5 Key Digital Health Trends and How to Implement Them

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Yuliia Podorozhko
Market Researcher

The amount of money invested in digital health startups reached new heights in 2021 — over the course of the year, the sector’s funding increased by 79%, hitting a record US$57 billion. Covid-19 outbreak may have sparked the sharp uptick in digital health innovations, but healthcare’s movement towards digitalisation started long before.

For example, telehealth existed, but its use increased dramatically during lockdowns, helping patients replace in-person appointments with virtual ones. Among Americans alone, the rate of adoption of telehealth apps grew from 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020. Demand creates its own supply, and many telemedicine apps appeared on the market to help people obtain digital consultations. 

By 2028, Grand View Research estimates the global digital health market will hit US$299 billion. And that figure doesn’t include health-adjacent industries such as fitness apps and wearables. As a result of Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing rules, fitness apps saw a major boost too, and this market is projected to reach US$15.6 billion by 2028. 

When building SmartRun, a health-adjacent app,  MadAppGang gained some in-depth perspective of global digital health trends. We want to share our expertise here with the hopes of helping healthcare providers build modern telehealth apps and enable digital transformation. Join us for a discussion of the digital health industry trends for 2022 and beyond. 

Core digital health industry trends in 2022

The healthcare sector experienced many disruptions in the past two years, and this is expected to continue with rising digitisation. We will see plenty of innovations over the next few years, from smart thermometers to robot surgery performed via virtual reality. The key digital health trends for 2022 and beyond are powering these innovations, and will eventually enable better medical care and drive industry transformation:

Artificial Intelligence for better diagnostics and drug development

The application of artificial intelligence (AI) encompasses a range of problem-solving techniques, including reasoning, knowledge representation, and solution search. All be used to develop smart systems that assess patient medical information and suggest treatment strategies. 

One example is Microsoft's Project Hanover, a database of biomedical research papers that expedites the diagnosis of cancers and helps determine which drugs to use for each patient.

Likewise, AI plays a crucial role in pharmaceutical research, helping with rational drug design, decision-making, and clinical data analysis. Furthermore, AI can partially automate the drug discovery process, which is notoriously slow and costly. Using a map of molecule distribution and properties, AI-powered algorithms can help select appropriate molecule combinations for further testing. In addition to bringing much-needed medical supplies to market more quickly, this could save millions of dollars and years of work.

Internet of Things (IoT) for smart hospitals and remote care

Smart hospitals are a redesign on previous models and focus on the digitalisation of services. This includes the management of electronic records as well as intelligent and connected medical devices that utilise cutting-edge technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, augmented or virtual reality, communication technologies (ICTs), and more. IoT-enabled systems, known as remote patient monitoring (RPM), are particularly useful for smart hospitals and remote healthcare. 

RPM systems continuously track patients' health indicators such as blood pressure, body temperature, or oxygen saturation via smart health wearables, and then send data for further analysis. This method not only provides reliable data for diagnosis, but also allows medical staff to perform their duties more efficiently, quickly, and take care of more patients during the day. IoT-enabled systems also let doctors monitor patients remotely and can help reduce overcrowding at hospitals.

Heartbeat monitoring. SmartRun app.

Extended and virtual reality (VR)

Augmented reality (AR) combines digital elements, sounds, or other sensory input with technology to enhance the real-life experience. The concept of virtual reality (VR) is a simulation of the real world that can be similar or totally different. In spite of their differences, both VR and AR aim to simulate or alter reality, which is why they can be useful in entertainment, education, and healthcare. 

Here are a few examples of how these digital health trends can be applied in medicine:

  • Educational purposes – AR and VR are the ideal environments for training students and doctors to perform complicated operations without the risk of committing a fatal error.

  • Robotic surgery – It's possible to use robots controlled by humans through VR technology to perform precise surgeries.

  • Assistance in emergency situations – AR-enhanced maps make it easier to locate pharmacies, medical centres, and other healthcare facilities.

  • Depression and anxiety treatment – Patients can use safe VR environments for meditations or relaxation.

  • Rehabilitation – Fun and motivating AR and VR activities can maximise the effectiveness of rehabilitation measures by encouraging patient engagement.

Blockchain for improved security

There’s nothing new about this digital health trend; blockchain has been discussed for a decade, but as digital security demands become more complex and regulated, blockchain is increasingly relevant in healthcare. This system duplicates and distributes data across the network in a manner that makes it impossible to alter, or hack.  

Centralised network vs Blockchain peer-to-peer network. Source: OECD

When it comes to digital healthcare, blockchain is best suited for:

  • Managing supply chains (medicines, clinical supplies, blood products, medical devices).  
  • Establishing unique credentials so individuals can safely access health data when necessary.
  • Enabling secure identification (for clinic staff, caregivers, patients) by ensuring the integrity and transparency of identities.
  • Protecting patient data when using IoT devices.

Cloud and big data

The public cloud is an ideal platform for big data since it stores and provides digital resources on demand and makes advanced technologies affordable for any organisation. And big data, in its turn, provides many benefits to the healthcare industry. For example, sharing and analysing big data (laboratory test results, on-field research, study cases, and more) can help identify and treat diseases as well as predict epidemics.

Other examples of big data use include, but are not limited to:

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) – Patients' charts in digital form. EHRs are secure, real-time records about patients that make information readily available to authorised users. EHRs enable clinicians to use advanced decision-making tools, and automate and streamline their workflow.

Strategic planning Utilising big data in healthcare allows hospitals to predict peak periods when they might need more specialists and schedule working hours accordingly. On a global scale, big data enables the creation of heat maps (epidemic outbreaks, increase in chronic diseases, risks of natural disasters, and so on) and their pairing with healthcare coverage maps. Such analysis helps to quickly add care units to problem areas and revise medical supplies and delivery strategies.

Prevention of narcotic drug abuse In 2020, drug overdoses caused more accidental deaths (93,000) in the U.S. than road accidents (42,060). Some of these accidents were caused by human error, for example, incorrectly prescribed doses or drug misuse by patients. Advances in technology can help prevent this. By leveraging big data (medical and insurance claims data, pharmacy access data, and more), it’s possible to spot individuals who are developing addictions and provide timely assistance. 

How to leverage digital innovations in healthcare?

Now, how do we introduce all the innovations and telehealth services to medical institutions? Building a solid digital foundation is the most logical first step. In many cases, that means embracing a cloud-native approach and moving to the cloud (be it public, private, or hybrid). Cloud-native software is secure, easy to scale, and offers endless possibilities to introduce the latest digital transformation trends in healthcare.

The healthcare industry is notorious for its storage and processing workloads, as well as its strict regulatory and compliance requirements. By becoming cloud-native, your organisation will be able to handle a growing volume of data, and the workload of your in-house team. Big cloud vendors will take care of most routine tasks for you.

Furthermore, cloud services come with useful tools for integrating innovations into your system quickly and effectively. For example, Google Cloud offers a whole range of AI products and services. Meanwhile platforms like Amazon Sumerian facilitate the creation of AR and VR environments and integrate with cloud solutions effortlessly.

As with any advanced technology, adopting cloud-native is a complex process that requires consistency, financial and time investments, and a high level of technical proficiency. 

Even if you have an in-house team, the chances are you'll need a helping hand from experienced specialists like MadAppGang. You can rely on us at any stage of your institution's digital transformation, from software architecture consulting and the reorganisation of processes according to cloud-native principles to leading the project from A to Z. Contact us and find out how our technical expertise can benefit your organisation.