Health is being digitized. As with all other industries it will cause disruption. But the health sector is special, or so it likes to think.
Healthcare is organized differently in different parts of the world and funded differently. This makes the sector different in some aspects, but disruption from digitization will come nonetheless.
In 2016 a nationwide e-health account for all citizens will be available in Sweden. This creates an infrastructure for digital health applications which will augment the digitization of the healthcare sector. It will also increase the demand from consumers on their healthcare providers, be they primary care health centers, gyms or occupational healthcare providers.
In this context it is important to know who your digital health consumer is and what they want.
Who is the digital health consumer?
The quantified self (QS) movement has been digital health consumers for a long time and forerunners in this sense. Now, everyone connected to the internet are possible users and consumers of different digital health services. Some might think that most people would prefer not to use digital services for something as sensitive as health.
However, a 2015 survey of Swedes sentiment on digital health services indicate that 40% are open to virtual care, this is a low figure which will rise when services become available. In another survey (done in the UK, Germany and Singapore) more than 75% of respondents were positive.
The elderly are more sceptic to virtual solutions than youngsters, which might be expected, but not for the reasons you might expect. The personal relationship with your doctor is the number one concern of those aged 55 or more, when asked why they’d prefer physical interaction. This coincides with an increased frequency utilizing healthcare services and, possibly, less experience from using digital communication channels. This too can be expected to increase once there are reliable services in place. A recent study indicate that young people get stronger relationships to others when using social media, so there is no reason to think that social interaction is lost using digital channels.
So in short more or less everyone connected to the internet is a potential digital health consumer, although one needs to be careful with segmentation, see below.
What do the digital health consumer want?
First off, there is a great potential for savings in public spending by adopting more of a self-service attitude in healthcare for simple tests (diabetics have been trusted to administer their own shots for a long time, which is an exception to the rule). But what do the consumer or patient want?
First of all most consider the primary benefit of digital solutions to be faster access to care, which is also the area most lacking.
More than 60% of respondents are willing to send photos via their smartphone to a dermatologist of skin rashes or skin problems. An actual example of an application in this area are the apps to smartphones which automatically can evaluate if a birthmark is dangerous or safe, there is a market for more apps like these.
A majority would also choose a wearable sensor to monitor heart function or other vital signs rather than do it in a hospital.
But one needs to understand that smartphone apps targeting diseases of elderly might have a hard time, since that is not their preferred channel. Thus, understanding the target segment’s needs and channel preference is key to introducing successful digital and virtual health applications.
It is also important understand the limitations and be transparent with them to the customers. Wearable fitness trackers is a great idea, but they are still little more than fancy step counters. It is not going to be easier to lose weight just because you own an Apple Watch, as the activity and diet applications available are still too tedious to use, and the coaching and motivation gained from a human weight coach is lacking. When (not if) these shortcomings are rectified, however, the market share of digital solutions will skyrocket in the weight loss business.
In summary now is a great time to invest in e-health applications, as there is demand but little supply. Moreover, since Sweden will introduce an e-health account available to all citizens there will be a standard gateway and interface with which to interact opening excellent opportunities to reach a broad audience.