By MICHAEL MILLENSON
Can combining health tech “rah-rah,” health policy “blah-blah” and the “meh” of academic research accelerate the uptake of digital health innovation?
AcademyHealth, the health services research policy group, is co-locating its Health Datapalooza meeting, rooted in cheerleading for “Data Liberación,” with the National Health Policy Conference, rooted in endless debate about policy detail.
Sharing a hotel room, however, does not a marriage make. In order to get better digital health interventions to market faster, we need what I’m calling a Partnership for Innovators, Policymakers and Evidence-generators (PIPE). As someone who functions variously in the policy, tech and academic worlds, I believe PIPE needn’t be a dream.
The potential of digital health is obvious. Venture funding of digital health companies soared to $8.1 billion in 2018, up 40 percent from 2017, according to Rock Health, with another $4.2 billion invested during the first half of this year. Meanwhile, MedCityNews proclaimed 2019 “the year of the digital health IPO,” such as HealthCatalyst and Livongo.
Separately, Congress has sought to speed digital health innovation through bipartisan efforts such as the 21stCentury Cures Act and the formation last year of the Bipartisan Health Care Innovation Caucus. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also pursuing innovator and advocacy group input on regulatory relief.
Easing regulations can rev up the speed to market, but it doesn’t address ignorance of economically important policy specifics – for example, the requirements of the oncology care model – that can cause innovators to miss important opportunities.
Similarly, successful product development and marketing can hinge on knowing the latest evidence produced by researchers about, for example, text messaging and behavior change.
Policymakers, too, miss out when they don’t understand innovation (for example, the possibilities of patient portals versus interactive apps) or the digital health research the big-name journals overlook. Case in point: the niche Journal of Medical Internet Research just examined how a new generation of “e-patients” with chronic conditions is actively