5 Questions You’re Likely Not Asking About Digital Health, But Should

July 1, 2013
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For nearly a decade, I have had the privilege of experiencing, researching and contributing to the digital revolution in health.  When I first started focusing on this space, few were paying much attention.  Today, most people in health recognize that digital is important.

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For nearly a decade, I have had the privilege of experiencing, researching and contributing to the digital revolution in health.  When I first started focusing on this space, few were paying much attention.  Today, most people in health recognize that digital is important.

However, while the digital health conversation has increased in volume, there have been fewer efforts to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  We do a good job of focusing on individual trends and technologies, but rarely examine digital health’s connective tissue to better understand why trends matter over the short and long term.

Are you missing the forest for the trees?  You might be.  Following are five questions you’re likely not asking about digital health, but should.

  1. How Do “Ancient” Technologies Like Social Media and the Web Impact How People Think and Behave – in Context:  The Web and social media have been around for many years, which is why I like to think of them as ancient, when compared with newer tools such as smart watches and medical 3D printing.  Yet, despite our continued focus on the Web and social media, we still have little understanding of how these tools influence how people think and behave – in context.  For example we know that Facebook – when measured in isolation – seems to influence sexual behavior.  But, how does it perform in the context of other information sources such as Google, government Websites and Twitter?  Answering these questions is vitally important if we are to fully unlock the power of digital health content to shape perceptions and save lives.   
  2. Which Non-Sexy Digital Tools Have the Most Potential to Change Consumers’ Daily Interactions With the Health System?  While we focus a lot of attention on smartphones, mobile apps and quantified self, it is likely that a set of non-sexy technologies will do the most to change how consumers interact with physicians and other health providers: e-mail and SMS.  Study after study (including this one) suggests that patients want to have the basic ability to connect with physicians on the go, receive test results, refill prescriptions and more without traveling to a hospital or clinic.  Fortunately, physicians appear to be responding to patients’ requests for digital interaction.  And, public-private partnerships are making it possible for secure patient-physician e-mailing to become more widespread
  3. Which Technologies Will Consumers, Rather Than Investors Choose? Many conversations about digital health begin and end with a focus on the startups that are making waves and developing innovative technologies.  This makes sense because the digital health investment landscape is red hot. However, we rarely spend enough time trying to understand not only which technologies consumers may choose, but why.  What are the fundamental reasons consumers are turning to these technologies and which companies are best positioned to meet their needs?  For some clues, click here.  
  4. How Will We Solve the Health Migration Problem? One of the most fundamental (and longstanding) issues facing health today is how to solve the migration problem.  As people change jobs, health plans and geographic locations, how can we ensure people can take their data with them so that they continue improving or maintaining their health?  Without solving this problem, the digital health technologies we so enthusiastically discuss will never be as effective as they could be.  Fortunately, there are some organizations, like Dossia, working to solve this difficult problem.
  5. What Will Happen if Consumers and Physicians Turn Off The Noise, But Miss Critical Signals? Passive and active sensing devices, social media and more show great promise at helping us to manage and track disease.  Yet, as the volume of data increases, will physicians and consumers simply hit the off button?  The data collection challenges are being solved, but the problem of how to deliver relevant, actionable information at scale still needs to be addressed.

The Forest or the Trees: Which Will You Choose?

The questions I asked above represent only a few of the many that we should be asking ourselves about digital health, but are not.  What will you do?  Will you choose content or context, surface answers or deep truths?  We’re currently running a survey designed to help you understand whether your digital health insights needs are being met, or if you’re at risk being left behind as the digital revolution transforms health.  Nearly 70 of your health industry peers have already taken this 1-minute poll.  Find out how you’re doing (and how you compare with others) by clicking here

image: eHealth/shutterstock