Imagine being connected to expert health coaches on a daily basis instead of only at your annual doctor’s visit. What would it be like to be told on a real-time, continuous basis how many minutes of exercise at a specific heart rate was required, foods you needed to eat, and behaviors you needed to avoid in order to be feel better and be healthier?
What if this information meant you could get off your hypertensive medications or get your diabetes under control?
Notably, this is not a vision of the future. Rather, it is a description of what is possible today.
The Current State of Digital Health
There are over 40,000 mobile health apps in the iTunes store, ranging from calorie counters to medication reminders. Further, the number of Americans using mobile phones for health information or tools reached 95 million in 2013, according to a Manhattan Research Cybercitizen study. That’s up 27 percent from 75 million two years ago.
Meanwhile, the “quantified self” movement has picked up steam, with sales of digital and wearable technologies such as the Fitbit, Withings scale, and Jawbone Up, among others, jumping 300% in 2012. Annual sales are poised to reach an astounding 64 million devices by 2016, according to market research by Berg Insight.
Genetic testing has also entered the consumer market, with more than half a million tests sold to date. For a nominal fee and a cheek swab, consumers have been able to gain insight into their genome and whether they might be susceptible to a variety of acute and chronic conditions, adverse drug reactions, and much more.
However, despite broad availability of personalized information from devices, tests, and thousands of other nutrition, medical, and fitness apps, the digital data produced from these technologies exist in silos, (i.e. the weight app isn’t speaking to the fitness app; heart rate data is not aggregated with step data, key lab metrics are not interfacing with behavior traits and nutrition).
While Apple’s introduction of Healthbook and HealthKit solves part of the data aggregation problem, it does little for researching genotype/phenotype correlations and assessing the impact of human behavior on chronic disease. Further, while aggregated data can increase the individual’s awareness around their health, accountability for one’s health needs to be a part of any effective lifestyle intervention program.
The Digital Health Imperative
Today, one of two global deaths occur from heart disease and cancer. Further, 40 percent of cancers and 80 percent of heart disease are preventable (CDC). In 2012, the US spent over $1.7 trillion (>70 percent) of our healthcare budget on these preventable chronic conditions. This number is expected to grow to $6 trillion by mid-century – a number close to China’s GDP today.
Thus, digital applications must become a tool for improving population health if we expect to bend the chronic disease and cost trends certain to cripple societies across the world.
To enable this paradigm shift, data produced from wearables and apps must be paired with personalized feedback rooted in the principles of behavior science. There should be a consumer as well as a clinical user interface that aggregates data for health coaches, fitness professionals, physicians, nurses, and informatics specialists, so that coaching can be personalized and in real-time. This creates powerful feedback loops that improve individual awareness around his or her activities, while the relationship developed with the digital coach fosters personal accountability.
Our Digital Future
Digital innovation promises to transform healthcare by engaging populations on a 24/7 basis. It will enable physician extenders such as fitness professionals, health coaches, nutritionists, nurses, and more to become an integral piece of a connected health ecosystem that can be scaled for millions. The data produced from this ecosystem will provide insight into disease and health in unprecedented fashion. Given that necessity is the mother of all inventions, we can rest assured that our digital future in healthcare is bright.
Visit MD Revolution in the Digital Health Zone, booth #5839, at the BIO International Convention in San Diego, June 24-26.
Samir Damani, MD, PharmD, FACC, is a board certified practicing cardiologist for a nationally recognized heart hospital and health system. He is also the Founder and CEO of MD Revolution, a digital health company in La Jolla, California. MD Revolution’s software platform, RevUp, is a digital health tool with proven clinical outcomes in moderate and high-risk obese, hypertensive, and diabetic individuals. It is currently being leveraged by companies looking to improve their employees’ health and risk profiles, and is also actively being used by fitness professionals, and in a number of research systems.