Alexandros Giannakis and Fabian Gautschi
There are key aspects digital health solutions must meet to positively impact health and quality of life
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how patients receive medical care. With an almost mandatory need to engage with practitioners through physical distance, a reported 44 percent of cellphone users globally have used their mobile device for a diagnosis or treatment. Precautionary mandates imposed on routine activities have forcefully shifted doctor and patient connections to digital platforms. In response, the rollout of digital health solutions, such as health tracking and management apps, has surged as care providers and patients adopt and adapt to digital engagement services with unprecedented fervor.
Now, while digital health solutions such as health tracking apps are not new ideas, the wide adoption of these tools by practitioners to directly interact with patients alongside quantified holistic management of the patient’s health is. This poses a new opportunity for physicians and health specialists to guide their patients through major health management areas – general health, activity, biomechanics, sleep, nutrition, mental health and omics – and impact quality of life, health status and treatment outcomes.
As new digital health solutions are developed by both healthcare industry insiders and new digital natives, there has been a huge focus on the experience aspect of such offerings. Aiming to reach the standards of consumer goods and retail industry solutions, these digital health tools have achieved progress with user-friendliness, engagement and seamless connectivity. However, a great experience is a founding block to delivering value but remains insufficient to achieve health outcomes. The digital health solutions that positively impact health and quality of life will reflect the following key aspects:
1. Design treatment based on a holistic view of the patient.
One recent study correlates 80-90 percent of health to social determinants (i.e., health behaviors that result from social conditions). Tracking patients’ lifestyle and behavior, together with relevant health factors of general health, activity, biomechanics, sleep, nutrition, mental health and omics are imperative to coaching a patient towards wellness. Consider a diabetes patient who is using a digital diary shared with their physician to track diet. Although the diary will afford the physician line of sight into key treatment factors, such as sugar intake, it leaves room for other disease enablers to fall through the cracks. For example, if physical activity and sleep – two high-risk factors in patients with diabetes that influence energy and dietary uptake – are not similarly monitored, there is a significant risk of treating the patient with a sub-optimal nutritional and insulin treatment regime. Similar applies to monitoring mental health, which is a key determinant of the patient’s willingness and ability to adhere to a disciplined treatment and a balanced lifestyle, both key determinants of long-term health as a diabetic.
These selected examples reflect how digital health solutions must consider the patient’s holistic health to properly contextualize both the disease and the most effective treatment. Every therapeutic area has its own set of relevant factors. Therefore, digital health solutions must be tailor-made in order to capture and analyze the information that is relevant to each therapeutic area and its specific application within individual treatments. As a first step, organizations pursuing digital health solution offerings must define their data strategy by clearly outlining the data required to obtain objective and holistic information about the patient. Only by leveraging the right data, can decisions informed by digital health solutions lead to improved outcomes and better quality of life for patients.
2. Access and analyze data from multiple sources to enable a holistic view of the patient.
While digital health solutions have already increased access to care, their biggest value-add will be unlocked when they can access and analyze patient-related data stored at disparate databases. Expect that these databases will belong to multiple parties including the patients themselves, health insurances, healthcare providers, wearables’ companies, etc. To ensure all this data can be leveraged for the development of meaningful and personalized insights, without having to go through time-consuming, costly, and often restrictive legal technical transformations, digital health solutions must be able to leverage information in situ – where it is located – instead of having to pull it into a centralized location. Practically, this works by enabling analytics across distributed databases without having to overcome limitations like data privacy/ownership, as the raw data is being leveraged without being disclosed or seen by third parties. Going back to our example of a digital diary that tracks a diabetes patient’s diet, this would enable synchronization with the patient’s medical record that includes information on past hyperglycemic events. Using this data can help define which levels of blood glucose can be considered safe by providing health experts a higher level of accuracy of the type of nutrition that will be most effective for the patient.
3. Let the results speak for themselves.
Possessing a holistic view of the patient through the aggregation of data from multiple sources, physicians will be able to put disease treatment into the full context of the patient with whom they are working. Having the right data will allow the care that practitioners provide to be hyper-personalized in a way that cannot be achieved through traditional drug treatments. Leveraging data and insights to guide the body’s natural health defense systems into action will help improve health and treatment outcomes. The improved outcomes should be highlighted throughout the patient’s journey in order to further encourage engagement with the digital health solution and sustain the positive impact.
Ultimately, as more patients successfully improve health and treatment outcomes using digital health solutions and technologies, these offerings will further evolve into delivering an increasing number of standalone treatments, known also as digital therapeutics. To get there, offering great experience can draw patients in, but technically designing these solutions to access and analyze the right holistic data no matter where it is located and to whom it belongs is what will unlock better health outcomes. Care delivery has changed significantly with incredible speed, ensuring these emerging solutions are tailor-made to each therapeutic area and patient will be the impetus for successful treatment.