Digital Health: Promise or Not for Pharma?

By Patricia Van Arnum - DCAT Editorial Director

November 15, 2017

Digital health is touted as a key tool for patient compliance and knowledge, so what is the state of digital health in the pharmaceutical industry?

Health-related mobile applications available to consumers now surpass 318,500, nearly double the number available just two years ago, with approximately 200 new apps added to the market each day, according to a recent analysis by IQVIA (formerly QuintilesIMS). DCAT Value Chain Insights examines the numbers.

Digital health and the pharmaceutical industry

The recent IQVIA analysis points out that the application of digital health on patient care is accelerating with increasing adoption of mobile health apps and wearable sensors. There are more than 340 consumer wearable devices on the market worldwide and 571 published efficacy studies, according to the report by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, The Growing Value of Digital Health: Evidence and Impact on Human Health and the Healthcare System. While general wellness apps still account for most mobile health apps available, the number of apps focused on health-condition management, meaning those often associated with patient care, are increasing at a faster rate, representing 40% of all health-related apps.

The report found the sheer volume of available apps presents an overwhelming amount of options for consumers, resulting in 85% of all health apps having fewer than 5,000 downloads. The report points out that there are some clear category leaders within the space, where 41 apps have registered at least 10 million downloads, together representing nearly half of all app download activity. Separately, there is also now at least one high-quality app for each step of the process involving patient outcomes. Use of five of these top health apps could save the US healthcare system an estimated $7 billion per year, according to the study.

“The research suggests an inflection point is occurring within digital health trends regarding innovation, evidence and adoption,” said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, in commenting on the study. “The convergence of those three digital drivers combined with other macro factors, aligns with the development of the newly defined, and emerging discipline of human data science that combines advances in information, transformative technology, and analytics with human data beyond the patient journey to measure and improve health decisions and outcomes. Within that context, we believe the growing innovation, evidence and adoption of digital health tools can have an increasingly positive impact on human health outcomes overall.”

Key findings of the report

The report highlights several key findings with respect to potential healthcare savings, clinical data on digital health’s efficacy, improved user experience for digital-health apps, and removing barriers to widespread adoption of digital health.

Potential healthcare savings. The use of digital-health apps and wearables across five patient populations where they have proven reductions in acute-care utilization (diabetes prevention, diabetes care, asthma, cardiac rehabilitation, and pulmonary rehabilitation) has the potential to save the US healthcare system an estimated $7 billion per year, according to the study. This represents approximately 1.4% of total costs in these patient populations. If this level of savings could be achieved across all disease areas, the report projects that annual cost savings of $46 billion could be achieved.

Clinical evidence on digital health’s efficacy. The report points to increased clinical data supporting the efficacy of digital health, which involves 571 published studies, including randomized controlled trials (RCT) and meta-analysis studies. In particular, the report points to studies for use in treating diabetes, depression and anxiety, which make these categories strong candidates for inclusion in standard-of-care recommendations by clinical guideline writers, according to the study. An additional 24 categories have one or more RCTs with positive results, thereby making associated apps strong candidates for adoption across provider organizations and payer networks. The report says that additional evidence-building efforts continue with 860 clinical trials worldwide now incorporating digital-health tools, including 540 in the US, with two thirds of these focused on apps and text message interventions to smartphones. Eighty-two percent of these trials are sponsored by universities, hospitals, health systems, and other patient-care institutions. Digital tools for remote patient monitoring of chronic health conditions are a key focus.

Apps appear to be improving based on user experience. Fifty-five percent of apps in the AppScript App Database, a proprietary IQVIA database, that launched within the past two years have ratings higher than four stars, compared to 31% of those launched before 2015. “With clear market-leading apps in many health categories, developers getting low-star ratings may either remove apps more rapidly from the store or invest more continuously in updates based on user feedback, [thereby] increasing the value of available apps to the consumer,” according to the IQVIA report. “App stores have also begun removing low-quality apps, including those that are outdated, abandoned, no longer meet current guidelines, or don’t function as intended,” notes the report. Additionally, the report points out that while 73% of apps are available in English, mobile health apps are increasingly supporting a global audience.

Removing barriers to widespread adoption of digital health. Although there still are barriers to widespread adoption of digital-health tools, the report points out that initiatives have emerged to accelerate the ongoing adoption of digital-health tools by care-provider organizations. Specifically, it points to curation platforms that are facilitating the creation of digital therapeutics formularies; privacy and security guidelines; incentives to care-provider organizations to use digital-health through value-based payments; and facilitation by data-integration vendors for more integrated use of digital-health data with existing electronic medical record systems. Additionally, the report points out that investments by healthcare and provider organizations in digital health continue to grow, with an estimated 20% of large health networks shifting from pilot programs to more full-scale rollouts. “Within the next five years, this progression is likely to be true for most healthcare companies and, within 10 years, the use of digital health is likely to be mainstream for most organizations delivering human health,” concludes the report.