Digital health encompasses a range of technologies and data that can be utilised to address the health challenges faced by populations around the world. From commercial devices such as Fitbits and Apple Watches to the medical records the NHS uses, digital health is poised to change the way healthcare is delivered.
Whilst certain technologies fail to conjure up meaningful change, the ubiquitous nature of a connected world means that digital health could factor into almost every aspect of our lives. Devices that can monitor our steps, sleep, and heart rate are abundant across the wearables market, but these technologies are simply the beginning of a long list of products that have been designed to improve our health.
Due to a vast array of technologies that digital health covers, the market for it is great and is only expected to grow. By 2025, the global digital health market is estimated to be worth over $500 billion.
This upward trajectory makes sense when you consider the range of connected and smart health devices that are currently on offer to consumers and healthcare professionals.
Everyday consumers now have access to a number of devices that can help them monitor their fitness, vital signs and nutrition, whilst healthcare professionals are using digital technology to take better care of their patients. And whereas wearables and smartwatches are prevalent throughout the consumer high street, it’s the healthcare industry that takes most of the digital health market share.
We can split up the digital health market into four segments – telehealth; mhealth; health analytics and digitised health systems. Of these, mhealth is the only segment that caters to consumers, consisting of wearables, medical and fitness apps and digital applications.
The rest of the market enables healthcare professionals to treat patients and operate within a digital ecosystem. Digital patient records for example help the NHS access information quickly and reduce admin time, whereas online consultations can potentially reduce the strain on GP practices.
The market for digital health in the UK is not as impressive as in other regions; it currently sits at £2.9 billion and is estimated to hold a global market share of 7% due to strong worldwide competition. Despite this, digital technologies are slowly, yet steadily making their way into NHS organisations, improving patient care and reducing costs for providers.
The benefits that digital technologies offer to healthcare are numerous, though there are concerns about its implementation. For instance, the NHS has long been an advocate of digital health, but has been hindered by its existing technology frameworks and the change required to implement digital solutions across such a large organisation.
Furthermore, as many digital health solutions require patient data to inform users and healthcare professionals about their condition, issues of privacy and consent become apparent. Consider the backlash against the NHS and Google’s AI subsidiary, Deepmind, when the records of 1.6 million patients were inappropriately shared between the companies.
That said, this year sees the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which should hopefully safeguard the use of patient data. Patients must be explicitly informed if their data is intended to be used and they should be able to easily consent to the use of it.
One of the many discussions surrounding digital health is its ability to provide new models of care to patients; this is highlighted by companies such as Apple and Amazon entering the market, predicating a change is on its way. The latest news of Apple’s AC Wellness centre - which will treat its staff and test its growing portfolio of health services and products – is one such example of the changing health landscape.
In 2018, we will be able to see just how close we are to a connected world of health. In the UK, the NHS intends to release an app that lets patients access their medical records, book appointments with their GP, receive online consultations and order repeat prescriptions. With two winters of intense pressure on the NHS, and the organisation burdened by an ageing population and a lack of funding, digital health may be the solution we all need to take better care of ourselves.
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