Digital health has become synonymous with disruptive innovation in health care. Proponents say it has the power to transform every aspect of health care delivery, from improving patients’ health status to the process of paying for a medical procedure. Despite that promise, digital health has yet to become ubiquitous in the U.S. health care system, whose annual national expenditures are expected to top $3.7 trillion in 2018.

The following five reports, studies and surveys collectively provide a status report on the current trends in digital health adoption in the U.S. and outline the steps that the industry needs to take to make digital health a foundational aspect of health care delivery.

1. Health care organizations should view their digital technologies as strategic assets

That’s the takeaway from a report by McKinsey & Company. According to the New York-based management consulting firm, most health care organizations mistakenly treat their digital technologies as utilities. “Most pharmaceutical and medical-technology companies are digital laggards compared with companies in travel, retail, telecommunications, and other sectors,” the report said. Managing digital technologies as strategic assets allows health care companies to use their digital capabilities to optimize four dimensions of their businesses:

Five Digital Health Trends to Know
  • Value proposition
  • Delivery capabilities
  • IT infrastructures
  • Core management competencies

With that approach, health care organizations “can tackle their transformation programs successfully, creating better patient outcomes and more value for all stakeholders,” the report concluded.

2. Digital health technologies should be specifically designed for individual human behavior

That’s one of five takeaways from a report by Accenture, the Chicago-based management consulting firm. In its report, Accenture identified five digital health trends reshaping how health care organizations care for patients, manage their operations and connect with other industry stakeholders:

  • Adopting artificial intelligence as the new user interface
  • Building digital ecosystems to work with other patients, providers, payers and suppliers
  • Using online talent platforms to recruit and retain new workers and staff competencies
  • Designing digital tech for humans to make it easier for them to interact with the organization
  • Establishing new data governance rules to oversee the use of digital health information

Regarding individualized digital tech, 81 percent of the health care executives that Accenture surveyed for its report agreed they need to do a better job of designing digital applications that reflect what patients want and that can act as their guide as they navigate the complex American health care delivery system.

3. Hospital digital health priority to shift to patient-generated data and customized services

As noted by the Accenture report, health care organizations have been investing in digital health tools for workforce management purposes. That priority was verified by a report from the American Hospital Association and AVIA, a Chicago-based health system innovation network. The report is based on a survey of 317 hospital and health system executives. Although 85 percent of the executives said digital innovation is tied to their long-term strategy and another 75 percent said digital innovation is necessary for a competitive advantage, most of the focus of their digital investment to date has been on operations. The top two areas have been employee benefits management and operational efficiencies and improvement, cited by 32 percent and 31 percent of the respondents respectively. Moving forward, the top five areas for which the executives said they will be actively seeking a digital solution are:

  • Patient-generated data and customized services (31 percent)
  • Network utilization and management (29 percent)
  • Referral management and in-network retention (29 percent)
  • Social community support (28 percent)
  • Convenient patient access (28 percent)
4. Digital health acumen will become an increasingly critical success factor

That’s the takeaway from a report from Oxford Economics commissioned by the SAP Center for Business Insight. The report is based on a survey of 3,100 executives from companies in different industries across 17 countries. About 400 of the respondents were C-suite level executives from health care companies. Of the surveyed health care executives, 61 percent described digital transformation as critically important to the success of their organizations today. That percentage jumped to 79 percent in two years and 86 percent in five years. If they are to get there, they’ll have to move fast. Asked where their organizations were in their progress toward digital transformation, only 2 percent said they were “complete in all areas.” Of the other respondents:

  • 54 percent said they were piloting digital transformation initiatives
  • 32 percent said transformation was “complete in some areas”
  • 23 percent said they are still planning digital transformation initiatives

The biggest obstacle to digital transformation that health care executives foresee is “the lack of mature technology,” cited by 48 percent of the respondents.

5. Consumer digital health tools increasingly will focus on chronic disease management

They’re not just for counting steps anymore. Digital health tools are shifting away from general health and wellness applications to the management of health conditions and specific chronic diseases. That’s the lesson from the latest report on digital health apps from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. In its new report, IQVIA documented the explosion in digital health apps. It said the number of health apps and wearable health devices on the market reached 318,572 in 2017, nearly double the 165,169 available in 2015. In 2015, only 10 percent of the health apps and devices targeted specific health conditions. By 2017, that share rose to 16 percent. The most common chronic medication conditions targeted in 2017 were:

  • Mental health and behavioral disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Heart and circulatory systems

“The next wave of innovation among wearable sensors focuses on detecting various health parameters and vital signs with accuracy, which may enable population-based screening and monitoring and replace bulky clinical devices,” the report said.

Combined, the five trends offer a roadmap to health care organizations that know that going digital is the future of health care delivery and financing but aren’t sure where to begin their journey.

Related: Learn more about McKesson's digital solutions for independent pharmacies.

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McKesson editorial staff is committed to sharing innovative approaches and insights so our customers can get the most out of their business solutions and identify areas for operational improvement and revenue growth.

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