The Digital Healthcare Revolution is Here
We are in the midst of an exciting digital revolution transforming healthcare. Emerging technologies are enabling new care models focused on patient-centered, data-driven, connected care. Digital innovation is also streamlining clinical and business processes to improve efficiency.
This transformation is being fueled by several factors:
- Rising healthcare expenditures, which account for 18% of GDP in the US. Digital solutions can help reduce this burden.
- Increasing rates of chronic illnesses and aging populations that require coordinated care. Digital tools facilitate remote monitoring and management.
- Growing emphasis on preventive, personalized medicine tailored to individuals‘ needs and genetics. This is enabled by AI, gene sequencing and other technologies.
- Demand for virtual health services, which surged during COVID-19. Telehealth visits increased 38X during the pandemic (McKinsey).
- Advances in technologies like AI, IoT, blockchain, 3D printing that are reshaping healthcare. Global investment in digital health hit $30B in 2021 (Mercom Capital Group).
- Favorable regulations like the 21st Century Cures Act that promote innovation and data interoperability.
- Availability of vast amounts of health data to derive insights using analytics. The healthcare data volume is expected to grow 36% annually through 2025 (IDC).
This transformation brings immense value to all healthcare stakeholders:
For patients, it provides on-demand access, early disease detection, personalized treatment, andcontinuous remote care.
For healthcare providers, it powers data-driven decision making, improves workflows, lowers costs, and enables new care delivery models.
For insurers, it facilitates precision underwriting, better fraud detection, automated processes, and omni-channel customer experiences.
For life sciences companies, it boosts R&D productivity, improves clinical trials, and enables better engagement throughout the patient journey.
Overall, digital transformation aims to deliver preventive, patient-centric, proactive care while optimizing processes. Let‘s look at the key technologies powering it.
Key Technologies Driving Transformation
- Artificial Intelligence
AI is bringing a paradigm shift in healthcare by enabling various applications:
- Medical Imaging Analytics: AI assists radiologists by flagging anomalies in scans like tumors, fractures, etc. It also improves surgical planning. GlobalData estimates this market will reach $2B by 2023.
- Precision Medicine Platforms: AI analyzes patient data to create tailored diagnoses and treatment plans based on individuals‘ genes, lifestyles, medical history etc. In a Deloitte survey, 76% of healthcare executives said it is disruptive.
- Clinical Decision Support: AI-based CDS provides data-driven recommendations to support providers at point of care. Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare incorporates Azure AI into patient management workflows.
- Virtual Nursing Assistants: AI chatbots like Sensely guide patients through care journeys, provide health advice, book appointments etc. They offer 24/7 access just like human nurses.
- Drug Discovery: AI transforms pharmaceutical R&D by uncovering novel molecules and biomarkers. It also optimizes clinical trials by matching patients to suitable therapies. Startup Insilico Medicine uses AI to design new drugs in just 46 days compared to 5+ years conventionally.
Blockchain brings four major advantages to healthcare:
- Secure Health Records Sharing: It maintains comprehensive records across providers while keeping patient data private. This improves coordination and continuity of care.
- Clinical Data Exchange: Blockchain enables seamless, granular data sharing for genomics research, drug trials, public health surveillance etc. while complying with data privacy regulations.
- Medical Supply Chain Management: It introduces transparency, provenance tracking, and process automation to optimize supply chains. This is critical especially during crises like the pandemic.
- Claims Processing: Smart contracts automate healthcare insurance claims handling, payment settlement, fraud detection etc. This reduces admin costs and speeds up cash flows. A PwC study estimates blockchain could save $100B annually in insurance overhead costs and fraud.
- IoT & Connected Health
With over 330M health IoT devices today, key applications include:
- Remote Patient Monitoring: IoT biometric sensors continuously track health parameters like heart rate, blood glucose etc. and share real-time data with providers to enable prompt interventions.
- Chronic Disease Management: Wearables monitor patients with diabetes, COPD, hypertension etc. and provide alerts if readings exceed thresholds so they can take preventive actions.
- Elderly Care and Assisted Living: Sensors track seniors‘ daily activities, motion, vitals and alert caregivers if any anomaly occurs, allowing independent living.
- Asset Tracking: RTLS tags track movement of critical hospital equipment like wheelchairs, ventilators etc. ensuring optimal utilization and reducing losses.
- Workflow Optimization: Smart hospital platforms use IoT data to analyze resource usage, improve scheduling, prevent bottlenecks etc. For instance, CHOP reduced wait times by 33% this way.
