You’ve seen these buzzwords floating around the internet. But what do they mean? And more importantly, why should they matter to you? The rise of consumer technology in healthcare has been creeping forward for decades. But the COVID-19 pandemic provided the perfect storm to rapidly accelerate the trend.
The way you find a doctor, get prescriptions, pay for care, and stay healthy is changing. And while this brings opportunities for improved quality and convenience, it also brings certain risks and pitfalls. Here's what you need to know...
Digital Health isn’t just Telehealth
The most well-known and highly adopted application of digital health is a video chat visit with a clinician, often referred to as telehealth. In terms of technology, this is essentially a glorified FaceTime. But digital health includes much more, from prescriptions dispensed over text message to AI chat-bots that help with diagnosis, to “smart” tampons. The term can also apply to the infrastructure making care delivery possible. For example, software like Healthie lets “traditional” medical practices offer telehealth, build a patient-friendly portal, and more. In general, the trend in digital health is to make healthcare more consumer driven.
In the last 3 years, venture capitalists invested >$15B in Digital Health
Why should you care? Venture capital (VC) investment more or less determines the products you get to use and love. Without VCs, we’d still be hailing Taxi cabs or ordering takeout over the phone. New technology is brought to market largely via venture investments. Even large health companies, think Kaiser Permanente, have venture funds. So, as you’re reading this, VCs are choosing which digital health products and services you’ll be using for the next 5 years. In 2021 alone, venture investment into digital health more than doubled. They’re betting big that the future of healthcare is largely virtual.
Digital Health providers often offer lower prices with more transparency
I’ve never met a healthcare company (startup or otherwise) that didn’t claim to be “affordable.” Even the luxury, concierge practices think they are ultimately an “affordable” option for the wealthy, because they save time and headache. But affordable means different things to different people. How does $100 for a doctor’s visit sound? Would you be willing to pay $200 if the doctor had a nicer, easier to use app?
In general, many digital health companies have lower prices than their traditional counterparts. However, the bar is low since the alternative is your local hospital system, which probably has overinflated prices. One of the major positive trends in digital health is that prices are typically published on the website, offering a level of transparency never before seen in US healthcare.
Digital Health isn’t great for managing the whole you (yet)
Remember we talked about how venture capital is driving digital health? Well, there’s a general rule in tech that startups should aim to solve one, single problem. In digital health, this has led to a bunch of companies that each treat one body part. For example, Nurx can send you birth control or Hinge Health can help with back pain. But what if your new birth control is giving you mood swings and making your back ache? Now what? The thing with the human body is it’s made of connected systems, not individual body parts. When it comes to treating the whole you, your local multispecialty clinic might still be a better bet.
Consumers need to protect themselves from shady practices
Digital health brings amazing innovations in care. It also feeds the consumerism of healthcare. Said another way, a lot of folks are trying to get rich selling you digital health. And just like we, as consumers, need to be aware of false promises, aggressive sales tactics, and knock-off products when buying consumer goods (like a new TV), we now need to look out for these traps when buying healthcare. Look out for the “used car salesman” of telehealth. He’s coming.
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