What about digital health education and research?

Almost everything you read about digital health has to do with technology creation, development, commercialization and deployment. However, widespread adoption and penetration of digital health technologies — and the pot at the end of the rainbow they promise — will not be realized unless we pay attention to the other two pieces of the puzzle: research and education.

There are many gaps in digital health development, but none is more glaring than the lack of a clinical trial ecosystem to clinically validate digital health products and services. In fact, of the roughly 40,000-50,000 iPhone and Droid apps, only a handful have been shown to clinically do what they are supposed to do.

There are several reasons why:

  • There is no infrastructure for digital health clinical trials.
  • Some don't feel they need to spend the money to clinically validate consumer apps if they don't have to.
  • Others can't find willing clinical partners to collaborate.

The result? Launch the product and see what happens.

In addition, digital health education and training in health professional schools and residency training programs is virtually absent. For now, for most medical students and residents, digital health education means on-the-job learning — how to type notes into an electronic medical record, retrieve lab and imaging results, and order tests is the sum and substance of their education. Few, if any, get any instruction about accessing or using remote sensing data, have ever conducted a telemedicine consultation, or would know how to use genomic data to determine proper therapy. Faculty members are in the same boat, so it's the blind leading the blind.

Academic health centers have education, research and clinical practice as their core competencies. Yet, few are actively engaged in the digital health ecosystem. AHCs are uniquely positioned to participate in public-private-academic digital health partnerships to innovate and meet the challenges of our healthcare system.

A digital health strategy that includes not just deployment, but research and development and education should be clear to all stakeholders. A key feature of the future of healthcare will be new business models and delivery channels using digital health technologies. Without a research and education component, however, we're likely to be "adhocing" our way to failure at a very high cost to patients.

Arlen D. Meyers, MD, MBA, is professor of otolaryngology, engineering and dentistry at the Univeristy of Colorado Denver. In addition, he is a serial bioentrepreneur and consultant. He is the founding president and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs and director of the program in bioinnovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus at the University of Colorado. He is a Harvard-Macy Fellow, a National Library of Medicine Fellow and a Fulbright Scholar.

Also by this author:

The new non-face-to-face medical economy

The 3 kinds of digital health products

The impact of DIY medicine