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Consumer Health Apps and Digital Health Tools Proliferate, Improving Quality and Health Outcomes for Patients, Says New Report from IQVIA Institute

Digital health tools are increasingly having a positive impact on health outcomes. Some are becoming integral parts of mainstream medicine, according to findings released by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science in a new report, Digital Health Trends 2021: Innovation, Evidence, Regulation, and Adoption.

The number of consumer health apps continues to grow with more than 90,000 news apps released in 2020. According to the report, that makes more than 350,000 apps currently available for consumers. Furthermore, apps are increasingly focused on helping consumers manage their health conditions rather than on wellness management. Consumer disease management apps now account for 47 percent of the most widely used digital health apps in 2020, up from 28 percent in 2015. Apps for mental health, diabetes, and cardiovascular care account for almost half of the disease-specific apps. Simultaneously, digital therapeutics and digital care products are growing in volume and gaining reimbursements.

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Evidence of the positive impact on health outcomes from the use of digital tools is also increasing and becoming more robust. This evidence supports inclusion of these tools in treatment guidelines for an expanded set of health conditions. At the same time, validated wearables and digital biomarkers are more numerous. These devices are gaining adoption in clinical trials and are enabling remote monitoring of patients.

“We are finding evidence of a growing maturity of digital health tools in mainstream medicine,” said Murray Aitken, IQVIA senior vice president and executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. “While there has been a significant growth in apps and digital health tools since 2013, we are beginning to detect improved quality of the digital health tools in the management of health conditions. These quality improvements result in robust evidence of their impact on patient outcomes and subsequent inclusion in clinical practice. The growing success of digital health is a testament to the value and sustained impact of its innovation that bodes well for further advances in medicine and healthcare moving forward.”

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A few key highlights of the report include:

  • Growing maturity of digital health tools: Multiple types of digital health tools contributed to reducing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These tools are now established parts of the digital health landscape. Consumer apps are the most widely used digital health tools, shifting rapidly toward disease-specific needs. But quality is inconsistent, and consumers need to be selective.
  • Digital Therapeutics and Digital Care products: Incorporating software as a means to treat, prevent or manage specific diseases or conditions has increased. More than 250 such products are now identified, including about 150 products commercially available and the rest in development.
  • Wearables and digital biomarkers: The use of wearables, connected sensors and digital biomarkers is expanding. They are gaining adoption in clinical trials and enabling remote monitoring of patients that can influence care delivery. Activity monitoring devices that measure heart rate, steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned account for about 55 percent of the 384 wearable devices currently marketed to consumers. Sensors and digital biomarkers are being incorporated into the design of clinical trials for pharmaceuticals and medical devices and are enabling decentralized and hybrid trials with home visits that reduce patient and investigator burden and accelerate clinical trial timelines.
  • Evidence: The body of evidence around the effectiveness of digital health apps is now substantial and supports the inclusion of digital health tools in treatment guidelines for an expanded set of health indications. These include cardiovascular applications and the management of some chronic conditions (e.g., pain). More than 2,000 efficacy studies have been published since 2007, including almost 1,500 published in the past five years.
  • Commercialization: Multiple commercialization pathways now exist for digital health tools. This expanded access offers opportunities for developers to attain an economic return on investment for those tools supported by robust evidence and user demand. Four broad commercial models are now in place and being used to pay or reimburse digital tool developers. Those models are direct-to-consumer, value-based contracting, “device-like” reimbursement and “drug-like” reimbursement models.

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