Over the next several days, I’ll be publishing excerpts from the upcoming HealthQuant white paper entitled, “Digital Health Foundations: How the science of digital health in the 2010s is shaping the 2020s and beyond.” If you’d like to be notified via email when the full report launches, please notify us here.
Today’s post includes my introduction & authors’ notes; future posts will include our topical analysis; our study of the individuals & institutions who are most responsible for driving influential research in digital health over the last decade; and our look at the online influencers who have been most effective in evangelizing digital health.
Introduction & Author’s Note
While the concept of “digital health” has existed for much longer than a decade, the conclusion of the 2010s does mark the conclusion of MY first complete decade in the world of digital health. And as the decade of the 2010s ends, I am engaged in a new beginning of sorts – for the first time in my nearly 30 years of work in healthcare & consulting, I have taken on a fool for a client. That is, I’ve started my own company – HealthQuant – to enable the pursuit of dreams that were born in Humana’s Innovation Center more than 15 years ago and went through their adolescence over more than 8 years at pioneering healthcare consultancy W2O.
With the themes of decades, endings and beginnings in my head, I thought that the perfect convergence for the three of them would be to publish a decade’s retrospective on Digital Health as the very first public research project from HealthQuant. Welcome to Digital Health Foundations – How the science of digital health in the 2010s is shaping the 2020s and beyond.
As the concept of Digital Health has evolved and matured, it – or at least its pieces and parts – have inevitably cycled through the famous Gartner Hype Cycle:
As with every hype cycle, we’ve seen starry-eyed innovators, breathless promoters, entrenched cynics and clear-eyed leaders emerge and dissolve … and I can make some claim to playing all of those roles at one time or another. But unlike other hype cycles, healthcare seems to have its own peculiar quirks – among them that advancement is frequently SLOW. Usually the glacial pace of change in healthcare is enormously frustrating to those of us who live in it – but it’s also a symptom of another aspect of healthcare’s uniqueness – its absolute reliance on scientifically derived and government-regulated proof that whatever change is being proposed actually creates a health benefit commensurate with the cost of obtaining it.
For more than 40 years, medical devices have been classified by the FDA. But 40 years ago, it was a lot easier to define what a medical device was in a way that was meaningful. In the beginning, it almost always referred to something you could see, touch, handle, clean, store, dispose of. Everything from bandages to CT scanners to scalpels to stents fit into that sensible rubric. Digital Health has made that process significantly more challenging and complex. As a result, for much of its short history, it’s been easier to hype & make claims (some might say, “hopes”) about the latest Digital Health entry into the cycle. Never fear, though … clinical trials, as well as research & publication, on Digital Health absolutely exploded in the 2010s.
Digital Health | Scientific Publications by Year | 2010-2019
From a mere 235 publications from intrepid explorers in 2010 to the more than 2,600 in 2019 – a average annual growth rate of 31% – it has become clear that Digital Health is being put to the test by the scientific community in healthcare … and that’s where HealthQuant comes in.
Since creating the Tweet Positioning System – healthcare’s first social analytics tool – in Humana’s Innovation Center in 2009, I have been obsessed with networks of health. As my career progressed, and I had the opportunity to work with more and more healthcare companies (close to 200 pharma, biotech, device, payor, and digital health companies over the last 15 years), it became really clear to me that something important was being missed. While those companies are intently focused on what doctors, patients and others are doing, they’re largely ignoring the fact that almost no healthcare decision is made in a vacuum.
I think it’s safe to say that Pharma company sales models have been as effective & complex as any in history – and every sales rep learns on her first day that doctors learn, teach, share and make decisions based on word of mouth. They’re engaged with people and organizations the trust, who help them to care for their patients in the best possible way via shared data, insights, learning and experience. That insight led to the Social Media boom in healthcare in the 2010s – and even in 2013, it was clear that doctors had accepted social media as a new form of “word of mouth” as DRG (then Manhattan Research) shared that 39% of doctors said information from social networks was “influential to very influential to their clinical decisions.”
Today, the purpose of HealthQuant is to take the “WHAT healthcare professionals are doing” and add the “HOW are they doing it.” Or perhaps more to the point, the “WITH WHOM are they doing it.” The methodology I’ve been obsessed with is about measuring, quantifying and understanding the connections that exist between people and organizations in healthcare. And that concept of “Networks of Influence” is the basis for this look back at Digital Health over the decade spanning 2010-2019.
When we talk about network science in the context of the science of digital health (or anything else, for that matter), we’re talking about mapping and valuing the connections between people & people; people & organizations; people & words, things or concepts; or people & actions. Sometimes we’ll look at all the above.
When we think about the connections that exist between one or more people (in this case, HCPs, researchers and others), there are a number of connections that can be feasibly mapped, measured and quantified. Here are a few of the nearly infinite connections we can study:
- Publication and co-authorship
- Clinical trial participation
- Hospital/Practice affiliation
- Medial Society affiliation
- Other Institutional or Industry affiliations
- Common training background
- Geographic proximity
- Social media connections
For the purpose of this study, we’re focused on the following connections:
- People & People – who were in clinical trials together, who published research together, and who were connected together online.
- People & Words, Things or Concepts – how the various subtopics related to digital health were connected with people, and how those topics (and people) evolved over time.
The subject of Digital Health is a very broad one. For the purposes of this study, we elected to simplify it by focusing on a few key terms.
Digital Health (including #DigitalHealth online) | Digital Medicine (including #DigitalMedicine) | Digital Therapeutics (including #DigitalTherapeutics and #DTx) | eHealth (including e-Health and #eHealth) | mHealth (including Mobile Health, #mHealth and #MobileHealth)
Because the subject of this paper is focused on scientific networks of influence, the primary data sources are focused on scientific publication, clinical trials and social media posts from HCPs and researchers. Using keywords associated with the topics described above, we aggregated:
- Every relevant publication and clinical trial between 2010 and 2019
- Every relevant twitter post from HCPs and Researchers for 2018 and 2019
For this study, over 200,000 social media posts from HCPs were provided by CREATION, a UK-based consultancy focused on informing health strategy, communications and policymaking among some of the world’s largest healthcare companies, government organizations and NGOs.
Don’t forget to stay tuned for upcoming posts, as we dive into our topical analysis of digital health publications over the last decade; our study of the individuals & institutions who are most responsible for driving influential research in digital health over the last decade, and our look at the online influencers who have been most effective in evangelizing digital health.
If you’d like to be notified via email when the full report launches, you can notify us here.
 About CREATION:
CREATION.co provides insights and consulting to inform health strategy, communications and policymaking among some of the world’s largest healthcare companies, government organisations and NGOs.
This is made possible through CREATION Pinpoint®, the world’s only AI-powered global database of more than 1.9M healthcare professionals’ social media profiles, analysing the collective intelligence of over 1Bn social media posts by professionals on the front lines of healthcare.