Changing trends in digital health


APA Innovation Advisor Barry Nguyen explores the shifting consumer trend of digital health tools from fitness to managing conditions.

Rock Health, a leading US venture fund devoted to supporting and investing in digital health startups, recently released a report from a 2018 consumer survey on digital health adoption and sentiments. Comparing the latest results from consumer surveys to previous years, there appears to be a shifting trend from interest in low risk entry digital tools that assist with fitness and wellness towards those that assist with managing health conditions—with the intention to address concrete health needs.

It is important to note these tools often do not reach those who need them the most. Technology adoption has generally been challenging for rural, disabled and elderly populations who often have poor digital literacy and access to the internet and relevant hardware (such as smartphones and computers). Nonetheless, there are an increasing number of exciting startups making digital health tools easier to use and more accessible for these populations.

In the survey, digital health tools were grouped into five different categories:

  • live video telemedicine
  • wearables
  • mobile tracking
  • online provider reviews
  • online health information.

Over the past three years there has been an increase in the adoption of digital health tools and services related to these five categories. More interestingly, despite the leading use of wearables for physical activity, survey results are demonstrating a shift towards using wearables from fitness and wellbeing towards managing diagnoses, which has potential clinical relevance to health professionals.

This trend suggests that healthcare providers will increasingly need to be aware of the emerging consumer use and inquiry of these tools, as the data collected from such devices can potentially assist physiotherapists in providing patients with further insights into their condition.

Another interesting trend is that urban consumers are more than twice as likely to adopt telemedicine services compared to rural consumers. Not surprisingly, tech-savvy millennials are the target market of many of these telehealth startups. Millennials are seeking convenience when engaging in healthcare services, similar to the way they engage in food delivery and transportation services.

It is important to note the two major issues that are potentially stifling consumer digital health adoption—digital health privacy and security concerns, and the discontinued use of digital health tools. There is an increase in public distrust of sharing personal health data with large tech companies due to a number of scandals, such as the highly publicised Facebook and Cambridge Analytica drama. Health professionals (notably physicians), however, remain the most trusted by the public in relation to sharing personal health data.

Some key implications from the survey results:

  • consumers are increasingly aware and engaging in emerging digital health tools, which range from wearables, remote monitoring, mobile apps, telehealth services, online information and reviews
  • there is a gradual shift in consumer interest from fitness and wellness solutions to those that assist in managing their health conditions
  • telehealth adoption is more likely to occur in urban populations
  • telehealth adoption is predominantly driven by tech-savvy consumer behaviours associated with convenience and familiarity, in line with other industries
  • data collected from digital health tools will increasingly provide more meaningful and useful clinical insights beneficial to patients
  • consumers need to be informed of privacy and security concerns that are often not transparent with larger tech companies
  • quality, safety and value need to be considered when it comes to recommending digital health tools to patients.

Click here to see the full report. Email with any comments or queries regarding this article.

Disclaimer: This material is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or meet the specific needs of your clinical context.

© Copyright 2018 by Australian Physiotherapy Association. All rights reserved.