As the U.S. population ages and develops chronic diseases more frequently, provider organizations are turning to digital tools to meet increased demand for healthcare, according to a new report from Ernst & Young .
Venture capital money has been pouring into digital health. In 2017, there were 345 digital health investment deals, totaling $5.8 billion—up 30% over 2016, according to venture fund Rock Health. Lower technology costs and more advanced technology fueled that growth, and those changes will lead to a proliferation of health data, EY said.
Still, patients' digital engagement remains low. In the U.S., one-third of seniors and 20% of people between 18 and 29 years old communicated digitally with healthcare providers, according to the report. Across all age groups, most people did not use smartphone-connected monitoring devices, with the least use—only 3%—among people 65 and older.
The problem stems from providers more than consumers and patients, said David Copley, global health sector assurance leader for EY.
"The health sector, traditionally a laggard in innovation, hasn't yet fixed its convenience problem and is now working to catch up in implementing technologies and an infrastructure to support digital tools," he said. "The adoption has been slower for the health market primarily because of its fragmentation."
EY recommended that providers invest in digital tools to promote high quality, low-cost care. Stakeholders from across the industry stand to benefit, as patient-generated data, combined with clinical and claims data, provide a more complete view of patients, according to the report.
The firm maintained that patients are ready to engage with providers to improve their wellness, and the barrier to entry is low thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, cheap sensors and more health data.
Healthcare providers can learn from other sectors and harness consumerism to encourage patients to engage with their health, EY said.
The global market for home-monitoring tools is slated to grow from $17 billion in 2016 to $48.5 billion in 2024. Disease-monitoring and diagnosis tools were the most-funded segments of digital health in the first quarter of fiscal 2018, according to Rock Health.
The success of those tools depends in part on the data that emerge. "American consumers are open to sharing health-related information such as their medical history with their physician digitally, but are less interested in sharing lifestyle-related data," the report said. When patients do share data, it's often because they want shorter wait times and lower costs.
Both the public and private sectors have been encouraging patients to share and control their health data.
"The rising wave of consumer-centricity is going to lift the boats of those most prepared to offer consumers and patients a smooth ride," Copley said.
The CMS earlier this year announced MyHealthEData, an initiative to give patients more control over their health information. Apple has been connecting more health systems' electronic health records to its Health app, to allow patients to aggregate their records.
More than 80% of physicians think that more data from patients will improve the quality of care and make it more personalized, according to the EY survey.
"The value of health companies will not be in just owning the data but rather in the algorithms and the ability to use the insights they generate to affect health outcomes," said David Roberts, EY global health sector leader, in a statement.
To that end, providers should come up with overarching strategies for how they deal with data, Copley said. Those strategies should include integrating nonclinical data with EHR data, user experience, interoperability and engaging a diverse set of patients.