical and behavioral needs. It would be a major advancement to have a graphic – almost like an ancestry map – that includes genetic influences and markers, environmental markers, diagnostics, mental health, and health behaviors markers. These markers would be invaluable for predicting future needs.

Advanced Personalization
Consumers expect more, and healthcare needs to deliver. I don’t want to hear generic statements like “most” patients experience “this.” I want to advance the conversation between the healthcare consumer and the healthcare practitioner, maybe something like, “I have looked at all of your patient, wellness, and genomic data. I believe the best course of action to help you personally is ….” And at that precise moment we really, truly have better engagement.

These capabilities are difficult to achieve. With different stakeholders and factions, along with changing regulatory, privacy, legal, security, and technology limitations, this will be challenging yet rewarding work. Innovation needs to have fewer disparate point solutions and more integrated workflow enabling capabilities that make healthcare simpler.

So in truth, I don’t think digital health is dead. I think it was the jump-start of a tougher “blue collar” phase of innovation, built around technical solutions and services that truly make an impact in customer experience and the cost of healthcare. A simple app isn’t going to revolutionize our industry, but rather, solutions will infuse into workflow to make healthcare more efficient for everyone.

Cynthia Nustad is executive vice president, chief strategy officer for HMS.

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