Matchmaking: Digital Technology and Health Care?
February 16th, 2012
Posted by Caroline Popper, M.D., M.P.H.
In a recent Forbes article on the last FutureMed meeting in California, writer David Shaywitz expressed his concern that technology developers are more focused on their technology than with how it may be accepted by health care practitioners. But he also expressed hope that, soon, technology and the practice of health care might experience a meeting of minds (and possibly even hearts).
At Popper and Co., we make an effort to search for technology solutions that can truly make a difference in health care, and often we’ve been skeptical of the “latest shiny new thing.” While I believe that sometimes technology apps appear to be solutions in search of a problem, we are arriving at a point in time when a happy merger between health care and health technology may be feasible. Why?
- Because we (the scientific and technology community) now understand enough about biology to adapt technology to address real clinical problems. Our knowledge of genetics alone allows us to design targeted (i.e., “personalized”) therapeutic solutions.
- Because cost and resource constraints have led to patients being more engaged in the price and quality of their health care.
- Because consumer power has forced many practitioners (and technologists) to consider the “might” of this market.
- Because new technologies facilitate fundamental health service innovation for providers as well as patients.
While we need to be cautious about broad generalizations when it comes to digital health (which includes non-FDA-regulated consumer solutions) and the business sectors where it is having a direct impact, drug development – an area of focus in Mr. Shaywitz’s Forbes piece – is certainly seeing the integration of wireless technologies in a beneficial way. For example, new, “virtual clinical trials” enabled by smartphones and other apps allow patients to register and participate in drug trials without visiting a clinical site. Moreover, monitoring clinical trial participant compliance and relevant vital signs via wireless health devices can provide a greater level of detail and confidence in study data and conclusions, which is also of benefit in obtaining FDA clearance. DNA sequencing, too, which has been described as “bio-digital health,” allows for more targeted clinical trial participant selection and a movement away from population-based medicine. These examples alone illustrate digital health’s potential to improve biopharma’s bottom line and, ultimately, create better, more individualized health care.
Finally, here are some thoughts on the topic from Popper and Co. co-founder Ken Walz:
Many new emerging technologies have disruptive potential; including smart phones for clinical trials, remote diagnosis and data interpretation, for example. And there are some areas of health care in which patients and practitioners may be more amenable to adopting new technology. But not every part of medical practice is welcoming technology with open arms. It’s important to note that many of the areas that aren’t as accepting happen to be the more challenging areas of medicine. To assess the fate of all technology based on its current lack of proven utility in specific niches of health care may be setting the bar needlessly high.
In fact, targeting areas that are less “sexy,” but nonetheless important—e.g., process workflow improvement, better use of sensors, remote monitoring of patient compliance, and online appointment scheduling and lab result access—could deliver a great deal of value through new technology adoption.
Where do you see the most ideal matches between technology and health care? What challenging areas of medicine might be better postponing marriages with technology for another day? Do you have specific questions about the convergence of technology and health care that you’d like to pose to us? Share with us here.
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