The Promise of Digital Health
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First came the steam engine, followed by the telephone, next the internet and now we have artificial intelligence. The fourth industrial revolution is characterized by a range of new technologies that are disrupting all disciplines, economies and industries, even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. The healthcare sector is no exception to this.
The effects of the demographic shift
Societies around the world are beginning to see the effects of people living longer. In Europe, healthcare systems are feeling the pinch due to the rise of chronic diseases alongside an aging population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic disease prevalence is expected to rise globally by 57% by 20201 and the latest report from the OECD2 shows that the EU alone is spending EUR 115 billion per year on such diseases. The fourth industrial revolution could provide solutions to the burden many healthcare systems are facing and transform the way we approach healthcare today.
Technological transitions are nothing new in healthcare; the 1990s saw personal computers become more widely available which later connected to networks spawning telemedical services, and mobile health followed the advent of smartphones. But now we are on the cusp of a real shift: when digital health becomes not simply a technological change, but a cultural change3.
The potential of big data in healthcare
On the technological side, digital health encompasses everything from advanced computing to identifying new drug combinations to mobile app-based patient assistance programs. Digital technologies have the potential to help transform the way novel medicines are discovered, developed and delivered to patients.
Digital health is no longer just the bread and butter of science fiction movies. The future of clinical research will be driven by the collection, use and sharing of big data to support the development of new and effective treatments for patients. Genome sequencing and biomarker identification through big data applications will improve clinical studies and could ultimately lead to accurately identifying new therapeutic approaches.
By combining data from clinical trials, disease registries, electronic health records and mobile health apps, researchers will have access to a wealth of knowledge to assist in a better understanding of health conditions. Data collected throughout the development of new medicines can be used to thoroughly and accurately assess the efficacy, safety and effectiveness of a medicine during clinical development and post-approval evaluation. Digital technologies will support the development of new, more patient-relevant endpoints, and support the improved delivery of healthcare and, crucially, empower patients in managing and monitoring their own health and wellbeing.
A cultural shift to empowered patients
Through the adoption of digital technologies comes the empowered patient who, through increased access to relevant data, is able to contribute to shared decision-making with their doctor, a cultural shift which has been characterized as the democratization of healthcare4.
The more fluid exchange of information between patients and their healthcare professionals can contribute to increased involvement of patients and their caregivers in patient care as well as in the choice and management of treatment. Access to personal medical records will enable patients to better understand their illness and treatment which could ultimately improve patient adherence to medication.
Sharing of health data will also contribute to the sustainability of healthcare systems. Tracking health outcomes and establishing standardized outcomes metrics will aid patients and healthcare professionals in decision making. This will ultimately facilitate a move towards an integrated healthcare system rooted in outcomes and value-based care.
Fulfilling the promise of digital health
When it comes to a fully functioning and valuable health data ecosystem, data standardization, portability and interoperability are key to making full use of the data at hand in order to advance research, disease prevention and care.
Tapping into the full value of digital health solutions will require collaboration and partnership from all stakeholders in the healthcare system. An accompanying legal framework needs to be defined that is agile in this fast-developing environment. Fundamental questions such as: “Who owns the data collected?” need to be addressed as well as questions on access to data, validation and sharing of data – always with the aim of how to achieve the best value for patients.
Bayer is committed to working with all stakeholders and international policymakers to ensure that these new digital technologies are appropriately developed and put in use for the benefit of patients and society.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series that will take a more in-depth look at how pharmaceutical companies in particular can embrace digital health solutions.
1 PwC, Chronic diseases and conditions are on the rise: https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/healthcare/emerging-trends-pwc-healthcare/chronic-diseases.html Last accessed: June 2018
2 OECD, Europe paying a heavy price for chronic diseases, finds new OECD-EC report: http://www.oecd.org/health/europe-paying-a-heavy-price-for-chronic-diseases-finds-new-oecd-ec-report.htm Last accessed: June 2018
3 Meskó, Bertalan, Zsófia Drobni, Éva Bényei, Bence Gergely, & Zsuzsanna Győrffy. "Digital health is a cultural transformation of traditional healthcare." mHealth: http://mhealth.amegroups.com/article/view/16494/16602 Last accessed: June 2018