To Succeed, Digital Health Must Unify

A century ago, most people relied on newspapers to keep abreast of current events. Radio broadcasting took off 1920s, followed by television broadcasting in the following decades. Of course, the Internet has changed the equation again in the 1990s and early 2000s, by providing yet another option to access information with extraordinarily flexibility and timeliness. More recently, the explosion of mobile devices and social media have given billions of people a greater variety of options for accessing and sharing information than has ever existed in human history. There’s been a downside to this as well: more noise and fragmentation. A similar trend can be observed in the nascent field of digital health, where there are ever-more apps and other products vying for consumers' attention.

A growing number of entrepreneurs, developers, and established medtech players have realized that there is tremendous potential in digital health. As X PRIZE chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis, MD has put it: “Today, my car, my airplane, my computer knows more about its health status than I do, which is insane.”

One of the X PRIZE’s aims is to help address this problem by offering substantial cash awards to innovators that can help change this equation and usher in a future “in which the fundamental health parameters of my body are constantly being monitored 24/7 as well as the air I breathe, the food I eat, the environment I walk through,” Diamandis says. “There are no more excuses for not knowing about something. You have the data and the data analysis to become the CEO of your own health.”

As we march towards a world where we, as individuals, have an unprecedented access to health metrics, there is an increasing need to tie this information together and to motivate patients to act on the information they have. At the moment, millions of people across the country know that, for instance, there are risks associated with smoking and obesity. The problem is—how do people get and stay motivated over the long-term?

As the digital health industry evolves, it must grapple with this basic question. Healthcare needs more unification. More of a team-based approach where patients and physicians with different clinical specialties work together to improve outcomes. This remains a challenge today in a world where, for instance, EMR systems don’t offer full interoperability.

Also consider the fragmentation observed in the Quantified Self movement, where consumers track a number of health metrics. Today, you could buy a FitBit to track your activity level, a Withings blood pressure monitor, a Zeo sleep monitor to keep track of your sleep. You would have a separate dashboard for each application. It might be worth marrying someone from tech support, Scanadu’s Walter de Brouwer quipped at the Burrill Digital Health Meeting earlier this year on this topic. As De Brouwer also explained: “the connected medical consumer doesn't want to watch his device he wants his devices watching him.” And they also want some help interpreting all of the data and tying it all together.

Brian Buntz is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.


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