The growing value of digital health in the United Kingdom

“Digital Health is a white hot topic across the UK, with many stakeholders both inside and outside of the NHS speaking to the potential benefits. Patient experience may be improved, efficiencies may be gained,” writes Brian Clancy co-author of The Growing Value of Digital Health in the United Kingdom and Senior Product Manager, AppScript Analytics, IQVIA Inc.

But what is the quantitative value of Digital Health? Do apps and connected devices really improve patient outcomes? Will Digital Health create cost savings that the NHS can count on?

A number of recent articles have painted a bleak picture. A recent Wall Street Journal article was titled The Hype of Virtual Medicine: High-tech health care hasn’t proved effective at changing patients’ bad habits, with the author stating that “many studies that have tried some high-tech intervention to improve patients’ health have failed.” The article cited four disappointing studies in exercise, weight management, medication management, and congestive heart failure. Another recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that Digital Health is a “data-free zone,” citing a systematic review of available literature conducted in 2012.

While these articles were written by smart, credible authors that have made some very good points that need to be carefully considered, their conclusions were based on less than comprehensive data. In fact, any article written prior to 7 November 2017 has suffered from a lack of an exhaustive, up-to-date body of published, peer-reviewed clinical evidence to study. The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science coupled with our AppScript Clinical Evidence Database sought to remedy this issue. We decided that we would look at every clinical study published to-date and see what the data said about the value of Digital Health.

We recently published our report, The Growing Value of Digital Health in the United Kingdom: Evidence and Impact on Human Health and the Healthcare System, and the data suggests a real reason for optimism. We identified 571 published clinical studies of the quantitative value of Digital Health apps and connected devices on important metrics like weight loss, blood sugar control, and depression scales, and hospitalisations. The vast majority of these efficacy studies have shown statistically significant benefits.

But what is the value to the nation? We attempted to answer this question too with a similarly exhaustive and evidence-based approach. We identified five use cases for digital health where there was at least one published study showing an influence on acute care utilisation such as emergency hospitalisations or A&E visits. We used the results of those studies to craft the first version of a national-scale health economics and outcomes model. Our “AppScript Essentials Value Model” – which we plan to update over time as new evidence becomes available – assumes that highly curated apps would be offered to all target patients, but the model carefully considers the fact that not every patient would engage with the underlying app and benefit from it if offered. We found that across these first 5 use cases – diabetes prevention, diabetes, asthma, pulmonary rehab (COPD), and cardiac rehab (myocardial infarction) – cost savings for the UK healthcare system would be ~£170Mn per year based on current evidence. Furthermore, given the breadth of use cases that have shown benefits in clinical studies, we felt that it would be appropriate to extrapolate our findings to the broader healthcare system beyond these first 5 use cases. Using this approach, we’ve concluded that the UK healthcare system has the potential to save ~£2Bn per year by adopting proven Digital Health apps. The vast majority of these savings would be realised by public sector budget holders (e.g., NHS England).

We view these findings too be highly significant. Most new healthcare interventions may claim to improve patient outcomes, but may do so while raising costs. Digital Health appears to have the potential to improve outcomes while also reducing costs. These findings suggest that Digital Health should be a high priority for the NHS as well as the broader UK healthcare system.

Download the full study here to learn more!