With the recent FitBit IPO, it seems particularly relevant to address the foundational ideas of digital health and what it means to be a participant in this brave new world of healthcare innovation. Realistically, health tech can refer to anything from upgraded EHR systems to state-of-the-art MRI machines. Heck, we could even include those vibrating flab-be-gone machines.
So to be clear, we must define and focus on a single category. Many truly disruptive technologies are those that change our behaviors. Sure, owning a flab-fighter might have gotten Joe Shmoe to care about his appearance and fitness a little more (or at the very least attempt obtain the desired six pack)...but is it really changing behavior and health over the long run?
This is the fundamental question when thinking about digital health and its social value. Value in this context is measured by identifying the correct metrics, those that are truly impactful on an individual’s health, and then incrementally helping the consumer make lasting change to reach that goal.
For the past few years, FitBit has been the archetype company of the emerging digital health category. They have raised awareness around movement, tracking health data, and the importance of getting up. But steps themselves are a limited measurement, and many of the other commercially available sensors either have accuracy issues or aren’t ideal on the wrist form factor. So far, while it is clear that they have built a successful business, have they successfully impacted health habits that will meaningfully reduce heart disease and obesity rates?
Real change will happen when a great piece of tech keeps consumers consistently engaged and the business model wrapped around it lifts the data it is collecting to fill an unmet need, not just track and display information. Not to be forgotten, healthcare should also be subject to the trend of providing a superior consumer experience.
Rock Health recently announced that digital health funding in the first half of 2015 is on pace with funding in 2014, proving it’s not a passing fad. Insurance innovators like Oscar Health, wearables like JawBone, and enterprise wellness companies led the pack in snagging funding. One thing they have in common is that they’ve stepped up to meet and exceed these consumer expectations.
The really great digital health companies will be the ones that better collect patient data (passively) and efficiently use that data to create behavior change or enable an intervention or transaction. This will improve healthcare’s bottom, and the quality of life of the people utilizing it.