The Bracken Blog

Digital Health Trends for 2021

A Hand-Curated Bundle of Goodness

2020 and the global pandemic accelerated innovation and change in many areas, and digital health was no exception. At Bracken Marketing, we noted that the year brought a marked increase in the uptake of digital technologies into healthcare systems. By all indicators, this shift will continue long after the pandemic is over.

This blog examines three key digital health trends we've identified for 2021 and provides resources for learning more.

 

More direct to consumer applications

One macro trend accelerated by COVID-19 in 2020 was digital technology adoption across healthcare systems. The increased attention paid in mass media and consumer mindshare about disease treatment, clinical trials, and other virus-related news due to COVID-19 dramatically shifted consumer attention to this topic. Regulatory changes also accelerated in response to the pandemic. Some of the most notable being emergency use authorization for COVID treatments and more relaxed telemedicine rules to provide more flexibility for patients due to social distancing and travel restrictions.

 

These dynamics have increased consumer’s appetites and readiness for direct-to-consumer healthcare. The rapid timeline by which Operation Warp Speed brought novel vaccines to approval and adoption, as well as other factors, has created an environment where consumer preferences have changed. There is a general higher knowledge about the need for health measures and healthcare, a great understanding of virtual options such as telehealth for healthcare, and a continued reluctance for unnecessary in-person contact.

 

We see 2021 shifting to more direct to consumer digital touchpoints, some related specifically to COVID-19 response:

  • Ready to take a cruise? Maybe not, but check out this initiative by Carnival Cruise Lines for widespread use of wearables to enhance the guest experience and provide safety and tracking measures so heightened in need after the pandemic.
  • Speaking of travel, read this article to learn about some ways that digital health tech will also be potentially impacting your time at the airport.
  • Several airlines are now testing CommonPass, a secure digital health app that stores health information needed for travel, so passengers don’t need to use paper copies of COVID-19 test results.

And unrelated to COVID-19 initiatives, there will likely be more partnerships between big pharma and big tech, such as this one between Apple and Biogen that addresses the high unmet need for early cognitive impairment detection.

 

More data, more trust 

Digital applications at scale drive an unprecedented amount of data. The events of 2020 also heightened the importance and awareness of the role of data across the healthcare continuum. When it comes to data, the overall issue is trust:

  • Transparency - There will be more pressure on sponsors/manufacturers to be transparent about data as regulation worldwide continues to change, and timelines for urgent therapeutics and advancements continue to shorten.

  • Volume - The biggest data challenge used to be scarcity. Now it is too much volume and the need to prioritize multiple, differing data points with new approaches to visualization that are more advanced than those found with traditional dashboards.

  • Ownership - Patients will have more power over their data - changing data privacy environment with laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the U.S. and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU that mandate new consumer data rights over ownership and control. New tools and technologies now can let patients guide their data ownership. One example is Backpack Health, an app that allows patients to collect their data in a clinical study and choose which information to use.

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Artificial intelligence gains more traction

Artificial intelligence in digital health is not a new concept but accelerated significantly in 2020. Driven in part by the massive increase in healthcare data volume driven by digital technologies and the rapid innovation by pharmaceutical and biotech companies to address COVID-19, investment in this sector is at an all-time high.

 

Healthcare AI startups raised over USD 2B just in Q3 2020, and the overall global healthcare AI market is expected to from USD 4.9B in 2020 to USD 45.2B by 2026. (Mehra, A. (2020, June). Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Market. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/artificial-intelligence-healthcare.asp)

 

CB Insights offers another view of the funding landscape and the resultant trends expected in this industry.

 

A common theme in digital health AI are partnerships between pharma/biotech companies and technology companies and we expect this trend to continue:

Here are examples of AI applications across healthcare and life sciences.

 

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Key digital health resources

Staying current with digital health can be overwhelming. Here are three essential resources to get you started.

  • Dime Society -  Founded in 2019, the Digital Medicine Society (DiMe) is the first professional organization for experts from all disciplines comprising the diverse field of digital medicine.
  • Decentralized Trials & Research Alliance (DTRA) - A recently formed industry consortium of stakeholders from healthcare technology and biotech/pharma. DTRA's mission is "to accelerate the adoption of patient-focused, decentralized clinical trials and research within life sciences and healthcare through education and research.”
  • Digital Health LinkedIn Group – one of the largest LinkedIn professional groups, headed by Paul Sonnier, with posts and discussions around digital health.

 

Conclusion

2020 accelerated digital innovation and digital health, but that is just the beginning. As we begin to emerge from the current global pandemic, digital preferences will not disappear.

As consumers, we’ve adjusted to a new way of life, convenience, and digital adoption, and likewise, healthcare sponsors and providers will continue to look for valuable digital solutions. The exponential growth of digital health apps, digital therapeutics, and digital clinical solutions will continue.

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