What does the future of digital health technology look like?

 In Medical Product Design

We know one thing is for certain: Digital health technology is not the future of health care – it's the now. More and more health professionals are looking to improve their patient services and are taking advantage of mobile technologies and patient-generated health data. The question then is: Just how much will mobile usage grow in the coming years?

The answer: a lot.

"Digital health technologies and PGHD is on the rise for a number of reasons."

A new survey published by Validic noted that digital health technologies and PGHD is on the rise for a number of reasons including pressure to improve process efficacy, reduce the cost of medical trials and improve process flow and treatment for chronic conditions.

The study of 166 biopharma and life sciences industry executives, researchers and software/technology professionals noted a number of unique reasons professionals are turning toward mobile health technology.

These include:

1. The business world is shifting
Business processes change in every industry. Companies want to reduce costs by improving productivity and process efficiency by streamlining how they conduct operations. The best way to do this is by successfully using technology – in this case mobile tech. Sixty percent of respondents said they've taken advantage of mobile health technology to conduct clinical trials. That number jumped to roughly 97 percent when asked whether they'd use this technology within the next five years.

2. App usage is dropping
Applications were a big hit several years ago, but because so many exist today, it's reasonable to question whether there's now a more efficient way to conduct business. That's why many professionals are moving away from apps and instead using wearable devices (think Fitbit or Apple Watch). This technology can instantly record and transfer information to databases that professionals can study to either treat patients on the spot or conduct research with.

3. Devices must be senior-friendly
Only 32 percent of Americans ages 65 years or older own a tablet, and 30 percent own a smartphone, according to Validic's study. The difficulty in developing these mobile devices lies in trying to decide what exactly they're supposed to do and for whom. For example, do you create a mobile technology that everyone can use? And if you can, should you? When creating a product for an older audience, the device must be easy to use, the report noted, while also having a small learning curve. But younger generations may not need an overly simplified device. They may want want one that is easy to use but don't mind trading off some simplicity for a bit more complexity.

New mobile technology will keep health professionals more informed about their patient's state of health.New mobile technology will keep health professionals more informed about their patient's state of health.

Along with the problems associated with identifying target markets, here are two other challenges mobile health developers face:

"Development companies must sift through what their products can and should record."

1. Trying to determine which information the product should record
There is a world of health information these products have access to – from measuring heart beats and blood pressure to the number of calories lost. Development companies must sift through what their products can and should record and determine whether they want the device to store a vast amount of information on different health areas or focus on a specific region of the body.

"The future is going to be much more significant in terms of the breadth of things that could be measured [by mobile health technology]," said Dr. John Patrick, author and mobile health expert, speaking to mHealthIntelligence.com. "It's not just steps – it could be cholesterol, the presence of an infection, your heart rate, or many different tests from bodily fluids that could be indicators for the actions within one's body."

Patrick gave an example when asked whether wearable devices could track a patient's vital signs.

"A good example of where this is going is what Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles has done," Patrick said. "They have enabled electronic health records of 80,000 patients to be connected to the Apple Health app, which is an iPhone app. The Apple Watch gathers data about our cardiac activity, and that data continuously monitored by the Apple Watch flows directly into the Health app."

In the next five years, however, we wouldn't be shocked if these apps transitioned into more mobile wear technology, much like researchers at Validic suggested.

2. The amount of time health professionals have to use the data
Doctors and other health professionals are already strapped for time. Do they really have enough time to analyze data – especially in real time – and use it to help patients? That's a big question that's yet to be completely determined due to the infancy of mobile health tech.

Chances are, as health professionals begin to adopt wearable devices for their own practices, the industry will change right alongside it. New roles pertaining to business intelligence may develop so doctors can keep their focus on patient care. But before that happens, the influx of data is a legitimate concern. Companies must not only be open to adopting this technology – which they are – but they must also know how to handle it when it begins streaming into their databases. Because, trust us when we say, unless they unplug, they'll never stop receiving data.

Final thoughts
While challenges exist, the future of mobile health care is bright. Over the coming years, wearable devices will provide professionals with a wealth of data they can then use to make more informed decisions. Patients will then have better access to care and services and have increased opportunities to recover from various diseases and conditions.


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