Five Hot Digital Health Trends to Watch in 2016

February 9, 2016

By: Molly Maloof, MD The digital healthcare scene is booming. Molly Maloof gives her predictions for the five hottest digital health trends to watch in 2016.

2016 is upon us and the big question on everyone’s mind is whether the digital health industry will experience the sustained upward growth seen in 2014 and 2015. 2014 kicked off digital health in a big way with major trends, including wearables for wellness, Google Glass, IBM Watson, mHealth Apps, and cloud-based EHRs. 2015 saw the continued growth of these technologies, and we saw data interoperability, telemedicine, wearables for chronic disease tracking, connected health devices (IoT), digital health clinics, and predictive analytics trending. In this article we will dive into five major digital health trends to keep an eye out for in 2016.

Connected Health Devices (IoT) and Wearables to become Increasingly Actionable

People are over tracking for the sake of data. The real question is how to put together the streams of data from our peripheral sensors and actually improve health outcomes. Fitbits are being combined with health coaching, lab testing, and genomics at companies like Arivale and MDRevUp with the goal of optimizing wellness and reducing cardiovascular disease risk, respectively. New devices are being unveiled that will make a big impact on real health problems. Wearable and IoT temperature monitors are being marketed to women looking for better fertility tracking. These are being combined with mobile apps that help track different aspects of a woman’s behavior and menstrual cycle. Google recently patented new solar powered contact lenses that are capable of collecting biological data from the user while communicating the information to computers. They have been tested to measure glucose levels in tears through a small wireless chip and glucose sensor. The technology’s sensors may even be able to collect information on the users’ environment. The big question everyone wants to know is when non-invasive hydration and glucose sensing will arrive. This is probably five years away (maybe sooner), but it will transform consumers’ daily health experience. 

Health Apps Will be used as Diagnostic and Therapeutic Tools

Health apps really started to make an impact in 2014, continuing into 2015. It is becoming commonplace for people to have at least one health app installed on their phone that allows for the management of care at any place, at any time. Dexcom, a glucose monitoring technology developer, recently came out with an app that connects to their implantable glucose sensing device which eliminated the need for carrying an extra pocket electronic device. Telemedicine app companies like Teledoc are being marketed to doctors looking to make extra money on their off hours and patients who want convenient, on-demand access to care. Care coordination apps like Care Cliques are useful for doctors as they work towards optimizing patients’ health remotely. With platforms like ResearchKit enabling digital research studies to be conducted, we will see even more major partnerships between technology companies, pharma, and academia that will drive this trend forward into 2016. We’ll continue to see apps evolve into diagnosis and monitoring tools for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke care.

Privacy and Cybersecurity become Pivotal for Sustained Growth of Digital Health

As people continue to transition to mobile health apps, wearables, digital records, and other online doctor/patient communications, the issue of security will become a larger reality. The gray market of data brokers will become more transparent and people will begin to realize the risks of having their health data digitized. Insurers have tightened their security with the rise of new online health practices. Major hacks that occurred in 2015 affected hundreds of millions of customers. Around 40 percent percent of the customers polled by PwC explained that they would leave or consider using a different organization if their current one was hacked. It’s clear that this issue will be in the forefront of both the patients’ and doctors’ minds when it comes to new health technology. 

Platforms Will Reign Supreme in 2016

Rather than companies creating single solutions through apps, wearables, etc., we may begin to experience the rise in companies promoting themselves as the major provider with a one stop platform for patients to utilize. Great examples of this trend are:

Samsung’s creation of SAMIIO: Short for Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions, it is a cloud-based software data exchange platform.

Apple’s HealthKit: This is a software platform designed to make data from collecting data from various health and fitness apps easily available to Apple users through the company's new health app.

Vendors are looking to provide effective, powerful data through platforms rather than single apps. Cloud-based solutions will play a part in this as well when conveying data. This could allow for easy and efficient access to data outside of a clinic’s walls. Examples of this are:

Salesforce’s Health Cloud: This claims to take, “you beyond records, to connect providers with patients anytime and anywhere. So you gain a more complete view of health data-and your patients become active partners in making informed health decisions."

Amazon’s Web-service Cloud: This solution aims to provide data storage and analysis with privacy and security features built in. 

Patients will want to access their medical data through the cloud in a secure manner. The cloud will see new standards developing to make solutions available to both doctors and patients. In addition to these points, we will see doctors becoming IT leaders through the use of these online platforms. Vendors will need to make sure they have the correct expertise as they work with clinical IT leaders if they want to see success with their digital clinical solutions.

Augmented Reality is on the Rise

TechRepublic reported some interesting uses that augmented reality (AR) technology provides within the learning environment for medical students. One company, ARnatomy is working to provide a better method of learning the anatomy of the body. They are developing an app that will match a specific bone (such as a femur) with visuals and information on the bone itself. Students can even manipulate a skeletal model for a more “hands-on” experience. Another example is the AccuVein, a handheld scanner that can project over skin while pointing out where veins and valves are on the patient’s body. It enables doctors or nurses to find a vein more easily while lowering the possibility of missing on the first stick. There is also Vipaar, which is a video support system that allows a doctor in a different location to project his or her hands on a display that the on-site surgeon can see. As a result, remote expertise can be obtained through AR, a valuable learning tool for students or doctors requiring additional expertise in particular situations. Anatomage is a company that has created a digital dissection table that enables students to learn about anatomy without having to expose themselves to formaldehyde.

 With these digital health trends, we’ll see the exciting future of medicine of taking shape in 2016!