Digital Health Solutions From Hype To Impact

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post

In a world where digital and genomic revolutions meet to transform the healthcare sector, digital health is developing at unprecedented speed. Every day, we hear about new solutions holding promises to empower patients, reduce healthcare costs, increase physicians’ efficiency, and improve accessibility, safety, and personalisation.

The use of health apps doubled between 2014 and 2016, jumping from 16% to 33%, with more than 165,000 mobile health apps available to consumers. The use of health wearables doubled as well, growing from 9% in 2014 to 21% in 2016, with consumers and doctors confirming that wearables help patient engagement. Moreover, the use of social media for healthcare has increased from 14% to 21%. Meanwhile, 65% of patients knew more about the data they could access through their electronic health records (EHR) in 2016 compared to 39% in 2014. These are just a few examples from one report; there is much more, and the digital health market keeps growing.

Despite the buzz around the possibilities that digital health presents, the clinical proof supporting its effectiveness is still rather scarce. For example, a report from IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics finds that even though the number and adoption of mHealth apps are increasing, over 50% of those apps still have limited functionality. Also, while healthcare providers are interested in using such apps to improve patient engagement and care delivery, adoption is limited due to barriers like a shortage of scientific evidence, limited integration in the healthcare system, and a lack of clarity around regulatory and privacy issues.

Hype or hope?

The barriers slowing the adoption of digital health show it has a long way to go both in technology and how it fits into the healthcare ecosystem. This caused some wide-ranging criticism, such as when the American Medical Association CEO, Dr. James Madara, called digital health “the digital snake oil of the early 21st century“.

Published research indicated that seniors are less likely to use digital health tools, despite being one group that needs it the most. The researchers suggested that the reason isn’t a lack of willingness to use it from the seniors’ side, but rather a lack of user-friendliness of the tools themselves.

Another study implied that low-income households are less likely to benefit from digital health. Considering 70% of the participants had low health literacy, they had difficulties with manual data entry and could not easily retrieve data from the apps. Based on those findings, the researchers’ recommendation was to design apps with larger buttons, simpler interfaces, and add function explanations to help users understand the purpose of each task, for example, explaining to diabetic patients why it is beneficial to keep a diary of their meals. Simple and intuitive recommendations that are still overlooked in some health apps, leading in many cases to poor adoption rates.

These studies are rightfully raising concerns about Digital Health and its ability to improve healthcare, while there are many other studies that show the value of digital health solutions and how they can positively affect healthcare. Could it be that the real question to ask is not whether digital health is effective, but what are the factors that make a specific digital health solution effective?


A promising potential

Considering more digital health solutions, we can find examples of inspiring success stories. A remarkable case of medication adherence app involved coronary heart disease patients with a mean age of 73.8, an age group that, according to other studies, is less likely to benefit from digital health. The study concluded that nearly all patients favoured the app over the pen and paper journal, and wanted to continue using it. The key to success, per the researchers, is that they focused not only on developing a winning app, but rather went beyond technology and made sure that an investigator personally coached each patient on how to use the tablet and the app. As they explained, “Although this requires initial offline training, it can reduce complications and clinical overload because of non-adherence.”

A study evaluating the efficacy of using digital health for diabetes management in India – known as a lower-middle income economy – revealed that it significantly improved patients’ quality of life and their knowledge about Diabetes. The study recognised a great potential in using digital health for reaching people in remote areas.

A Mayo clinic meta-analysis found that digital health solutions reduced relative risk of cardiovascular disease by 40%, which is a better result than what one could get with statins, aspirin, or anti-hypertension drugs alone.


Going beyond technology

Evidently, not all digital health solutions perform the same, but the failure of some cannot deny the valuable impact of others.

The real value of digital health goes beyond technology and embraces the user engagement processes, without which even the most brilliant solution would not deliver its promises. It’s important to develop workflows that ensure a seamless integration of such solutions into patients and practitioners’ daily routines, while fitting in the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.

One thing is clear: digital health presents a real opportunity to improve healthcare if done properly, balancing technological and sociological aspects to reach effectiveness.

Digital Health 2016: Top 100 Influencers & Brands

Happy to be among the top 100 influencers and brands shaping the online dialogue around Digital Health in 2016.

