Embracing a digital healthcare future 29 Jun 2022
Digital health is an umbrella term encompassing a range of applications from mobile health (mHealth) and wearable devices to telehealth and telemedicine.
In this article, we’ll discuss developments in a selection of these areas and the advances that we expect to see on the horizon. These trends have been amplified greatly by the pandemic, as we have sought to make more efficient use of the existing digital technologies at our disposal.
‘Wearables’ such as smartwatches are now ubiquitous in daily life but have played an increasingly prominent role in clinical trials over the last several years. According to Beroe, there were 460 clinical trials ongoing involving wearables in 2020,  and analysts predict that by 2025, 50% of trials will incorporate them. Indeed, the COVID pandemic has catalysed a swifter shift towards the use of wearables by accelerating the adoption of so-called ‘ decentralised’ and ‘hybrid’ trials, which allow for greater remote participation and reduce the burden on patients.
Using wearable and sensor-based technologies allows for more consistent and quantifiable data collection at different points throughout the day, instead of at a one-off timepoint like the traditional site visit model.
As well as smartwatches (which are now mainstream), technologies available include ingestible smart pills that can help to improve patient adherence, implantable or embeddable devices, and attachable devices that can measure biosignals on the skin. Typical measurements include heart rate, glucose, and sleep patterns, involving therapy areas such as cardiovascular, sleep, stress, and diabetes.
Platforms like Medidata’s Sensor Cloud are now leading the way in allowing for the capture and processing of sensor data from multiple sources. 
As discussed in our JP Morgan round-up earlier in the year, the COVID pandemic has accelerated healthcare models that virtually address patient needs. According to Willis Towers Watson, key upcoming trends include AI- such as AI-powered chatbots providing symptom checks and support, virtual reality enabled therapies and augmented reality to support virtual consultations.
Another area that holds some exciting new developments is the expanding field of digital therapeutics within the clinical domain. These are evidence-based digital interventions designed to help manage or prevent a specific disease or disorder. They are most commonly seen in the mental health domain, for example, in delivering cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to patients. Programmes include treatment for insomnia, substance dependence, diabetes care, chronic pain, and smoking cessation, among others. However, there is still a journey ahead to ensure the right regulatory pathways are in place for these products  – by ensuring governance, we will also promote patient and HCP trust. The NHS has established a Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) around safety, data protection, technical assurance, interoperability, and usability. MHRA has also published its ‘Software and AI as a Medical Device Change Programme’ guidance, expressing its ambition to ensure that the UK is ‘home of responsible innovation for medical device software. 
With spiralling healthcare costs, the economic advantages of these types of interventions are appealing in enabling wellness and disease prevention and treatment, especially in the context of an ageing population and the need for chronic care. 
The rewards of digital health innovation are high and within our grasp- but continued adoption will rely on trust- from regulators, healthcare providers, physicians, and patients alike.
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