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What Exactly is a Digital Health Application?

Digital health is something of a buzzword in the industry, but evidence is emerging that digital health apps have the potential to both improve patient outcomes and save money across the healthcare system.

What is a Digital Health Application?

Mobile health, or mHealth, is a type of digital health and is used within the larger context of what the World Health Organization (WHO) describes as electronic health. Apps, of course, are designed to be used with mobile devices.

One of the largest barriers for health organizations to adopting mHealth in past has been the issue of changing reimbursement models. Healthcare has been a fee-for-service business — essentially providers earned money when people needed care — but now policymakers are shifting to a value-based system. In a value-based system, keeping patients healthy will result in more earnings.

Population health, care for chronic conditions, reducing hospital readmissions, and other methods of keeping people well are more important in a value-based care system than in a fee-for-service system. Digital health apps can enhance value-based care through things like appointment reminders, patient monitoring for those with chronic conditions, and various other functions that can improve the overall health of a given community or patient population.

Are digital health apps consumer-facing, or used in a clinical setting? How are they improving patient outcomes? How are digital health apps integrated into clinicians’ workflows?

11 Types of Digital Health Tools

Data firm IQVIA lists 11 specific categories of digital health tools in their report [The Growing Value of Digital Healthcare](:

  1. Consumer Mobile Apps

  2. Consumer Wearables

  3. Connected Biometric Sensors

  4. Smartphone Cameras

  5. Clinical Trial Patient Information Collection Tools

  6. In-Home Connected Virtual Assistants

  7. Telemedicine and Virtual Physician Visits

  8. Personal Health Records

  9. Web-based Interactive Programs

  10. Text Messaging or Email

  11. Health System Disease Management Apps

In the IQVIA definition, digital health is mHealth.

The term is used throughout this report as meaning the use of connected mobile devices — including, but not limited to, mobile phones, tablets, consumer wearables, connected biosensors, and in-home virtual assistants — to improve health.”

No set definition has been settled on for mHealth, but many are quite similar.

What Defines mHealth?

There are a few different definitions for mhealth in use, but nearly all of them agree that mobile health includes a variety of apps and devices. Here’s a small selection of definitions for mHealth by various organizations:

  • Foundation of the National Institutes of Health (FNIH): “mHealth is ‘the delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices’”

  • The mHealth Alliance: “mHealth stands for mobile-based or mobile-enhance solutions that deliver health. The ubiquity of mobile devices in the developed or developing world presents the opportunity to improve health outcomes through the delivery of innovative medical and health services with information and communication technologies to the farthest reaches of the globe.”

  • WHO: “Mobile Health (mHealth) is an area of electronic health (eHealth) and it is the provision of health services and information via mobile technologies such as mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).”

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