We are in the midst of the digital health movement, it’s the topic taking up columns of media space, seminars across cities are headlining the topic and digital health start up investments during Q1 have already surpassed $600m in the US alone. As we witnessed the media frenzy regarding the Apple watch launch and its range of health applications, we now eagerly wait to see if the health revolution is really upon us and whether we will see a real shift in power from physician to patient?
Furthermore, what will this mean for pharma? Will a new patient segment emerge that is truly in control of their healthcare decisions, selling their health data to eagerly waiting research agencies and driving payer treatment decisions? Will chronic health patients finally have a support mechanism through digital technology which informs and helps them on a daily basis?
The truth is, we just don’t know, it is likely the above scenario is some time away but one thing we do know is that primary care physicians are concerned with what this new digitally empowered patient segment will bring. The healthcare systems across Europe are already feeling the burden of patient numbers and whilst physicians acknowledge this shift, it is difficult to say whether digital health will bring more help or harm to the current patient–physician paradigm.
The Ipsos Healthcare Digital Doctor tracker aims to keep abreast of the physician activity and perception on digital health. Our data shows physicians across Europe are comfortable using the conventional technology options such as websites (61% visited a non-pharma and 46% a pharma website to obtain information on a specific drug) and online discussion forums (32% recommended these to their patients, and 34% use these platforms themselves to discuss with other HCPs). However, we are not yet seeing a strong engagement with new technologies such as app based services, with only 26% recommending a health and lifestyle app to a patient during consultation.
Physicians are in agreement health and lifestyle apps will play a strong role in the future, with a possibility they will form part of treatment plans for certain health conditions (57%). Conversely a similar proportion of physicians also believe apps will cause more conflict between themselves and patients (48%). This is where the complexity lays, whilst many are excited about the digital health revolution, healthcare professionals are troubled by the potential areas of conflict that will occur. There is a reluctance to fully embrace this new world and to push patients in the direction of digital health technologies.
Interestingly, conflict has always driven curious minds to the path of innovation; there is little doubt somebody (most likely a non-healthcare company) will bridge the gap and find a solution which enables the patient-physician consultation rather than hamper it. So, what will the ultimate solution be and what are the challenges which need to be overcome?
In order to truly engage physicians and empower patients, digital health solutions will need simplicity at the heart of them; there will need to be absolute confidence that the data is accurate and agreements are in place for data to be integrated with electronic medical records.
For pharma and healthcare providers this is an opportunity to support innovation at the grassroots level, through engaging with start-ups and non-traditional partners, thus allowing providers to play a role in shaping the future of digital health solutions. Providers need to be positive catalysts in this time of change, it is important they use their experience and knowledge to foster the patient-physician relationship and have an openness to walk the road less travelled. After all, without deviation from the norm, progress is impossible.