From mobile medical apps, to wearable health tracking devices, to platforms that provide the means for patients and clinicians to engage in virtual care, digital health technology is driving a wave of change in healthcare delivery. Patients, physicians, hospitals, and providers all have access to growing numbers of high-quality, affordable, and intelligent digital health technologies.

This transformation in healthcare is a huge win for health systems and for patients, as digital health tools help patients stay engaged and active in managing their health, creating new efficiencies that have the potential to reduce healthcare costs. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, digital health technologies can empower people to make better-informed decisions about their health and provide new options for facilitating prevention, early diagnosis of diseases, and management of chronic conditions, just to name a few use cases.

The Digital Health Roster

Digital health encompasses a broad variety of different healthcare technologies and platforms, including mobile health (mHealth), health IT, telemedicine and telehealth, wearable data trackers, big data and analytics, and personalised medicine. The digital health market is booming with funding and overflowing with new ideas, as digital health startups raised an unprecedented $8.1 billion in 2018, according to San Francisco-based investment firm Rock Health.

Even though the approaches and specialties in each of these areas are different, all digital health categories share a common goal: use smart connected technology and health data to improve patient outcomes. Specifically, healthcare providers are turning to digital health technologies to:

  • Improve overall efficiency
  • Improve access to healthcare
  • Reduce costs
  • Increase quality
  • Make medicine more personalised for patients.
Better Living with Chronic Disease

One area where digital health tools are coming into play is in the management of complex or chronic diseases. Chronic disease is a major expense for healthcare systems across the globe. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 90 percent of the $3.3 trillion in U.S. healthcare spending is attributed to people with chronic and mental health conditions. If proactive steps aren’t taken to improve prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease predicts that the projected total cost of chronic disease in America could tip the scales at $42 trillion by 2030. Some of the most expensive chronic conditions for healthcare payers are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and arthritis.

Chronic diseases have a diverse range of risk factors, including behavioural (smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity) and biomedical (high blood pressure, obesity, impaired glucose tolerance). By using digital health solutions that keep tabs on risk factors, vital signs, and daily health routines, patients stay engaged in their health journey, improve their lifestyle choices and stay connected to their care team.

Through the use of mobile and computer-based communications, digital health technology, such as Orion Health’s Remote Patient Management (RPM), provides virtual care that encourages patients with chronic diseases to have an active role in managing their health. Engaged patients are more likely to follow treatment plans, take prescribed medications, and recognise when to reach out for their physician’s help–all of which can help prevent avoidable hospital admissions, and better yet, improve overall health, gain a sense of security and enhance quality of life.

Digital Health Put to the Test

One digital health program showing positive results is the Virtual Care Solution (VCS) at the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services. An Internet-based Orion Health RPM solution, the Quebec digital health platform allows providers to care for patients remotely.

In its simplest form, RPM is a personal health assistant, assisting patients in caring for themselves (vitals, signs & symptoms, medication adherence, etc.). It provides a first line of support for simpler situations, teaching patients and family-caregivers how to cope with recurring situations, while alerting clinicians when their expertise is required. In use for several years now in Quebec, the Orion Health RPM has demonstrated that it can substantially reduce emergency department visits and hospitalisation, as well as reducing patient hospital stays when unavoidable, which improves overall efficiency.

A study published by Dr. Ariane Godbout, endocrinologist at University of Montreal Hospital, showed that it is possible to decrease medical visits by 56% when using RPM. This allows physicians to take care of more patients, all while keeping the same quality of care, proving yet again, another important ROI for the Quebec province, where endocrinologist are lacking.

With the RPM platform, the patients learn what symptoms to watch for and receive education and tips on how to manage their health while adopting better lifestyle habits or changing harmful ones. On the caregiver side, a RPM algorithm will alert a monitoring nurse when their expertise is required, allowing management by exceptions, which improves clinical efficiency.