One of the standout statistics that struck me at the Digital Health World Congress was this: there are about 365,000 digital healthcare products out there compared to about 20,000 pharma products.  That shows what huge competition there is for attention in the digital health space.  I think it also demonstrates the passion and tenacity that healthcare companies have, to provide digital solutions that deliver value to their customers and patients.

One of the other striking figures suggests that of these, only 4% of digital products end up succeeding – so what areas of opportunity are there to match digital capability innovation with user needs to maximise success?

Here are 5 take outs which will guide innovation in the digital health space:

Home is the new hospital

 The need for meaningful management of chronic conditions at home is something which is only going to increase.   This will mean a continued need for better and easier remote monitoring, more patient autonomy and slicker medication delivery and administration.

We’ve already seen some impressive new developments such as biosensor patches,  Chronolife – a multiparametric medical monitoring device in the form of a T-Shirt and the Zipline Drone used for medicine delivery in remote areas.




The role for digital here is multifaceted and has huge potential, but only if we understand the user context and unmet needs.


From ‘check-ups’ to ‘Health Coaching’

As part of the move to community / in-home care there is also likely to be a change away from ‘tick box treatment reviews’ to more holistic health coaching.    6/10 adults in the US have a chronic condition and so treatment needs to be managed at home with regular support.

For example, with asthma, patients may be called in for annual checks to review treatment plans and monitor symptom control / adherence.  This ‘one stop’ approach may not best match patient needs whereas a more immersive, regular coaching programme with regular tracking and virtual coaching engagement is likely to lead to better outcomes.  This is especially true where there are multiple comorbidities, weight considerations and where lifestyle and wellbeing factors can affect prognosis.




Decision Support

I was interested to hear that diagnostics account for around 2-3% of healthcare spend but inform 70% of decisions.  That’s a really important insight and shows the potential for digital solutions in this space.

We’ve already seen an upwards trend amongst our pharma client base for collaborative projects with med-tech companies and this means we need to be focussed on unearthing the right insights throughout the diagnostic journey and cognisant of the wider audience interpreting the findings because tools at this stage are critical for optimising outcomes.

Patient Engagement

This was another key topic of the conference and clearly resonates with the themes already covered.  With the ongoing move to managing health in the community and success based on engagement with diagnostics, health coaching and at-home monitoring, a focus on patient engagement on any interface is going to be even more important.

Initially there was a focus on clinical trial engagement as drop-out rates tend to be high.  Not only does digital social recruitment support outcomes well here but there is also a move to a fully virtual clinical trial model with centralised organisation and data sharing which is proving more efficient and successful.

Across the whole digital healthcare ecosystem the highest potential exists if the solutions are localised, personalised and customised – which it turn will ensure patients are engaged.

User centred design is at the heart of successful digital experience

 With higher levels of patient independence and community based medicine on the cards, it’s more important than ever to ensure that UX and UI design guides development.  This means building digital solutions based on user needs and in the context of the lifestyles and accessibility needs of the patients they serve.

Adaptive ethnographic approaches combined with prototype cognitive walkthrough exercises which immerse the insights and digital development teams in user needs are part of the foundation on which to build the optimal user experience within the context of a disease area.

In summary…

From AI driven drug development and digital ‘twinning’ through to accessible virtual clinical trials and multiparametric digital monitoring devices, the message is that technology can save lives.  At the heart of success of any new digital initiative will be to incorporate patient engagement and putting the user at the centre of the design process.

By Esme Barrow-Williams

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