Today, digital is becoming the main ally of our health. In this post, we’ll look at the topic of Digital Health and what it means, and we will analyze the numbers and trends of this rapidly growing sector.
“Health is the most important thing”. It’s an ancient saying, one that has been repeated for centuries, but has never been so dramatically important as it is now. It is precisely in this period, ravaged by a pandemic that has spared no area of the planet, that we have realized how much digital can and should be the first ally of our health and well-being.
First of all, it is a matter of Digital Transformation applied to the huge and branched pharmaceutical sector. Then, there is an equally important sector, which in many ways is complementary to that of Pharma and is growing at a rapid pace: we are talking about Healthcare, which deals with what is now called Digital Health.
But what is Digital Health, more specifically? That’s what we’ll talk about in the next section.
Digital Health: What is it?
Let’s immediately answer the first question. By “Digital Health,” we mean the use of digital technologies to improve the health and well-being of individuals, but also, consequently, of communities.
Are there examples? Smartphone applications dedicated to health. Wearable devices (so-called wearables): the pharmaceutical company Takeda, for example, is designing an app to combat depression with Apple Watch (cambridgecognition.com). Others, like Roche, are going deeper. Roche has developed a sensor to be implanted under the skin that constantly monitors the blood glucose level of diabetic patients. Then there are ingestible sensors, such as those studied by Proteus Digital Health. There are also projects that combine a wide range of Digital Health devices. Project Blue Sky, born from the collaboration between Pfizer and IBM that, through the use of different sensors and mobile devices, works to constantly monitor patients with Parkinson’s syndrome in real time (ibm.com).
These are just a few examples of a sector that appears to be in continuous expansion and with huge growth margins.
In short, digital will soon become the main weapon for everything concerning the prevention, monitoring, and management of chronic diseases, the improvement of research for new therapies, the reduction of treatment costs, but also — and this is an important point — the development of an increasingly tailored and personalized medicine. At this point, it is not surprising that all indicators go in the direction of a continuous expansion of the market share of Digital Health.
Some numbers in this regard
First of all, it must be stressed that they are not easy to provide, because a lot depends on how certain technologies are categorized.
Having made this necessary premise, we come to some estimates:
- Research and Market estimates that the value of the global Digital Health market will reach $223.7 billion by 2023. In 2019, this figure was $101.4 billion (psmarketresearch.com).
- Global Market Insights forecasts a total share of $379 billion by 2024 and $639 billion by 2026 (gminsights.com).
- According to Transparency Market Research, this same market could be worth $536.6 billion by 2025 (globeswire.com).
One thing is very clear: whatever estimate you decide to consider, the proportions of this growth are impressive. The period in which we are all immersed will only accelerate this trend.
Digital Health is really a revolution that has just begun. What is the “fuel” that makes it possible? It’s something very simple and decisive: the enormous amount of data that digital makes available and “readable”.
Digital Health starts with data
We often hear that data is the new oil of the digital age. Therefore, let’s start from the basics and see what is meant, technically, with “Big Data”, reporting Gartner’s definition: “Big data is high-volume, high-velocity and/or high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing that enable enhanced insight, decision making, and process automation.”
To put it another way, with digital, everything remains “written” and everything can be analyzed: the characteristics of people, past choices, geolocation, behaviors both habitual and those that are out of the ordinary.
It is a matter of learning how to collect this enormous amount of data and then to interpret it in the most functional way for your type of business. And, it’s a matter of doing all of this in the most surgical and automated way possible (hence the growing importance of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning systems which, in turn, can only be based on Cloud Computing).
Now, let’s put all of this in the context of digital health. What kind of data do companies in the sector have available?
- First of all, transaction data: digital payments, invoices, storage, transport, and distribution documents in general;
- Clinical data. Of course this is the most important and sensitive information, and it is of primary importance to manage it according to the law, with maximum attention to privacy and cyber-security. Let’s talk about the data that arrives in real time from different wearable devices, ingested, implanted under the skin, or from the simplest smartphone applications;
- Usage data. In this case, it’s about the way users interface with the devices, and their behavior over time. It is valuable information for developers in order to improve and optimize their products;
- Social data (but not only). Here, we start to widen our gaze even outside the data provided by the devices themselves. It is essential for companies in the sector, in fact, to also analyze the data that detail the use of healthcare devices, especially on social devices. But also, for example, on search engines. These are data that tell us a lot about sentiment and how people feel.
Of course, it is information that must be collected by crossing sources and adopting an omnichannel perspective.
If Big Data, therefore, is fundamental for any kind of business, in the case of Digital Health it goes even further. In fact, there are repercussions in terms of technology development, but also those related to medical and pharmaceutical research. You can then examine the lifestyles of large segments of the population, monitor the incidence of more or less serious diseases, catch trends as they’re emerging, but also evaluate the long-term course. Don’t forget the importance of the dialog between companies and users: with the analysis of data, you can really establish a one-to-one dialog, “intimate” and personalized.
To put it another way, from the huge numbers and data, you can go as far as the actual personalization of health and wellness. Here, the goal is to achieve a tailored but also automated Customer Care Management. This is a goal that companies in the sector can achieve by relying on companies specialized in this field. Such companies put digital security first and ensure that it is continuously updated with the regulations in force.
This is where companies can and must aim. The opportunities in this regard are many and all to be seized. It’s no coincidence that the biggest and most dynamic tech giants have started pointing their eyes on the industry for some time now.
In the next section, we look at the three tech giants of our time: Amazon, Google, and Apple.
Amazon, Google, Apple: the giants are moving
That the giants of tech are investing very heavily in Digital Health is no secret; and it is something that must make you think, is a very clear signal of a trend that promises a very prosperous future.
Let’s start with Amazon, which has decided to put its know-how on the distribution network. The company recently formed a joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase, whose ambitious goal is to optimize and reform the way Healthcare devices are distributed throughout the United States.
Let’s move on to Google, the company that has perhaps the most pervasive and long-term strategy of penetration in healthcare. Google Wear launched in 2014, and more than ever, it looks to the future:
- for example, there is the DeepMind unit, which is applying the most advanced Artificial Intelligence systems in the field of digital health;
- there is also Verily, another Google subsidiary (through Alphabet), entirely dedicated to Life Sciences;
- or Calico, which deals specifically with problems related to aging (always in the Alphabet universe);
- last but not least, comes the creation of an entire department dedicated to the sector, named Google Health.
Finally Apple, which instead has a strategy that is perhaps less visionary, but more based on the present. The central point is to expand the functionality of its wearable devices, such as Apple Watch, increasingly addressing them to Healthcare.
In conclusion: we have seen what Digital Health is and why it has already become one of the strongest trends of the immediate future. What we must always keep in mind, is this: at the center of the digital transformation there is data, of course. But from data you have to move on to people and what people consider most valuable is, precisely, health.