Digital health trends to watch in 2018

As the year draws to a close, and we look ahead to 2018, our experts give their reflections on the top trends in digital health we should be watching in the coming year.

Trend #1: digital technology will become increasingly omnipresent

Dr. James Somauroo, Interim Programme Director, DigitalHealth.London Accelerator:

In 2014, I read a Forbes article called “Digital Health and the Transition to Nothing,” which talks about the end-goal of digital health not being gadgets, but an environment that seemingly has “nothing, just your life.” This is the trend that I foresee in digital health – positive steps towards a world of imperceptible solutions that lead to better clinical care, happier staff, and less pressure on the health system.

As 2018 goes on, I think the greatest, tangible, step will be AI playing an increasingly significant role in diagnosis. Processing vast amounts of health data in real-time is fundamentally going to change the way healthcare is delivered, and I see AI having an expanding presence in front-line clinical care. We are already working with companies like Andiamo and Skin Analytics, who are using AI in diagnostics and treatment. Alongside other areas, we will be on the look-out for the best uses of AI for our next intake of companies.

Blockchain is another area that holds promise. I’d like to see those exploring solutions in the healthcare system to hone in, solve real problems on the ground floor, generate compelling demonstrator cases, make more small, positive differences to healthcare and build trust in the technology. There are countless applications in healthcare and it would be good to hear more success stories through the year.

Trend #2: regulation of digital health products will increase in significance

Sarah Shepherd, Policy Lead, DigitalHealth.London Accelerator:

Today’s regulation and approval processes, designed for medicines and devices, do not currently account for the specific complexities of digital health products, such as their capacity to store and share patient data.

Regulation is therefore an area that companies should be looking at in 2018, and in particular what the regulation of digital health tools should look like.

Current regulatory can sometimes unnecessarily prolong the route to market for relatively simple digital health products held to the same rigorous standards as new drugs. Approval usually relies on Randomised Control Trial (RCT) evidence, which can be costly and complex to obtain, and moreover may not always accurately reflect the potential effectiveness of digital health tools as used in real-world contexts. John Bell’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy was right to recommend that the clinical trials process should be streamlined – but we should also think about the need for alternatives.

Digital health regulation is a challenge internationally, not just for the UK. Here, Brexit presents an opportunity to innovate alongside the challenge to remain aligned with neighbouring European regulations. Meanwhile, across the pond, American innovators might be wondering what the recent repeal of net neutrality regulations could mean for digital health.

Nevertheless, perhaps the most interesting action on digital health regulation in 2018 could be on a local scale – here in London, where health devolution was agreed at the end of 2017. This could be a powerful opportunity to pioneer regulatory and funding models that work for innovators, healthcare providers and, crucially, patients.

About the authors

James Somauroo is co interim Director of DigitalHealth.London’s Accelerator programme. With five years’ clinical experience as a junior doctor and an anaesthetist, he has developed special interests in leadership and digital health as a means of providing solutions in medical education and quality improvement.  James was previously selected as a National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow and has also worked at BMJ’s  quality department to improve medical students’ education, patient care, and healthcare services He recently worked as an innovation fellow to Prof. Tony Young at NHS England and sat on the Student Strategy Group at the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Sarah Shepherd is DigitalHealth.London’s policy lead, on secondment from the Civil Service, where she has worked in digitally-focused roles in the Department of Health and the Department of Education. Having worked on childhood obesity policy, she has a particular interest in how technology can be used to address public health and health inequalities.