In-depth: Digital Health Trends in 2014

By Brian Dolan
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This week MobiHealthNews hosted its very first webinar of 2014, which appropriately focused on 2014 Digital Health Trends. The event brought in more than 1,400 registered attendees who helped lead the discussion during the Q&A that followed our two presentations. Check out a recording of the complimentary webinar on-demand right here.

Let's back up: Was 2012 a pivotal year for digital health?

As we move further away from the very early days of mobile and digital health, it is beginning to look like 2012 was a pivotal year. After reviewing our series of MobiHealthNews quarterly reports, it seems like up until 2012 most of the activity in digital health was conceptual. Most of the discussion was about potential. At some point during 2012 the discussion began to get "real". It wasn't just about actual experimentation, it was real product rollouts. Not just pilots, but first customer wins, too. Health reform initiatives were well underway or set to go live soon. The time to talk was over. Longtime digital health watchers could debate this exact timing quite a bit, but I think 2012 was a year of transition for mobile and digital health. It's easier to see now than it was then.

Here are just a few data points to begin to back this thesis up.

At the end of last year MobiHealthNews spent considerable time aggregating investment data about nearly 300 digital health startups with patient-facing product offerings. We analyzed the data set a number of ways, but one was to break down investment dollars by year. As the graph below shows -- with $939 million -- 2012 was the peak year for investment dollars. Both 2011 and 2013 were fairly sizable with around $800 million each year, but 2013 brought in slightly less investment dollars than 2011.

MobiHealthNews Founders and Funders Report

There are lots of ways to poke holes in this data. This is just for patient-facing companies and it does not include genomics companies. It doesn't include the hundreds of EHR-focused companies or those medical startups working on tools exclusively for physician use on patients. Still, the patient-facing funding data we collected is hard to reconcile with claims that overall digital health funding is growing by leaps and bounds year-over-year.

Another smaller data set points to there being something special about 2012 for digital health. A recent report by Chilmark Research, called Benchmark Report 2013: Payer Adoption of Emerging Consumer Tech, found that health insurance companies in the US launched more iPhone apps in 2012 than they did in 2013 -- there's actually a steep drop off. They launched more apps in 2011 than in 2013, too.

Chilmark Research: Benchmark Report 2013: Payer Adoption of Emerging Consumer Tech – Payers Continue their Pursuit of the Digital Consumer Chilmark Research: Benchmark Report 2013: Payer Adoption of Emerging Consumer Tech – Payers Continue their Pursuit of the Digital Consumer

Payers are also increasingly partnering with biometric device companies, which the firm described as the "latest fad" for payers pursuing consumer technologies. Many companies working in digital health today are courting payers as one of their key customer groups. The indication that payers might be moving away from a “build it” mindset to a “buy it” mindset is a sign of maturation in the industry. There is a little more evidence that at least a few big payers are of that mind -- take Humana's acquisition of Healthrageous and UnitedHealth's expected Audax Health buy. More on that below.