With billions of dollars injected into digital health start-ups, a record number of acquisitions, new consumer health offerings from the world’s tech heavyweights, and many more significant events, 2014 was a crucial year for digital health. Here is a quick look at the year-in-review:
- Digital health start-ups funding: Venture capitalists and other corporate investors have been consistently pouring funds into digital health start-ups for which investments saw double-digit growth over the past few years. However, according to the accelerators Rock Health and Start up Health, all records were smashed in 2014 with over $4 billion received in funding – exceeding the total funds of all previous 3 years combined. The large amount of money VCs are putting behind these start-ups just goes to show the burgeoning potential of their innovative ideas and the maturation of this sector.
- Quantified-self explosion: While the quantified-self movement has been gaining traction over the past years, 2014 saw a true explosion. With over 42 million wearable devices shipped worldwide last year, the adoption of wearable technology is not likely to buckle any time soon. Interesting to note is the placing of the customer back into the wearables equation. Devices are becoming as non-obtrusive as possible such as Google’s contact lens that can measure glucose levels through the user’s tears. Also, upon the realization that design is a key motivator in tech purchases, last year witnessed several collaborations between device manufacturers and fashion houses to infuse design and fashion elements into wearable tech. Just look at the partnership between Google Glass and Luxottica, or Fitbit and Tory Burch.
- Big Data surge: Connectivity between people and systems continue to grow at an exponential pace hence leading to rapid data expansion on the fronts of volume, variety and velocity. According to IBM, every day, we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – so much so that 90% of the existing data was created in the last 2 years alone. Significant to note is the coming of age of large data sets in the healthcare sector – with the launch of openFDA in June 2014, accessing and analyzing large data sets for healthcare is now possible.
- Critical mass of EHRs: In the US, 2014 was the year that saw EHRs gain real traction. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is a government-funded investment in EHRs that began in 2009 when 78% of US physicians and 90% of hospitals were still managing patient records on paper. The economic incentives from the HITECH Act have dramatically transformed the information management landscape. Fast forward to 2014. Now 81% of physicians and 97% of hospital in the US have EHRs. This is key as it will create the baseline infrastructure – think data, processes, transparency – for sustainable transformation.
- Healthcare consumerism going mainstream: It is no surprise that tech heavyweights such as Apple and Samsung are encroaching into the healthcare play space; though it has to be said that Apple specifically is lagging behind their peers such as Google, IBM and hundreds of start-ups who had realized much earlier that the lines between medicine and information technology are blurred and that the trillion-dollar healthcare sector is ripe for disruption.
But what does this all mean for the healthcare sector? It means that the digital health revolution has evolved from being a movement to an actual transformation. We are in the phase where we are starting to see real outcomes.
- Funding is driving innovation where business ideas from healthcare start-ups are metamorphing into actual services that users embrace. Just look at the user adoption rates for successful start-up stories such as BetterDoctor (a comprehensive doctor search tool) and CellScope (a diagnostic tool that converts your smartphone into a connected digital otoscope to check for ear infections).
- The growing adoption of technology by the healthcare system is slowly but steadily bringing about greater efficiencies in terms of time and costs to both the system (be they clinics or hospitals) and patients alike.
- With health consumerism going mainstream, the public is increasingly being empowered to manage their health and quantify it through the support of data. This is all the more pushing the shift in patient-physician dynamics by placing the patient at the center of the healthcare system – ultimately advancing the growing demand for personalized healthcare service and medicine.
- A common goal that all healthcare systems share is that of preventive health. Why? Well, preventing the occurrence of diseases as opposed to treating them, and, monitoring patients’ progress post-discharge and keeping them out of hospitals, result in healthier nations and reduced costs on the healthcare burden on the economy. Less obtrusive, aesthetically pleasing and more accessible sensors, coupled with more connected systems, will remove, or at least lower, barriers to adoption. The individual is now empowered, and naturally incentivized, to monitor and improve his or her health or condition.
The progress made last year just shows us how much promise 2015 holds in steering us closer to a healthcare utopia – one where the patient can take charge of and make informed decisions on his or her own health, have personalized medical support on-demand, and big data analytics shape public policies to achieve preventive health outcomes.