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January 8, 2019

Study: Digital Health Companies Have Minimal Impact on Disease Burden, Health Care Costs

Leading digital health companies have not yet demonstrated substantial impact on disease burden or cost in the U.S. health care system, according to a new study published in the January issue of Health Affairs. The findings indicate the importance of building an environment that encourages the digital health industry to build products and services (such as wearables and health trackers) that are impact-focused and evidence-based and that provide value for high-cost, high-burden patients.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, together with collaborators at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and the University of Rochester (New York), published these and other findings in “Top-Funded Digital Health Companies and Their Impact on High-Burden, High-Cost Conditions.”

The study asserts that the rise of digital health companies — driven by policy, market and technology changes — offers the potential for substantial reduction of disease, and presents an opportunity to address health care’s largest areas of burden, including costs. It identified the twenty top-funded private U.S.-based digital health companies to analyze their products and services, related peer-reviewed evidence, and potential for impact on patients with high-burden conditions such as cancer, hypertension and stroke.

In the cross-sectional observational study, it was found that few companies studied their products and services in high-cost, high-burden populations, or measured their impact in terms of key health metrics such as outcomes, costs or access. Most studies were of healthy patients congruous with the direct-to-consumer approach that many digital health companies have used to bring their products to market. The majority of companies studied were organizations focused on data analytics (including artificial intelligence and big data), and those producing biosensors had the greatest funding.

“This study suggested that while the digital health company cohort studied has yet to make a significant impact, the industry is well-positioned to create real and positive change in health. Policy makers can help them achieve this,” said APL health technology program manager and assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital Adam Cohen. Cohen is senior author of the paper and is leading APL’s role in the study for the Laboratory’s National Health Mission Area, which aims to revolutionize health through science and engineering.

Two areas in which policy makers could help foster an impact-focused, evidence-based environment are through clarifying the regulatory landscape around these products and incentivizing an impact-focused customer market.

“The Laboratory and partners aim to improve health and advance health care solutions for civilian, military and veteran populations worldwide by encouraging an impact-focused, evidence-based approach,” said Cohen. “There is great opportunity with digital health solutions, and although the current landscape may be in a ‘validation’ and ‘exploratory’ phase, we expect to soon see an ‘impact’ phase.”

APL’s National Health Mission Area seeks to understand the complex, multidisciplinary technical and operational capabilities needed to fundamentally transform health and the delivery of care. The Lab’s deep understanding of systems engineering and analytical expertise allow it to develop and deliver scalable, sustainable and resilient solutions to a broad range of challenges.

Media contact: Paulette Campbell, 240-228-6792, Paulette.Campbell@jhuapl.edu

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.