Digital health apps have been around for a few years, and have been accompanied by plenty of hype, but a new report shows that the hype may be justified — not because of innovation, but because such apps have the potential to save the US healthcare system as much as $7 billion annually.
A recent report from the data science firm IQVIA examines the impact of digital health apps on the healthcare industry. In the last two years — the time since the last report on the topic from IQVIA — there has been both an increase in the number of apps available, as well as in the amount of evidence supporting the benefits of their use.
The report includes some noteworthy statistics:
- There are 318,000 health apps and 340 wearable devices available worldwide
- Since 2015, 153,000 new apps have appeared in the Apple Store and Google Play
- 200 new health apps are added each day
- 40% of those new apps are related to health condition management/patient care
- 55% use sensor data
- 95% of all health apps have fewer than 5000 installs
- 41 apps have more than 10 million downloads each, and account for nearly half of all health app downloads
- 25% of physicians actively recommend digital health apps
- 13% of physicians use remote patient monitoring technologies
- 20% of large health systems are moving from digital health app pilot programs to full-scale rollouts
Each one of those facts could be the topic of a blog post, but the report also addresses another interesting point: the fact that digital health apps can both provide improved patient outcomes and save the health system money. According to the report:
The use of Digital Health apps in just five patient populations where they have proven reductions in acute care utilization (diabetes prevention, diabetes, asthma, cardiac rehabilitation and pulmonary rehabilitation) would save the U.S. healthcare system $7 billion per year and provide tangible outcomes improvements.”
It is noteworthy that, in the statement above, the report is only discussing five specific patient populations — those that have been been investigated in random clinical trials (RCTs) extensively and been proven to reduce the use of acute care facilities. RCTs are considered the gold-standard in clinical investigations.
One of the most significant points included in the report is the fact that the number of studies investigating digital health apps, especially RCTs, has been accelerating. There were 571 such studies between 2007 and 2017, with 25% of them being published in 2017.
The evidence provided by scientific investigations is crucial because it demonstrates the value of digital health apps. According to the report:
Value in healthcare can be defined as the health outcomes created for patients relative to the cost of generating those health outcomes, as well as the extent to which the ‘triple aim’ of improving the patient experience, improving the health of populations, and reducing the per capita costs of healthcare is delivered.”
The digital health apps that are available for diabetes prevention, diabetes, asthma, cardiac rehabilitation, and pulmonary rehabilitation have been tested and shown to reduce the number of times patients must seek acute care. If they were adopted widely, the savings — $7 billion annually — would be significant.
Although decisions within specific healthcare systems are generally made one app, or one category, at a time, policymakers consider the value of digital health apps in a more general way, such as the value to the overall health system. And, in the case of Congress, “value” often means cost-savings.
The report notes that policy initiatives related to technology adoption within the healthcare system are relatively rare, and when they do occur, the driver is usually evidence of significant cost savings.
Given the acceleration in clinical evidence development in recent years, persuasive cost savings arguments surrounding Digital Health apps may be within reach.”