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Digital Health Trends 2018

Digital Health – what to expect in 2018?

The digitization in healthcare is continuously growing and has a large impact on different areas. Over the past few years the healthcare industry went through numerous challenging changes and there are more to come. During a recent webinar provided by CBInsights, Nikhil Krishnan, a senior analyst spoke about digital health trends to consider in 2018. This article aims at summarizing the most important aspects of these trends and how we, as a digital agency with numerous clients in the healthcare sector, see our role as consultants in facing these challenges.

Trend 1: Pharma is moving into a service oriented direction

There are different acquisition areas from which pharma companies can profit. They can use digital health to reach consumers directly and propose them individualized services. In order to do so pharma companies acquire digital health companies or startups. In a recent announcement Roche, the global pharmaceutical company from Switzerland, confirmed the acquisition of the startup Flatiron Health, which is analyzing real-time oncology data to help cancer patients and doctors. Furthermore, medical devices corporates such as wearables companies can provide consumer and user experience expertise. Last but not least tech giants such as Apple, Google or Amazon push further into healthcare and acquire companies knowledgeable in healthcare analytics and data sources.

Trend 2: Health giants get into each other’s business lines

The entrance of tech giants in the healthcare sector is forcing existing pharma companies to bundle services together. Experts are talking about the “Amazon Effect”, which has made its first apparition in late 2017 with the case of CVS acquiring Aetna. Amazon is getting licensed in several US states to starting selling prescription drugs – a development that is a threat to companies such as CVS, that are also selling drugs online. Next to large acquisitions pharma companies are forming partnerships and creating new business lines.

Trend 3: Tech giants push further into health

Investments of tech companies in the healthcare sector already started in 2012. As big data and software are becoming increasingly important in healthcare, tech companies have an advantage given their expertise and their direct relationships with consumers. In consequence a lot of professionals and researchers are moving from healthcare to tech. The pinnacle of this trend was reached by the end of January 2018 with the news that Amazon, Berkshire and J.P. Morgan plan to form a non-profit company with the goal to lower healthcare costs for their high number of U.S. employees. The concrete plan behind this new step is still unknown but the industry is already curious.

Trend 4: Increase in virtual trials

The editor-in-chief of ASH (American Society of Hematology), Mikkael Sekeres, criticized the increase of administrative work when dealing with CROs (Contract Research Organizations) in his editorial titled “Contract Research Agonizations”. In his opinion piece he addressed the necessity of the careful monitoring of therapeutic clinical trials to ensure patient safety and assess drug efficacy. However he stressed that the highly administrative requirements of these trials antagonizes this aim. The answer, which has been supported by several professionals and researchers, shows that different persons in the healthcare sector share his opinion.
Some pharma companies tried a new way of conducting trials: virtual trials. There are numerous benefits of these, such as the possibility to include more patients, to lower the costs and to ease the trackability of the results. For instance GSK set up a clinical trial running on Apple’s ResearchKit framework. The idea behind this mobile trial is not to replace conventional clinical trials because these apps, which are being used, can’t assess the safety or efficacy of an experimental drug. However, mobile trials can help pharma companies to gather Real-World-Data on the daily lives of people that suffer from a certain disease such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
Besides, in October 2017 the Los Angeles-based research company Science 37 conducted the first fully virtual clinical trial for AOBiome Therapeutics. This trend will increase in 2018 and challenges the positioning of conventional CROs, especially when putting into consideration how professionals and researchers perceive them.for conventional CROs’ positioning, especially when considering how professionals and researchers perceive them.

Trend 5: Research into excessive smartphone usage and mental health

The modern phenomenon of nomophobia – the fear of being without a mobile phone – is playing a bigger role within research in 2018. Studies found that we are highly attached to our smartphone to such an extent that our brains treat our devices like relationship partners.
Besides, new research found evidence that high screen time is linked to a higher risk of depression and suicide among teenagers, especially among girls. In answer to this development startups are trying to combat screen addiction by combining the latest data science and artificial intelligence to help people change their overuse behavior.

Trend 6: The interaction of sleep and healthcare

Sleep is an attractive area because it enables to target health-conscious buyers, it creates valuable datasets to understand the relationship of sleep and health and it is an additional way to create direct-to-consumer relationships. These arguments encourage companies to take a closer look at the above mentioned relationship. Since there is a lot that we don’t know about it, researchers are conducting an increasing number of studies to understand the role of sleep. Besides, Apple is looking into the sleep ecosystem with pre-installed apps on their devices that integrates sleep tracking in to the personal health record.

Trend 7: Increasing use of light in diagnostics and therapies

Not only are smartphones used to track all kinds of data, new chips, hardware, and light applications can even turn them into diagnostics tools. Different elements on our smartphone, such as a camera, an ambient light sensor, and a proximity sensor help tech companies to monitor different biomarkers and therefore gain valuable insights.
In addition, the combination of phone cameras, UV light and faster processors leads to mobile fluorescence microscopes, which are useful for disease diagnostics. Light is also used for therapies in the areas of dermatology, neurology or newborn healthcare. Numerous startups have begun working with phototherapy to cure diseases.

Trend 8: The blockchain hype

In theory blockchain addresses several problems faced in healthcare, such as data governance and interoperability, supply chain management, faster and rule-based authorizations and adjudications. It becomes an attractive way for startups to get money, so the ICO (Initial Coin Offering) funding, being used by startups to bypass the regulated capital raising process required by venture capitalists or banks, is taking off. Besides, the media are compounding this, as they want to understand how blockchain can impact healthcare. Across all different fields of healthcare we see new healthcare ICOS popping up and some pharma companies start blockchain projects. However, the massive price swings demonstrate volatility in the space, being a risky and unregulated environment.

These trends show that the digitization is already having a large impact on different aspects of the healthcare sector: further acquisitions of startups by pharma companies, tech giants shaking up healthcare, new technologies for diagnostics and therapies and new research areas. The industry will face different challenges in 2018 and as an agency we have to be aware of them in order to keep pace with the times and latest trends when consulting our existing and potential clients.

This article only points out 8 of the 11 trends outlined in the webinar, because the other ones had a US focus, which is less relevant in the context of this blog. The whole webinar. held by Nikhil Krishnan can be looked up on the CBInsights YouTube channel.

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