There has a been a swift and widespread digital transformation in healthcare. For example, the Amazon Appstore, currently houses more than 3,000 medical apps (this doesn’t even include health or fitness apps). Four years ago , there were 179.
Healthcare organizations recognize the cost-efficiency, enhanced care ability and time-savings that comes with creating and utilizing a robust digital ecosystem. From electronic health records (EHR) to remote monitoring tools and wearable technology, the digitization of healthcare promotes patient-provider connectivity and improves health outcomes.
The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the necessity of digital formats across healthcare functions and fueled even greater innovation and adoption in the digital health space. By 2025, it’s forecasted the global digital health market will exceed $500 billion – but not without resolving a few roadblocks that sit in the way.
Investment Activity and Funding
2021 has been a banner year for healthcare deals and activity, especially for digital health. Fierce Healthcare reports that “investors poured $14.7 billion into digital health companies so far in 2021, already outpacing all of 2020’s record-breaking funding.”
In the first half of the year alone, 372 deals were closed, including 48 mega deals over $100 million. This frenzy of investment activity into digital health would make it seem costs and funding are anything but a problem . However, digital health innovation, scaling and delivery are expensive.
Rock Health characterizes the potential challenge as, “the ‘mega momentum” of 2021, but also introduces new risks for investors and entrepreneurs. The speed and amount of investment will test the marketplace’s current and future capacity to design and deliver digital health solutions, and then scale them into sustainable companies.”
Data Security and Storage Ability
The global EHR market is predicted to reach $40 billion by 2024. Digitizing patient records may free-up some space in the filing cabinets of clinics and hospitals, but all that information has to go somewhere, while also remaining easily trackable and secure.
With cyberattacks an increasingly common occurrence, digital health programs, and the patient information they hold, are vulnerable to breaches.
IBM’s latest research shows healthcare data breach costs averaged $9.23 million, a 29.5% increase.
“As the digitization of healthcare records continues, organizations will need to layer cybersecurity best practices on top of an identity-centric security strategy to protect a growing attack surface,” according to Critical Insight.
In addition to warding off potential hackers and other cybersecurity threats, data storage could pose a challenge in the next couple years for digital health.
Organizations that opt to store data on-premise benefit by having more control over the information and greater security. However, there are increased infrastructure costs, and this method is prone to experience outages. Those that use cloud storage experience lower management costs and greater reliability. The disadvantage lies in the vendor management aspect, as well as retaining less control over the data security protocols.
Whether organizations utilize on-premise or cloud storage for its data, keeping the information protected is crucial.
Accessibility for Patients
While digital health advancements deliver an abundance of benefits for patients – cost-savings, efficiency and convenience of treatment – it also highlights the digital divide that exists for underserved communities.
Factors including technology usage and digital illiteracy inhibit many from using digital health tools. While general access to technology is growing, HIMSS argues digital health solutions should meet “patient context and communication preferences,” with formats such as interactive two-way SMS messaging and a mobile-first design to encourage engagement.
PEW Research Center reports only 31% of adults over the age of 75 own a smartphone, and only 60% use the internet. As more and more aspects of healthcare digitize, the aging population becomes increasingly isolated. Identifying underserved populations and creating solutions for improved digital health accessibility will be key to its success looking ahead.
As healthcare digitization continues to balloon, it’s rise will not be unabated if the challenges surrounding funding, data security and accessibility are not flushed out. If these hurdles are resolved, however, digital health tools will increasingly enhance the effectiveness of providers and the health of patients.