Doctors need space to ‘connect the dots’ of digital health

It’s a space many others have tried to create. Yet despite numerous attempts arising from the worlds of academia, payers and market research, there has yet to be one definitive resource for tapping into the plethora of digital health and medicine tools.

Dr. Daniel Kraft is hoping to change that.

The physician entrepreneur, as well-known for his work in digital health as for his academic research in the fields of stem-cell biology and regenerative medicine, announced his own platform, Digital.Health, in late May. Last week saw it formally launched with more than 1,400 companies and solutions.

The free, searchable database is designed as a resource for finding, comparing and prescribing digital health tools.

“What we’re trying to do is help collate, organize and give folks the opportunity to find, match and review solutions that might be useful for their patients,” Kraft explained.

Right now, the focus is on clinicians, and Kraft said he envisions everyone from hospital administrators and physicians to pharmacists, podiatrists and therapists tapping in. Available tools include everything from direct-to-patient ones with or without Food and Drug Administration approval to ones that help manage radiology or digital pathology or coordinate care for health facilities.

The idea for the hub began, Kraft said, as a way “to keep track of all the things happening across the digital health ecosystem.” But he’s planning features and functionality that will enable providers to create their own digital health favorites as well as to prescribe digital therapeutics (DTx) via a kind of digital prescription pad.

“My vision for the platform is that, as a clinician, you’ll be able to enter your patient’s problem — hypertension, diabetes, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, et cetera — and find the solutions that best match that patient,” he said. . “I like to think about it as precision digital health.

“Let’s say I’m practicing primary care and I’ve got a patient with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and depression,” he continued. “I could send them a digital prescription pad that includes an AliveCor to help manage their Afib, Headspace to help them with their depression and anxiety, an app to help them track their medications, and an Omada to help them manage hypertension.”

The trick will be integrating this mindset into the practice of medicine. Many digital health apps that saw heightened use over the first two years of the pandemic have experienced a drop-off in interest. A digital formulary that can be personalized to clinicians, their patients and health systems could certainly help pick up the slack.

That said, the basic idea has been tried before, with mixed results. In addition to the aforementioned digital health platforms, new ones continue to sprout. Drug distributor AmerisourceBergen, for instance, introduced its own hub last week for ordering, dispensing and fulfillment of DTx.

What makes Digital.Health different from other curated lists? “We’re trying to be broader and offer a taste of what’s happening across the digital health ecosystem,” Kraft said. “The reason I built this is I don’t see anything particularly comparable. There seems to be an unmet need.”

The process for app creators is fairly straightforward. They can log in and create a company profile along with basic information on their solution(s). Kraft and team are partnering with the UCSF Health Hub: Companies that apply for and are approved to enter its 2022 UCSF Digital Health Awards will automatically get listed.

All entries are vetted to ensure they’re legitimate, although the team stops short of doing what Kraft called “full-stack” evaluations of every single product.

“It’s a challenge in the digital health space, particularly — whether it’s an app, a digital drug, software or medical device — to ‘rate’ something,” he explained. “You’ve got so many different variables, from traditional evidence like randomized trials all the way to user interface, battery life, cost, et cetera. We want to make sure the companies on the site are actually digital health-related and not trying to sell crystal healing, but the health space is broad.”

Other attempts at full-scale reviews haven’t gone well. Consider the well-publicized failure by a subsidiary of the Greater New York Hospital Association’s for-profit arm, GNYHA Ventures. The subsidiary, Happtique, launched a pay-for-certification program, but it was shuttered in 2013 after a health IT expert uncovered security flaws in some of the 16 apps in its initial round of certified health apps.

Kraft’s site will utilize the wisdom of the crowd. He and his team plan on leveraging the power of users — clinicians and, eventually, consumers and patients — to highlight apps and services that seem to be most effective.

“I don’t think that’s possible with a one-to-five star, Amazon-like rating,” he noted. “We’re starting with very basic, crowdsourced ratings, but we’re going to go beyond that and we’re happy to work with other partners. We don’t need to do all the evaluation and rating ourselves.”

Thus far, Kraft said, clinicians’ experience with digital health could stand to improve. For one, most don’t know how to handle the “quantified self” type of patient.

“Right now with digital health tools, many clinicians don’t want the data or they don’t know what to do when a patient shows up with their own data. They can’t connect to the patient’s own app,” he explained. “They’re still, ultimately, unaware of much of what’s already been built, let alone what’s next. And if we really want to advance healthcare in this smarter, more connected, data-enabled era, these tools need to be found and utilized.”

Indeed, educating clinicians and eventually the broader community holds the promise of advancing the field of digital health by “hopefully nudging the individual and the clinical care teams to do things that are necessary, whether it’s an earlier diagnosis, managing a medication they’re already on or changing dosing – all that we’re in the early innings of,” Kraft added.

While his platform is still in its early stages, other available resources on the site include links to academic journals, global health organizations and funders. It will also add a community component through which users will be able to ask questions or cross-pollinate with app developers working in other fields. Those fields might include AI and sensors, the Internet of medical things, big data, the “home-hospital” and pharmaceuticals.

Speaking of which, Kraft envisions a tight integration of pharma into digital connected health.

“It’s probably going to feel anachronistic soon to take a medication without some level of digitally enabled tracking, adherence or side-effect elements, and integration of genomic or other ‘omics information,” he predicted, “There will also be the ability to hopefully tune the course of the drug, and its dose and timing, to really match the individual based on things that could be measured in the digital realm, whether it’s vital signs or blood level, mood or biomarker. There are huge, huge opportunities there.”

For Kraft, founder and chair of Exponential Medicine, a program which explores new technologies and their potential in biomedicine and healthcare, finding those opportunities has been his modus operandi.

“Digital health is at the interface with so many different fields,” he said. “My history has been one that tries to look at this super-convergence and catalyze and connect the dots. That’s what the field of digital health needs.”

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