From Enabling Technologies to Wearables to Digital Health
The rationale for digital health is the ability to extend reach, improve quality and reduce cost of care by keeping the patient out of the hospital and emergency rooms. These benefits are particularly impactful for those with chronic diseases, which account for roughly 80% of the US health care expenditures, i.e., $3+ trillion and growing. 50% of the population in the U.S. has at least one chronic disease, of which 50% have two or more. Examples of prevalent chronic diseases are hypertension, obesity, arthritis, asthma, chronic kidney disease, depression, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, sleep disorder and heart failure.
There are also consumer health and wellness applications that are enabled by digital health technologies. These applications usually help to quantify health and wellness performance parameters during activity—ranging from exercise to sleep to meditation, for example.
The figure below is intended to visualize, using a tree analogy, the role of enabling technologies in advancing digital health. Each of the enabling technologies—sensors, connectivity, computation, power and social networks—are important in their own right, but their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. The latter is often referred to as “convergence” of these enabling technologies.
Sensors are key to perception of the world around us and measurement of our own performance parameters. They are often said to make wearables “smart”. One study predicts that sensors will enable a $75 billion wearables technology market by 2025—with health and wellness as a significant application area. The study forecasts 3 billion wearable sensors by 2025, with about 1/3 being new sensor types.
Wearables usually require an electronic power source. As devices are miniaturized to be nonintrusive, the power source has to shrink as well, which underscores the importance of continued advances in battery technology. Mobility and inconspicuousness usually necessitate wireless communication to and from wearables, which makes advances in wireless communications to optimize power and data rate/volume.
Computational technologies (e.g., cloud, data science, artificial intelligence, etc.) enable storing, analyzing and visualizing data for information and insight, which is then communicated to the user’s social network. This social network can include a variety of relationships, including those in the user’s care circle.
Wearables are deployed on the body—often wrist, chest and feet, for example. They can be deployed for sight, hearing, smell, taste, speech, touch and a variety of biomarkers. As such, wearables enable digital health by enabling diagnostics, monitoring and/or therapy. In turn, digital health extends the reach, improves the quality and reduces the cost of care by keeping patients out of the hospital and emergency rooms, and improving quality of life.