The most notable digital health trends of 2017 so far
With healthcare and technology solutions continuing to merge, digital health is welcoming new innovations and partnerships at a quickening pace. But what have been the most notable digital health trends so far this year?
Big pharma buys in to diabetes mhealth
Towards the end of 2016, the first ‘artificial pancreas’ was approved by the FDA: Medtronic’s automated insulin delivery system. That success has been followed this year with competition in the field led by Insulet, Bigfoot Biomedical and Senseonics.
Another growing technology in diabetes is the evolution of management apps – and pharma is taking notice.
In recent months, diabetes app developers mySugr and Glooko have extended their deals with Roche and Novo Nordisk, respectively, the former being acquired by Roche, and the latter recently releasing a jointly-developed app with Novo Nordisk.
Both apps essentially offer a logbook for all things diabetes related: synchronisation with blood glucose readers, activity and nutrition logging and, in mySugr’s case, educational materials for patients.
They’ve impressed their partners too. Roche’s purchase of mySugr was based on impressive real-world data, while the Glooko-Novo app is an extension of the partnership deal that was only struck in January.
The deals are promising signs that pharma has seen the potential of apps for diabetes management. And it now looks like they’re going to be a priority.
NHS finally pushing on with digital ambitions
The first few months of the year weren’t great for the NHS. A huge loss of patient-doctor paper correspondence, and the now infamous WannaCry ransomware attack, dredged up even more questions about when the NHS was going to start taking the digitisation process seriously.
But, in comparison to its sloth-like progress since the dawn of the century, positive steps are happening this year.
Many developments have come from individual NHS Trusts. For example, the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is playing a part in a breakthrough trial to test a breathalyser as a potential screening method for multiple cancers.
If effective, this ReCIVA would represent a revolution in cancer prevention and diagnosis.
Another sign of advance is the partnership of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with Drayson Technologies to develop three digital health tools that have already impressed in hospital trials. These are SEND, a digital system for vital sign monitoring in hospital patients; EDGE, for managing patients with COPD remotely; and GDm-health, a system for remotely managing gestational diabetes in pregnant women.
Looking more broadly, the long-awaited NHS apps library re-launched in a beta form earlier this year, while a new £86 million pot launched by the government is specifically designed to improve uptake and access to new digital health solutions.
Maybe, just maybe, this is a sign of things to come.
Activity trackers are no longer enough
Fitbit’s era on top of the activity tracker world ended last year. Dismal quarterly performances and missed revenue targets saw consumer interest in the firm’s products plateau.
In the early months of 2017, Fitbit did the only thing it could, and that was to cut costs, axing 110 of its worldwide workforce. It felt like the first blow to the wearables leader since its launch in 2007.
But at the same time as cutting jobs, the firm decided to follow in the footsteps of other tech companies and switch its focus to healthcare. In April, the first signs of that shift emerged with reports revealing the company to be in talks with the NHS about integrating its trackers into regular care.
This shift in business strategy for Fitbit reflects a broader change for the wearables industry. Recently, established consumer wearables provider Jawbone closed down due to steadily declining product interest – but it plans to return as a different, similarly-named, company with a clinical focus.
The change is no surprise, as the basic technology of consumer wearables has evolved little over the years, with step counting remaining its only reliable measurement. The accuracy of additional aspects like measuring calorie expenditure and activity tracking remains contentious.
Apple getting serious about healthcare
Whispers have circulated for a while about Apple’s desire to become a powerhouse in the healthcare world, in addition to its smartphone dominance.
Last year’s acquisition of health data company Gliimpse was the first real evidence of Apple’s interest in the sector. That was then compounded when emails between the FDA and Apple revealed a conversation about the process of creating diagnostic apps.
The first half of this year has continued to fuel speculation. At the beginning of the year, leaked patents suggested Apple was working on health wearables, including a heart rate monitor armband. In May, news broke that CEO Tim Cook had been testing a blood glucose tracker extension to the Apple Watch, around the same time as it acquired ‘sleep tech’ company Beddit and signed a digital health deal with Nokia.
And in a busy June, the company hired digital health guru Dr Sumbul Desai from Stanford’s centre for digital medicine, and there were rumours it was contacting small, health-focused startups to make the iPhone into a ‘one-stop shop‘ for health.
For a company of its size, there are bound to be plenty of rumours about its ambitions. But, it looks like 2017 is set to be the year Apple finally breaks into healthcare.