The idea of digital health is a canard

KEY TAKEAWAY: Some of the ideas around digital health are pure BS and don’t take into account a patients’ need and want to be seen as an individual.

Karen, a Millennial manager, had a nagging cough that eventually led to a fever. Rather than go to her doctor she went online for a “video consultation” and was prescribed some antibiotics. Three weeks later she was still bothered by a nagging cough and after seeing her doctor was ordered to get an x-ray that showed a small mass in her lungs. Luckily for her it was caught in time, but what if she had just continued to take her antibiotics?

We all keep hearing about digital health, but it seems that a lot of startups have a different view of what that entails than what patients actually want. Patients, first and foremost, want to be seen as individuals who, along with their HCP, want to manage their health. They don’t like waiting weeks, and in some cases, days for appointments, and they want to understand their treatment options.

Last year, in research, I talked to some HCP’s about online video consultations and it scared them to death. As one HCP told me “I need to see a patient in person. I want to assess the whole patient, not just a symptom.” But today too many patients are used to going to their doctor for a problem and walking out with an Rx. Mass market healthcare.

While there are some who are begging pharma to develop apps for health overall app usage could be reaching its cap, according to new data from Flurry Analytics. Although overall usage is still showing signs of growth — it grew 11% year-over-year (YoY) in 2016 — it appears that individual categories are beginning to eat into the share of time users spend on other apps. In the health category the only apps that are growing are fitness apps.

So what is digital health? My definition is as follows: digital health is providing online health seekers with the information they need to manage their health choices and provide reasons/tools why patients should stay compliant. It is also online EHR’s for each patient that can be accessed by each patient’s doctor so that medical information is stored in one place.

Pharma companies should be distracted by ideas that sound great, but that patients won’t use because they don’t want them. This includes the false promise of social media, which patients are reluctant to use because of privacy issues. Most followers of pharma companies on social media are in the industry or follow the industry.

Digital health is like the Fire Department; it’s there in case you need it, but you hope you never do. Pharma needs to focus on their most important digital health Touchpoint, their websites.

Originally published at on January 25, 2017.



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