Here’s some research which suggests that a lack of “medical grade” digital health tools is perhaps the final obstacle holding healthcare back adopting them full scale — and reaping the benefits.
Accenture released a study last week concluding that FDA-regulated digital health solutions should save the U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion between now and the next four years.
The scant number of digital health solutions the FDA has already approved has already had a meaningful impact, generating $6 billion in cost savings last year courtesy of improved med adherence, fewer ED visits and digitally-supported behavior changes, Accenture reports.
But that’s just a drop in the bucket, if Accenture is right. The consulting firm expects our health system to save $10 billion this year thanks to use of such devices. And then, as the FDA approves more digital health technology, the savings figure should make dramatic jumps over the next few years, hitting $18 billion in ’16, $30 billion in ’17 and $50 billion in ’18.
What’s intriguing about these numbers is that they assume each FDA approval will seemingly generate not only more savings, but also a cumulative “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” effect.
After all, in raw numbers, the number of devices Accenture is relying on to achieve this effect is small, from 33 approved last year to 100 by the end of 2018. In other words, 67 devices will help to generate an additional $44 billion in savings.
That being said, what makes Accenture so sure that the ever-so-slow FDA will approve even 70-odd devices over the next few years?
* Provider demand: At present, about one-quarter of U.S. doctors “routinely” use tele-monitoring devices for chronic disease management, researchers found. As hospitals and medical practices look to integrate such solutions with their core EMR infrastructure, they’ll look to please providers who want digital health tech they can trust.
* Reimbursement shifts: Accenture argues that as value-based reimbursement becomes more the norm, health leaders will increasingly see digital health solutions as a means of meeting their goals. And medical device providers will be only to happy to provide them.
* Regulatory conditions: With FDA guidelines in place specifying when wellness tools like heart rate monitors become health devices, it will be easier for the FDA to speed up the process of digital health technologies, Accenture predicts. This should support 30% annual growth of such solutions through 2018, the study found.
* Consumer health tracking: Consumer demand for health tracking devices, especially wearables, should continue its rapid expansion, with the number of consumers owning a wearable fitness device to double from 22% this year to 43% by 2020, according to the consulting firm.
While Accenture doesn’t address the impact of digital health tech that doesn’t get FDA approval, there’s little doubt that it too will have a significant impact on both health outcomes and cost savings. Ultimately, though, it could be that it will take an FDA seal of approval to get widespread adoption of such technologies.