Digital health On factorcontributing to the growth of digital tools in health care: U.S.regulators, notoriously slow to respond to change, are actuallypoised to become more nimble. (Image: Shutterstock)

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Continuing innovation, both in the U.S. and abroad, coupled withconsumer demand, is accelerating the global health care system'suse of digital tools, a new report finds.

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The new report, "TheTop 5 Trends Shaping the Future of Digital Health," wasreleased recently by Business Insider Intelligence. It suggeststhat market forces, regulatory moves and technology are combiningfor explosive growth of digital health tools and platforms.

Innovations in emerging markets

The study notes that paradoxically, established markets such asthe U.S. and Europe may not be as ripe for innovation compared toemerging markets such as China and India. "Digital health companiesin many emerging markets have fewer incumbents to compete with andless legacy infrastructure to overcome compared with developedmarkets like the U.S.," the report said. "That means there arefewer barriers to establishing new products and services. It couldalso mean that governments will work to remove regulatoryconstraints to help the emerging industry grow faster."

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In addition, Asian countries tend to have large populations, anda high percentage of consumers in poor, rural areas. The reportsaid this means that these markets will be able to test innovationson a wide scale and will have incentives to keep the innovations asaffordable and accessible as possible.

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In the U.S. particularly, expect to see more consolidation, the study said. Theresearchers predicted three ongoing developments: legacy firms willmerge and use their combined resources to protect or gain marketshare; legacy firms will also acquire digital startups as theycompete with other players, and tech giants will partner withlegacy firms, rather than competing directly with them.

Regulators are getting up to speed

The report said that U.S. regulators, notoriously slow torespond to change, are actually poised to become more nimble. "Thespeed at which digital health technology sprung up far outpaced theU.S. government's ability to regulate these new services," theresearchers note. "But efforts started in 2017 by the FDA willbegin to have an impact in 2018."

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"Moreover, the focus of these bills is on expediting the time ittakes for innovative products to come to market — such as theupdated Medical Device User Fee Agreement (MDUFA) — or on expandingthe reach and purview of mobile solutions — such as the CHRONICCare Act," the report added.

The rise of AI and chatbots

The new study noted several AI-type efforts, such as IBM'sWatson and MDLIVE, which are providing useful new health careapplications. These efforts improved diagnostic results as well asencouraged patient interactions with providers.

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"In 2018, it's likely we'll see even more examples of AI'scapabilities as firms work to prove the effectiveness of theirsolutions, not only to justify the massive investments being made,but also as a way to rise to the top of what's becoming anextremely competitive market — healthcare AI VC deal volume andfunding hit a five-year high in 2016, with $794 million ininvestments," the report said.

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On the down side, however, cyber-attacks are likely to continueto accelerate, as health data continues to move from paper todigital forms, the study said. Both patients and providers willfind these attacks costly, possibly creating more pressure forregulation in this area.

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