As per the report:

It’s interesting to note that the most popular topic among the digital health influencers is Data with a 25% share of voice, proving that clinical data and its consistent use is critical to the success of digital health. IoT was the 2nd most popular debate driver illustrating the importance of connectivity with digital heqalth devices. Mentions of Wearable Tech received a significant 16% share of voice highlighting the importance of self care among patients using wearable health devices. Other frequently mentioned topics among the top influencers included Apps,  Cancer and Artificial Intelligence which all received a similar share of voice (ranging from 7-9%), followed by mentions of Cyber Security with 6%, and Telemedicine with 5%. Genome and Fitness both received a with 3% share of voice among the top digital health influencers and brands.

See the original article here.


Mobile Shift in Pharma Communications

This article was originally published on Pharmaphorum. 

Balance engagement and compliance with a non-promotional, patient-centric approach and ongoing development for app success.

The dramatic speed of adoption of smartphones is making the fastest-growing marketing channel mobile; smart companies understand they need to be as mobile as their target audiences.

The convenience and control that smartphones offer have clearly raised our expectations as users. Pharma is no exception; patients and healthcare professionals expect health apps that empower them with information and enable them to better understand and manage health issues.

A survey conducted by PwC showed that mobile health app adoption doubled between 2013 and 2015, signalling clear potential for the healthcare industry.

Source: HRI Consumer Survey, PwC, 2013, 2015

With mobiles apps, utility is king. Bearing in mind that only about 16% of people would try an app more than once, and up to 90% of downloaded apps are used only once then deleted, according to a study by Compuware, identifying users’ real requirements is key to the success of any mobile app.

Pharma can act strategically by creating apps that are centered on patients’ daily needs and integrating them into the broader health ecosystem.

Regulatory challenges

Many indicators show that health apps can help patients with medication adherence and improve clinical trial efforts. However, fears of compliance risks in the highly regulated pharma industry are a major element slowing down innovation.

Pharma companies must always assess their new apps to determine if regulators view them as medical devices, and what regulatory obligations this entails. Those health-related apps considered to be medical devices are given the same close scrutiny as software that is intended to assist in diagnosing or treating an illness.

To balance engagement and compliance, many pharma companies have launched non-promotional heath apps focusing on disease awareness and management.

In the last few years there have been many noteworthy health apps sponsored by major players in the industry, balancing engagement and compliance with a non-promotional, patient-centric approach. For example, the Skin Peace app, sponsored by Bayer, helps patients to calculate appropriate topical medicine doses. The ViaOpta app, sponsored by Novartis, provides navigation for the visually impaired and is also available on Apple Watch. Eczema Care is another skin care app. Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, it helps patients better understand and manage their eczema by allowing them to track flare-ups, log their daily eczema management activities and create customised reports they can share with their physician.

Enabling the shift

This increasing adoption of mobile health apps presents a great opportunity for the pharma industry to truly empower patients and healthcare professionals, by providing apps that improve the ways they understand and manage disease.

For this shift to happen, new capabilities must be developed to unleash the potential of digital innovation in the healthcare industry.

Mohanad Fors, global director of Digital Marketing and Innovation, Novartis Ophthalmology Franchise, believes pharma is taking “powerful and serious strides” in digital innovation, especially mobile health apps. He sees two main areas where the industry can improve to achieve more success:

“In most cases, app development or production is done on a tactical level without an overarching strategic plan, which sometimes results in short-lived apps that do not achieve the desired success. Launching digital awareness and training programmes can help us build digital capabilities and embed the digital mind-set in the business.

“The second one, which I believe is more critical, is the need for dedicated teams working on the whole cycle of health apps creation, from idea to maintenance and follow up. If you look at any successful app on the market you will find a complete team working day and night on it to ensure user satisfaction and interest. This is slowly happening now as digital becomes a top priority on industry executives’ agendas.”

Promising initiatives

It is encouraging to see the mindset shifting, despite the challenges, with some pharma giants investing in digital health startups, providing mentorships and grants to create and nurture networks of innovation incubators. These efforts, led by big players like Bayer and Janssen, will hopefully flourish in the near future.

The hope is that such efforts will bring successful digital health solutions that support patient engagement, prevention, compliance, clinical trials and disease management, as they bring pharma experience and investment together with agile and innovative digital health startups.