COVID-19 supercharged telehealth adoption. Key drivers for future growth include:
- Virtual Urgent Care: Telehealth provides easy access to providers 24/7 for minor illnesses like flu etc., eliminating wait times. 98% of Mass General Brigham‘s virtual visits occur outside regular hours.
- Remote Chronic Care: It facilitates regular virtual follow-ups for better disease management through care coordination apps, remote monitoring etc. A Ateon Health study found remote care lowers hospital readmissions by over 50%.
- Expanding Care Access: Telehealth bridges care gaps for rural/underserved communities by connecting patients to urban specialists. 20% of US adults used telehealth during the pandemic to access care.
- Emerging Technologies: Integration of AR, VR, wearables expands telehealth capabilities for provider training, guided surgeries etc. The global telehealth market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 26.6% through 2027 (Fortune Business Insights).
- 3D Printing
In healthcare, key 3D printing applications include:
- Medical Equipment: 3D printing expedites production of customized components for scanners, prosthetics, power tools etc. It enabled agile manufacturing of equipment during COVID-19.
- Surgical Planning: Surgeons use 3D printed models of patient organs derived from MRI/CT scans to prepare for complex procedures. This improves outcomes – Wake Forest‘s kidney transplant rejection rates fell from 8% to 2% using this technique.
- Pharmaceuticals: 3D printing facilitates personalized medicine by producing drugs with tailored dosages, release mechanisms etc. AstraZeneca uses this for its asthma treatment.
- Biological Implants: 3D bioprinting creates bone, cartilage, skin grafts using human cells and biomaterials for defect repair and regeneration. The 3D printed medical implant market is forecast to grow 18% annually through 2028 (DataBridge Market Research).
Digital Health Use Cases Across Patient Journey
Digital innovation is powering use cases across prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care:
- Digital therapeutics like cognitive behavioral therapy apps help manage conditions without medication. They reduce the risk of progression to serious illnesses.
- Online risk assessment tools like Heart Age Calculators raise awareness about conditions and recommend appropriate screenings to support prevention.
- Fitness wearables and health management apps empower people to take charge of their wellbeing through activity tracking, diet planning etc.
- Telehealth appointments facilitate initial assessments and triaging to guide appropriate diagnostics if required. eVisits on Teladoc‘s platform increased 450% in 2020.
- Medical imaging analytics accurately detect abnormalities early, enabling timely treatment. Infervision‘s AI-based CT scan analysis tool detects lung conditions with 95% accuracy.
- Virtual assistants like Sensely inquire about symptoms, provide guidance on next steps, and schedule in-person appointments if necessary, acting as triaging bots.
- Precision medicine platforms analyze patient genetics, lifestyles, medical history etc. to create tailored treatment plans for better outcomes.
- Digital therapeutics like cognitive behavioral therapy apps help manage conditions without medication. Akili‘s ADHD digital therapeutic improved attention function in over 60% of patients in clinical trials.
- AR/VR simulations assist surgeons in planning procedures by visualizing patient anatomy in 3D. Surgical robots enable minimally invasive procedures through enhanced precision and control.
- Ongoing Care
- Remote monitoring facilitated by connected devices/wearables allows chronic disease management through continuous tracking and coordination.
- Digital medication adherence solutions integrate with IoT pill dispensers to provide reminders, refill scheduling, delivery etc. to improve compliance.
- Patient engagement platforms like mobile apps and portals provide educational content, appointment scheduling, provider messaging, online bill payment etc. for better self-care.
Leading this Transformation
Incumbents like hospitals and insurers are investing heavily in digitalization. Tech giants are entering healthcare, and startups are proliferating. Some notable digital health initiatives include:
- Optum launching a $250M fund to invest in AI and data analytics companies.
- Apple rolling out Health Records on iPhone for patients to access medical data from multiple providers in one place.
- Walmart acquiring telehealth company MeMD to expand virtual care services.
- Philips partnering with NVIDIA to integrate AI into its imaging systems and generate real-time insights.
- Athenahealth using AI and robotic process automation to optimize clinical and administrative workflows.
The digital health market is booming. But this transformation also poses challenges like changing mindsets, scaling infrastructure, and ensuring effective data sharing across disparate systems. Still, the opportunities far outweigh the barriers. Healthcare is being reinvented to become more predictive, preventive, customized and accessible thanks to emerging technologies. The digital healthcare revolution has only just begun. Exciting times ahead!