Market overview: digital health in home settings
We’re witnessing the early days of a digital healthcare revolution as the healthcare industry carves its niche within the far-reaching IoT movement. And, this niche is growing as more devices are equipped with improved wireless communication capabilities, accompanied by a mobile app with an extensive backend system.
New and exciting technologies are constantly evolving to support this revolution, but as with any new movement, finding the right use cases is the key for broad adoption.
A recent project gave us the opportunity to deep-dive into this exciting new niche. Our client develops non-invasive solutions for preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Spicebox Labs was approached to integrate Bluetooth Smart (BLE) and mobile app capabilities into their solution, targeting home-use by patients after their release from hospital. The integrated mobile app provides remote tracking of patient compliance and progress.
Why go home?
It’s widely agreed that adding wireless capabilities to medical devices significantly improves patient mobility both in hospital and at home. Patients are no longer confined to small monitored areas as wireless devices provide real-time data from any location. The economic benefits are also huge: according to a Goldman Sachs report on digital healthcare and IoT, real-time patient monitoring could save $200B in the near future. With our client’s solution, for example, physicians can remotely track patient engagement in their treatment, monitor pain level feedback, and oversee the recuperation progress, while saving on frequent office appointments.
This brings up an important point which device manufacturers know all too well: statistics show that one-third to one-half of all wearable device users abandon their devices within the first three months. Unlike other types of smart devices, maintaining patient engagement with medical devices is more than important – it’s essential for promoting better health results. Unfortunately, however, long-term engagement is not easily achieved. When developing digital health apps, product teams must remember that many potential users are older; smartphones may not be ubiquitous to them. One example of a successful app achieving excellent results is Walgreens Pharmacy & Health app. At a recent industry panel, Walgreens revealed a 2.5% increase in PDC (proportion of days covered), translating into millions of dollars in prescription revenue.
To increase and maintain patient engagement, product designers apply various strategies, but the underlying principles remain unchanged: consider your users’ needs, wants, and beliefs to ensure your product fits into their day-to-day routine and is convenient to use. Engagement creates better utilization information. Combining it with EHR data offers a holistic view to physicians and other stakeholders, opening up an opportunity for more personalized healthcare.
New technologies, new challenges
Developing connected medical devices for consumers is still a new area, requiring designers and developers to work through new challenges. On the regulatory front, FCC and HIPAA must be considered, and FDA guidelines for mobile health devices and apps are still being developed and updated. On the technological front, new technologies evolve much faster than the average 7-year lifecycle for medical devices. Combining sensor data from multiple medical devices, each with proprietary protocols, creates a system-level challenge. These challenges call for end-to-end architectural considerations and technology solutions. For example, integrating both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth platforms, allowing over-the-air updates (while considering security challenges) and backward compatibility for varying smartphone models.
We’re excited about these challenges. There’s no doubt in our minds that the digital health market will continue to grow and expand in the foreseeable future. Technology solutions, development platforms, and regulatory guidance will continue to evolve and shape the eco-system, and there’s no turning back. Smartphone penetration is already over 90% in the United States. Consumers are used to having the world in their pocket – now they’re starting to realize they can also get medical treatment on-the-go or from the comfort of their homes.