mHealth: The Evolution of Digital Healthcare

This Insight discusses mHealth, the combination of mobile technologies and healthcare. For employers, this technology is an opportunity for improving employees' overall health, though it can also be complicated to institute and maintain.

Managing health means managing data. It hasn't taken long for companies to create devices and applications designed to improve health conditions and outcomes. How did it start—and where is it going?

Person wearing a smart watch to monitor their health

The Wearables Revolution

Next time you're in a meeting, take a look around. How many people are wearing a Fitbit, Samsung, or Apple Watch? Reports show that over 25 million smart watches were shipped and over $2.5 billion in worldwide fitness tracker were sold in 2018. The market for wearables has grown exponentially in recent years and is expected to nearly triple within the next five years.

These devices are now part of our culture even though they are a little more than a decade old. The question we'll explore here is how are they being used to improve healthcare?

The Growth of mHealth

Now that wearables can track health remotely, an extensive number of apps have been developed to record everything from daily steps to insulin levels. Named mHealth, it is the combination of mobile technologies and healthcare, allowing for an extensive array of information to be gathered and shared with healthcare providers. This market is expected to grow to $60 billion in revenue by 2020, with the biggest market share targeted at diabetic health.

mHealth isn't just convenient for patients, but for providers as well. One study indicated that 80% of surveyed physicians use mobile apps on a daily basis to access and monitor patients' health records. In addition to providers, healthcare facilities now use mobile apps to capture, monitor, and report on patient care data.

Telehealth Becomes Mainstream

It's not only wearables, mHealth, and apps that contribute to digital health evolution. Video has opened a new gateway for providers to reach current patients more consistently, address emergent issues quickly, and reach people without access to healthcare more easily.

There is growing acceptance—and desire—for Telehealth programs. "More employers are offering—and more employees are using—services that provide diagnosis, treatment or prescriptions following a consultation with a health care professional by phone or computer video," according to SHRM. The American TeleHealth association reported that more than half of all hospitals now have a telehealth program and 48 states now require insurers to cover telehealth services.

Telehealth has the potential to reduce healthcare costs. It is estimated that nearly 75% of all doctor, urgent care, and ER visits "are either unnecessary or could be handled safely and effectively over the phone or video," according to statistics from the American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America.

Data Security

While Digital Health is growing by double digits annually, the acceptance rate could be higher if it were not for concerns about data security. A little less than half of consumers said they had concerns about data security and privacy of wearables and cited a need for secure text messaging.

At the organizational level, healthcare institutions are challenged to ensure security across a number of devices owned by the facility as well as mobile apps used by physicians and providers. HIPAA compliant telehealth applications, device security, and secure patient data collection may continue to be a challenge.

Digital Therapeutics on the Horizon

The growth of technology and apps over the last decade have set the foundation for even bigger advances. Digital Therapeutics is the next step in Digital Health evolution, although the definition of the term continues to be refined.

Digital therapeutics (DTx) deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions to patients that are driven by high quality software programs to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease. They are used independently or in concert with medications, devices, or other therapies to optimize patient care and health outcomes.
—Digital Therapeutics Alliance

According to a PwC report, the DTx industry focuses on an outcome based approach to using drug protocols, device data collection, and treatment plans to address health issues. As investors pour over $13 billion dollars into this healthcare segment over 2018–2019, the industry must adopt new payment models, regulations, and drug/device protocols while providing positive outcomes.

Science and technology are moving rapidly to change the healthcare landscape and improve healthcare outcomes. Innovative companies are receiving significant investments to expand digital technologies while healthcare providers and facilities strive to incorporate technology into their operations—and budgets.

For employers, Digital Health no longer means distributing FitBits to your employees to track their daily steps. Those same wearables are now being used to improve chronic conditions that affect your employees' lives and health. The question is: Who pays for it?

At some point, employers are paying the cost of advanced healthcare. The real question is what are they paying for and how much do they want to spend? The wholesale price of a Fitbit or the cost of chronic disease that goes unchecked or unmanaged? It's a difficult decision, but part of an overall strategy that needs to be addressed.

The digital landscape is changing rapidly—are your healthcare plans keeping pace? If not, it's time to call on an advisor who can sort out what makes sense for your employee benefit plan offerings. Woodruff Sawyer offers expert advice to incorporate the right amount of Digital Health offerings you need for your business while helping you keep pace with advanced options.


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