Using digital health technology to shift the treatment paradigm

Digital health is poised to help change how preventative care is delivered nationally, with digital health technology playing a role in how patients are taught to recognize telltale signs of more serious conditions.

Today we have an unprecedented ability to not just gather data, but analyze it and predict what the data means. Unfortunately, we harness all this information and apply it in the old paradigms.

Moving medicine forward

Why continue attempting to resuscitate old methods when we have new, more efficient alternatives at our grasp? I believe that the applications of digital health technology should lead to actions that support paradigm shifts. We should not apply digital health technology to just continue more of the same that we see in healthcare today – the latest expensive treatment, shifting a single molecule to extend the patent life of a drug, or building a bigger laser to cut cancer cells out of people.

All of this power can be transformative only if we look at healthcare differently and apply technology differently. As it has been said: “I have a computer in my pocket that accesses all the world’s knowledge. I use it to get in arguments with strangers and watch cat videos.” Let’s not make the same mistake with digital health.

Investing in progress

We are spending billions of dollars on digital health. Let’s reconfigure that investment and focus on a new way of practicing medicine and preventing patients from making the same mistakes. We know payers and providers seek value. So, logically we should shift financing to deliver superior outcomes at a more affordable cost. We know the value of early intervention. Let’s help consumers become more aware of their health, and empower them to take charge.

Abandoning the “fix-it” mentality

Can we use digital health to support a transformation of the U.S. healthcare system to one where we focus on health and wellness first and cost effective delivery of acute care “fixes” second? Digital health technology provides us opportunities to move the nationwide healthcare perspective from a “fix-it” mentality to one where individuals can take charge of their health before their health becomes an issue to “fix”.

Wearables represent one such need for this shift. There are thousands of digital wearable healthcare products, ranging from data trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone to MindRDR TV, a headset that uses brainwaves to change channels on your TV.

Recently an analyst postulated that 50% of Fitbit users stopped using the device within six months. Why? One likely reason: The collected data does not lead to actions a consumer can take to directly better their health. It merely tracks information that (in the best case scenario) gets dumped into existing systems.

What health and auto repair have in common

I liken preventative health to auto repair. Most of us know that blue smoke coming out of the exhaust of our car is bad. Why? Not because most of us have experienced it, but because at some point we were taught it was a bad sign.

The true impact of digital health technology like wearables will allow us to educate and teach people how to take better care of their bodies by alerting them to the blue smoke, before the piston rings are damaged, and we need an engine overhaul.

The future of wearables

Google X is developing wearables that provide a continuous stream of medical-grade measurements of biological signals. These diagnostic wearables will allow us to help people understand whether their halitosis is fetor hepaticus indicating liver disease or just a remnant of last night’s lasagna.

Glucose-sensing contact lenses, ingestible wearable sensor platforms, laser spectrometry of the biochemical make up of our breath – all of these advances in digital health move us from reacting to pains and maladies, to becoming aware of looming breakdowns in our bodies before they happen.

There is no silver bullet in healthcare, no one thing to “fix” the U.S. Healthcare System. Digital health represents just one step in a process to raise our collective healthcare IQ. Using innovations like diagnostic wearables to shift paradigms rather than adding expense and complexity to the healthcare system will be a good first step.

Brian Beutner

Following the sale of mPay Gateway to PaySpan, Inc., a leader in the healthcare payments industry, Brian now focuses on advising start-ups and their founders as they expand their innovative concepts into viable businesses. Brian is a member of Twin Cities Angels and served as Chair of the MNsure Board of Directors for two years.