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What does the future of digital health look like?
The world of digital health is massive. As we move into the second half of 2023 and beyond, its scope only continues to grow. At the American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists (ASHP) Summer Meetings and Exhibition, held June 10 to 14 in Baltimore, Maryland, Joseph A. Nardolilo, PharmD, BCACP from the University of Rhode Island and Saswat Kabisatpathy, PharmD, MS, BCMTMS from Avant Institute presented the session Digital Health 101: Opportunities in Specialty Pharmacy, in which they discussed how the technological landscape has changed pharmacy, and what new technologies, people, and ideas will catalyze even more growth in the industry going forward.
The scope of digital health includes categories such as mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (IT), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine, according to the FDA. Many of these fields are already solidly incorporated in health care and pharmacy: continuous glucose monitors are a good example of a new technology that has quickly become accepted because of its ability to personalize care through automation. And telemedicine increased in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic; the field witnessed “a 4x increase in investment from venture investors in the field of digital health from 2019 to 2021, and 2 years later, this data is continuing to grow,” said Nardolilo. That continued growth is due in part to an improved access to care that was essentially unheard of just a few years ago.
“In rural areas, having that opportunity to bring the care to our patients, not just making them come to us. But really being sure in doing that, that we're not going to have one size fits all approach… Meaning that what those individuals need is what we're able to do, not just take everybody as the same,” he added.
Many of the solutions digital health provides have been helped along by the realization that it poses many of the same problems that traditional health does, Nardolilo said.
Although hesitancy for the pharmacy world to embrace so many new forms of digital health is understandable, it is important to look at all the ways digital health already isa part of pharmacy practice; from adjusted dispensing cabinets to PDMP to medication reminder devices and more, transformative technology has already made its way into the pharmacy space, said Kabisatpathy. As the clinical role of pharmacists continues to expand, as does the need to understand and utilize these technologies.
One of those methods is 2-way secure texting programs, which continue to become more prominent. Many of the professionals in attendance said they already use a two-way program. To improve connection, communication, and ease of access to individual’s medications and the pharmacists themselves remains paramount.
“We've been trying to solve adherence for generations,” said Kabisatpathy. One of the ways that is being done is through digital pills, which contain a sensor that reports adherence to an app or computer once the pill is ingested.
Although this technology has been around for a few years now, it has yet to truly take off—though that could be changing. “In 2022, there were 127 patents out on digital pills in digital health,.” Could digital pills be the breakthrough in adherence that pharmacists have been searching for?
“Adherence is going to be a greater component in digital health that you’ll see down the road.”
Big tech companies continue to invest more and more in the health care space, and we are starting to see results in our everyday lives. For example, most individuals use Apple Health in some way or another. With digital health continuing to grow, tech giants seeing a potential profit is not surprising.
“Apple and Google and all these big tech companies… Are really investing in health care because they see the potential for the financial gains,” the speakers said.
The question, then, is: Just how integrated will Apple, Google, Amazon, and other corporations become in our day-to-day health?
Nardolilo J,Kabisatpathy S. Digital health 101: Opportunities in specialty pharmacy. Presented at: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Summer Meetings and Exhibition; June 10-14, 2023; Baltimore, MD.