Mobile digital health devices are becoming more popular among people who need immediate care and those who are interested in staying more up to date about their health.
"With the growth of mobile technology comes challenges."
However, with this growth also comes challenges such as trying to better understand the digital health's audience and what they want in mobile hardware. Other challenges include attempting to more clearly define the line between telemedicine and health care, as well as other mobile health technologies (think Fitbit).
This is exactly the type of conversation a number of digital health experts recently had at the latest Digital Health Panel in San Diego.
Two categories experts discussed were consumer and clinical devices – the differences between the two – and the challenge developers and health experts experience in trying to figure out what consumers are willing to pay for.
Challenge 1: Defining expectations
Dr. Bakul believes consumers focus on purchasing devices that are both safe to use and can efficiently track certain aspects of their health. On the other hand, Dr. Lucian and Dr. Steinbhubl said consumers are also concerned with being able to clearly define whether the devices are health care-related or not. The reason this is important is because consumers believe their insurance should pay for the products.
Because these disparities exist, developers and vendors have a particularly difficult task when constructing devices. Are they clinical or consumer devices? And therefore should they be insured or not?
Challenge 2: Should device behavior change
Currently, many developers create mobile health technology that simply informs consumers about what they've done and not what they can do to improve their health. The latter is left up to the consumer to interpret and decide. While this may happen because of limitations in technology, most on the panel agreed that devices must be able to interpret data for consumers and provide them with more instruction on how to become healthier, even if it's in the form of a sort of passive "engine light," Dr. Benjamin noted.
Dr. Benjamin said there are drivers who bring their cars in for maintenance regularly and those who wait for the engine light to pop on. The health care world is similar – people wait to become sick or injured before visiting the doctor whereas they could benefit from mobile medical devices that warned them ahead of time about potential issues. And while these devices do exist in the form of sensors, they're developed for actual patients (something consumers don't view themselves as) and marketed to providers.
Dr. Lucian also took the time to bring up how all of this unique hardware is pushing healthcare to uncharted territory, but it's not helping providers if they're not making a profit off of it. And this leads us to our next challenge.
Challenge 3: Who is the gatekeeper?
Doctors attend school for years to have the opportunity to treat patients in clinical settings. But technology changes quickly, and that's a major problem for health professionals who are trying to keep up with it while not being overwhelmed by a tsunami of data.
Dr. Steinhubl said that doctors are the wrong people to ask when it comes to solving the problems related to mobile health technology. These are issues that developers (and even patients and consumers in the form of feedback) should handle. Devices must be able to help providers turn a profit, which means making them useful to health experts. And to do this, developers will need to create smarter devices, while providers may need to hire additional staff members to mine the wealth of data these hardware types collect.
While challenges exist, as the panel's experts noted in San Diego, the future of mobile health technology is bright.