November 13, 2020

Digital Health Innovation in the U.S.

Digital Health is driving a huge paradigm shift in healthcare. Biosensors are producing boundless data through tracking physical activity, telemedicine is closing geographic barriers through mobile communication, and web-based systems are providing organizations with health management platforms.

Technology capabilities and access to data have demonstrated huge potential to disrupt the way patients receive and interact with health information. But the biggest question remains: how will this translate to improved health outcomes?

Here’s a humbling thought: the diseases that affect about half of all Americans are preventable. These chronic lifestyle diseases include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Not to mention these are also responsible for a large majority of our healthcare costs. The key snag is lifestyle: chronic diseases are influenced by the daily choices we make throughout our lifetime. We have access to insightful data and innovative technology – what’s missing is the behavioral insights approach. We must design and scale solutions that can inspire individual behavior change. We will only begin to see impact at scale when solutions are successfully implemented and institutionalized within communities.

This summer I interned for the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI), an initiative of the Clinton Foundation working to reduce the prevalence of chronic disease in the US through systems change. My role as the Digital Health and Innovation intern was to support our program in leveraging digital innovations to improve national health by working closely with community stakeholders in underserved areas.

On the Digital Health and Innovation team, we were looking at two main issues:

1)       New ventures are trying to solve healthcare’s biggest problems with innovative tech solutions. Many promising companies die on the vine as they struggle to find ways to scale and bring their ideas to new markets.

2)       New health technologies aren’t reaching the communities most in need, threatening to worsen health disparities across our nation. We need to build a pipeline from technology hubs in major cities to the underserved regions with the highest need for health tech.

 My role this summer was working to help design a program that could merge these two problems into a solution. The answer was the Community Tech Pilot Program, which works to pilot health tech solutions in the underserved communities that our initiative works closely with – such as the Coachella Valley in California and North Florida.

 By connecting tech startups to communities with high need and vested interests in improving health outcomes, the Community Tech Pilot Program is giving digital health companies an opportunity to collect valuable data and improve their technology’s impact while simultaneously providing in-need communities with tech solutions for their most pressing health issues at no cost to the community.

This approach revolutionizes delivery and access to healthcare services. The US healthcare system is notoriously risk-averse and slow to change. As a Public Policy major, it was fascinating for me to delve into research on the policy landscape for health technology and innovation. Healthcare represents nearly 18% of the U.S. Economy, yet it is one of the last sectors to undergo technology penetration. The Affordable Care Act and state laws have created a favorable landscape for innovation in digital health. The HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) has created a policy model for mobile health technologies and an incentive structure for meaningful use of technology to promote education and patient engagement, specifically in underserved areas.

For example, I worked closely with our initiative with health startup Wellable. We developed a program to pilot Wellable’s employee wellness platform at several organizations in the Coachella Valley. Crafting a program to share community health data and content resources, we created a technology strategy to improve corporate wellness through education and competitions. The platform combines mobile apps, wearable devices, web tools, and text messaging to leverage data and track daily physical activity. We work closely within organizations to develop challenges and incentives tailored to their employees that can effectively encourage healthy behaviors through friendly competition and prizes.

Organizations are finding unique ways to use data-driven and behavioral insights to design programs that inspire individuals and communities to live healthier. Bridging the gap of technology access and ensuring that viable solutions have the opportunity to succeed are two key factors to achieving national impact in health.