How Digital Health Will Change in 2018

With changes on the horizon including updates to the Affordable Care Act and FDA regulation for medical devices, not a lot is certain in healthcare these days. However, there are two emerging trends in digital health that have the potential to significantly reduce costs and make a big impact in 2018.

These two key predictions for growth in 2018 have one thing in common: data. With the proliferation of health care devices like activity trackers, blood pressure cuffs, and even your phone’s built-in health app, more patient level data is being captured than ever. Additionally, electronic health records (EHRs) are now a healthcare standard and are capturing more structured data (labs, readings, test results, prescriptions) and unstructured data (clinical notes, comments and care plans) than previously possible. Between consumer and clinical data capture, the amount of healthcare data available is skyrocketing and ready to harness. In 2018, the two areas that will start to see growth are areas that leverage that data to improve health and ultimately reduce the costs associated with acute care.

AI for Precision Medicine

Artificial intelligence (AI) is tech’s biggest buzzword, but its reach is far beyond the tech industry. Companies are integrating AI and analytics across organizations to analyze everything from the customer experience to revenue trends. LinkedIn’s 2017 U.S. Emerging Jobs Report indicates that jobs that are focused on building AI and analytical tools for organizations are experiencing some of the fastest growth. Machine learning engineers, data scientists, and big data engineers rank among the top emerging jobs — with companies in a wide range of industries seeking those skills.

So how does AI fit into healthcare? We’ve already seen it play a role in the genomics space and it’s been an emerging capability in digital health. In 2018, digital health companies that support patients or providers will be using AI to deliver specific, personalized insights to individuals based on a person’s current health, genes, lifestyle and behavior. They will use sensors in phones to identify everything from mood to movement. For consumers this could mean personalized suggestions about which exercise reduces their blood sugar the most and which interactions raise their heart rate to dangerous levels. It will predict for consumers the weight they will be in a month from now and the rate of progression of their heart disease, ultimately enabling clinicians to provide fast, customized care plans.

Digital Therapeutics

Investment in companies building digital therapeutic tools grew in 2017, and in 2018 we will start to see the fruit of that investment. While digital health’s focus has primarily been on data collection, tracking and providing support, in 2018, digital therapeutics will go a step further by supporting clinical therapies such as patches, injectables and cellular treatments. Multiple systems have received FDA approval in the last 6-12 months for medication titration and clinics around the world are adopting digital health and telemedicine solutions to augment the current standard of care. Exciting applications include under-the-skin sensors that can read blood sugar levels or deliver medications to help a manage chronic diseases.

Although the future of the industry can be uncertain, we can rest assured that data-driven healthcare is here to stay.  It’s better for patients, lowers costs and makes care delivery more effective.

Here’s to that in 2018. Happy New Year.

Robin Beadle