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List of Breakthrough Digital Health Innovations to Watch

  • Vrinda Mathur
  • Jul 10, 2024
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In the 1970s, an American television show called "The Six Million Dollar Man" depicted the future of medicine in the form of an astronaut who had been "rebuilt" after suffering terrible injuries, giving him superhuman strength and senses.


The concept of a "bionic man" remains science fiction, but rapid scientific developments in medicine are producing astonishing outcomes, implying that the TV show's motto, "We can rebuild him; we have the technology," is no longer as implausible as it once appeared.


A longer-living population, the introduction of transformational technology with diverse healthcare uses, and ongoing global economic turmoil. These are the primary socioeconomic drivers that will influence healthcare in 2024.


Digital health in the 21st century


Over the last few decades, the creation and rapid expansion of digital technology has triggered transformation in nearly every element of human endeavor. The beneficial and negative repercussions of these changes have been and will continue to be the subject of intense speculation, including their implications for human health. 


The use of mechanical and digital recording and capture of physical state, experiences, and narratives has paved the way for revolutionary advances in individual health and medical treatment, population-wide health strategies, and integrated real-time development of new knowledge and insights. These developing digitally mediated capacities are often referred to as digital health.


Prioritizing AI for health is critical, given its potential to improve healthcare and address global health concerns, such as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The urgency is increased by a huge time gap, with technology outperforming legal frameworks. WHO actively guides Member States, develops ethical norms, and convenes expert groups to address these concerns, supporting responsible AI development and fostering collaboration among stakeholders to limit risks and defend public health and confidence.


Digital health has evolved into a comprehensive phrase that includes electronically collected data, as well as technical and communications infrastructure and applications in the health-care ecosystem. Revolutionary advances in digital health are altering health, medicine, and biomedical science, as well as redefining and reengineering the instruments required to achieve a better future. Self-management, health care, and biomedical science today make extensive use of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, digitally mediated diagnosis and treatment, telemedicine, and consumer-facing mobile health applications.


Top trends to watch for


Medical advances have happened throughout history, improving our ability to treat complex ailments. These include the first smallpox vaccination in the 18th century, the discovery of antibiotics in the 1920s, and the world's first organ transplant three decades later.


However, the twenty-first century is bringing even more development, as technological advances transform the healthcare sector. According to the World Health Organisation, innovation, particularly in the digital arena, is occurring on an unprecedented scale.


Some of the major trends to look out for have been listed below- 


  1. Food as Medicine


In recent years, digitally delivered nutritional recommendations and interventions have evolved from "niche" support services for a restricted set of use cases (e.g., type 2 diabetes) to being used to prevent and treat a wide range of illnesses, including cancer and mental health issues. In 2023, we saw increased research activity, legislation changes, expanded reimbursements, and emerging innovation in food as medicine, led by digital firms such as Season Health, ModifyHealth, and Instacart, among others. In fact, the NIH historically allocated an estimated $1.9 billion per year to improve nutritional research activities. According to our PubMed search, food-related medical research has appeared in over 1900 papers so far in 2023, the most among our analyzed advances.


  1. 3D printing


The application of 3D printing techniques in healthcare is continuously expanding. According to Statista, more than 110 hospitals in the United States had point-of-care 3D manufacturing facilities in 2019, up from only three in 2010.


The technology is being used to create dental implants, replacement joints, and custom prosthetics. Research on employing 3D printers to produce skin tissue, organs, and even pharmaceuticals is also underway.


  1. Digital Obesity Care


While GLP-1s dominated the headlines in 2023, weight management-focused support services (such as remote monitoring, lifestyle coaching, and mental health assistance) have also grown. Existing companies have created or expanded weight loss programmes, while new companies have launched to meet expanding consumer demand. From 2020 to 2022, PubMed references of digitally-enabled obesity care increased by nearly 85%, indicating a rising body of evidence as research findings are turned into practical care models (grabbing $176 million in venture funding from Q1 to Q3 2023, largely from early-stage businesses).


  1. CRISPR gene editing


CRISPR gene editing technology has the potential to alter disease treatments. It has the potential to help make big progress against deadly diseases such as cancer and HIV within a few years.

The method works by "harnessing the natural mechanisms" of invading viruses, which are then "cut out" to remove infected DNA. CRISPR has the potential to change the treatment of uncommon illnesses such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease by modifying cell mutations.


  1. Smart bandages


Researchers in the United States created a bandage that employs sensors to monitor wound healing. It "promotes faster wound healing, increases fresh blood flow to wounded tissue, and improves skin regeneration by drastically lowering scar formation," according to the Stanford University team behind it.

A tiny electrical layer on the bandage has temperature sensors that monitor the wound. If necessary, they can apply more electrical stimulation to speed up tissue closure. "With stimulation and sensing in one device, the smart bandage improves healing while also keeping track of how the wound is developing," said Artem Trotsyuk, co-author of a research on the bandage.


Challenges of Digital Health


Given the limitless possibilities of digital health, more than 2000 rural villages used teleconsultation throughout the pandemic. Furthermore, according to a BCG FICCI analysis, approximately 60% of patients from Tier 1 cities and 65% of doctors will most likely continue to use digital platforms for primary care even after COVID-19. Though it predicts a bright future, several obstacles must be solved that are impeding the expansion of digital health.


  1. IT and AI system failures


AI and information technology are regarded as the foundations of digital health. AI actively uses data created by digital health systems to improve diagnosis, choose appropriate therapies, and anticipate clinical outcomes. The well-established and inventive use of such technology enables the widespread adoption of digital health. Having said that, it is critical to carefully examine the bottlenecks of AI and IT system failure, which exacerbates concerns of safety, sustainability, and justice. 


  1. Ethical challenges


Data is a key enabler of digital health practices. However, the increased use of data collection techniques creates numerous ethical concerns that have been disregarded amid the healthcare sector's rapid digital transition. To meet accuracy standards in digital health, stakeholders collect, store, and analyze health data, raising privacy concerns. Furthermore, hazards linked with data protection and informed patient consent heighten ethical concerns in digital health.


  1. Infrastructure concerns.


Technology is crucial to the digital health system, and its alterations cannot be evaluated solely through a technological lens. Digital health systems must provide inexpensive, user-friendly healthcare solutions to the Indian population spread throughout urban and rural locations. To provide universal health coverage, internet and smartphone usage must be increased first, with public privacy and safety as top priorities.


To sum up


In conclusion, digital health aims to provide connected and personalized healthcare. This creates further worries for patients regarding data sharing. As a result, understanding the holistic use case and integrating technology is critical to reducing the potential risk of digital health systems. To go forward in developing a strong digital health infrastructure, the sector's frontiers must be constantly active in clinical research and technology-enabled results. A multidisciplinary approach has the potential to be a game changer in helping India accomplish its goal of creating an accessible and cheap digital health infrastructure.

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