In Defense of Digital Health Devices

I am very pro-research on general principle. The exception lies with “studies” (like this example) which measure only specific short-term endpoints that are inherently hard to measure & quantify.

Things like clinical & economic benefit & those associated “outcomes”.

Everyone has a different definition of “success” in these cases.  Also just because it doesn’t show something concrete in dollars & cents or in data points doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.

Often, these same “researchers” wonder why most people find healthcare so boring & not relatable to the general public after these results are published.

That is because often studies like these look at the wrong data points or from an obtuse angle (from our point of view).

When do we, as patients/consumers or persons in the system ever make money in the system?

Yet, the system makes the money off most of us because they get free access to our bodies & conditions & free data (for just a few examples).

Everyone with their hand in the jar that helps us (& even some that don’t) all get paid from OUR personal kitty.  Maybe if we’re lucky & have a reasonable insurance plan we get help there. Sometimes these entities collect from both pockets.

Yet we don’t get much in the way of return on that investment very often, especially not in dollars & cents.

Instead of monetary return, we may get some compassion, a few allies that might teach us how to navigate the system better, or a few price breaks to lessen the financial sting of care. Sometimes we get results that lead to better treatment or self-management of what ails us.  But outside of that, we get very little (if anything) in return for our investment.

I get very frustrated when I see “research” like this study.

To say digital health isn’t (& wasn’t) a success is oversimplification & insulting. Not to mention short-sighted.

There have been advances in technology since this study took place.  We now have vastly superior devices & applications now in contrast to the ones that were actually utilized by the study participants.  This could play a big part in results, too.

Perhaps those applications associated with the devices the study used at the time weren’t robust enough, easy enough to use, or required manual input of information.

Maybe they were less accurate than the devices available now.

All of these factors could affect the study’s success & data because it could lead to frustrations & the participants not wanting to use them. Or the data reported would not show benefit in either an economic or clinical sense if it wasn’t accurate or reliable.

So the participant’s blood pressures or blood glucose numbers may not have improved much on paper in the study’s timeframe, big deal. There’s more to the story here.

We are doing a great disservice when we fail to look at the true value of increased health literacy (gaining knowledge as to why these numbers are important to track on a regular basis). Or the benefits of having increased awareness of one’s own body & how it performs. Those successes can’t be measured with the same yardstick.

Just because it doesn’t save a health system money or necessarily show a direct statistical impact on a chronic condition doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.

There’s value in it still & benefit if it leads to better health habits & self-management by the participants who were taught how to utilize these devices.

Oh, but that’s right…  Since there’s no money to be gained in that, (like most educational endeavors,) it’s considered a “failure.”

How quickly I forget that in the age of “Business of Medicine” care & awareness always come second to dollars & cents.

It seems to me that many of these “reports” on dissing digital health (& devices) don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

I know Dr. Topol has for years, but I wonder how many of these other researchers involved in this study have even taken a look at the vast improvement of these types of devices available today over what was available when this study was brought forth.

I hope follow-ups to challenge these results won’t be discouraged or discounted. Using this study to say digital health isn’t beneficial is premature.  Especially when the set of technology utilized in that study was in its infancy.

They are focusing attention on the wrong set of numbers.  If someone uses these types of these devices to attempt to keep their health more stable, that’s not going to ever translate into dollars & cents per se. There may never be a clinically proven benefit from a statistical standpoint on that fact.

But I guess things like that AREN’T important or of value to these players because it’s not important to them if it can’t be measured in a monetary measure or a static data point.



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