Why 2016 Was the Year of Digital Health

2016 marked an important point in the history of digital health–46% of consumers are now considered active digital health adopters, according to a comprehensive new report from digital health venture fund Rock Health.

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46% represents a record for the highest number of digital health users in the history of the industry. In fact, a 2015 report from the same company found only 19% of those surveyed were “digital health adopters”–specifically, individuals who have used three or more categories of digital health tools (wearables, telemedicine, etc.). Similarly, only 12% of Americans are now considered “non-adopters,” down from 20% in 2015.

Key Insights From the Report

Why was 2016 such a landmark year for this burgeoning industry? At least one reason is clear: consumers are increasingly motivated to both personally access and share their personal health records. According to the report, a majority of Americans want an electronic version of their health records, and 20% have requested or downloaded a copy in the last six months.

Similarly, an astonishing 77% of those surveyed expressed interest in sharing their health information, particularly if it allowed for better physician care. 62% would be willing to share their health data to advance medical reasons, and 42% would sell their data in exchange for financial compensation.

These statistics emphasized a national movement toward health information sharing, which is exactly the type of process that digital health facilitates.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.18.34 AMIt is important to note, however, that the drive toward digital health is still closely tied to physicians. Doctors are the single most trusted entity to keep health data private, according to the survey (the government ranks at the bottom of that list). Likewise, physicians rank first among health entities that most closely align with consumer values. And, significantly, nearly 33% of people who downloaded a health app did so because it was directly recommended by a doctor.

Clearly, digital health must be more closely integrated with direct provider care. Rick Roth, Chief Strategic Innovation Officer at Dignity Health, agrees, saying: “Part of the problem is that virtual care is disconnected from payers and providers. It may offer immediacy, but it doesn’t help longitudinally in managing the overall patient journey.”

Wearables and telemedicine, two of the five categories of digital health tools discussed in the report, both rose in prominence in 2016. Nearly 25% of Americans now own a wearable, as opposed to 12% in 2015. Similarly, telemedicine adoption tripled in 2016, ending at 22%.

The Future of Digital Health

What does this boom in digital health adoption mean for the future of the industry? Well, first of all, the boom is expected to continue–the report predicts another record year for digital health in 2017.

There are a few things that major industry players should focus on in the coming year to maintain this kind of market growth. As mentioned above, it is important that all digital health tools connect the patient directly to a physician.

Secondly, digital health companies might want to consider developing senior-friendly technology. According to the report, the percentage of digital health adopters decreases dramatically the older the age group. Only 10% of those who are 55 or older own a wearable, compared to 40% of millennials. And only 19% of the 55+ age group would trust a technology company with their healthcare data, compared to 38% of those under 55.

Despite these obstacles, it seems clear that the digital health industry has become an important part of many consumers’ lives. If the trends seen in the report continue, 2016 could mark the entrance into a new age of fully integrated digital health across the country.

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