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Digital health predictions for 2022: Assessing the future of consumer-based data integration

Digital health will alter HIPAA compliance – one of five predictions in this article about what the future portends in healthcare.

The Covid-19 pandemic created a whirlwind of changes to healthcare and brought in a new era of digital health that has redefined patient care and will remain the top focus in the industry for many years to come. Here are my predictions for 2022.

The enhancement of biometric data collection and what that means for the patient and physician

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It has become increasingly simple to monitor a patient’s health in the comfort of their home. In fact, home-based wearable and implantable biosensors, such as smart jewelry like the Oura and Apple Watch, continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), KardiaMobile EKG app, CardioMEMS device, and Bluetooth-enabled medical devices such as stethoscopes have become more prevalent and more accessible to consumers. Demand for this technology will only increase as at-home or on-the-go physician monitoring continues to grow, fueling adoption by healthcare practitioners. While these consumer-grade biometrics, including trackers and wearable devices, are making a substantial difference by allowing physicians to track a patient’s activity level, calories burned, sleep duration, and even their grocery list outside of a clinical setting, physicians are still skeptical of the information and statistics gathered.

At this point, many healthcare practitioners view consumer wearable biometric devices as screening tools and seek confirmatory testing using more traditional medical equipment such as electrocardiograms to validate information enough to add to a patient’s health record or make an informed decision about treatment methods or lifestyle changes.

With the enablement of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, these “consumer-level” products will shift into “medical-grade” products. Therefore, physicians and hospitals will attempt to create ways to integrate the data into the healthcare system and the electronic medical record (EMR) for a more integrated patient journey. Many concerns may arise during that transition including the quality, cleanliness, and appropriateness of that data and the risk of information overload on the EMR and thus the healthcare professional.

Digital health will alter HIPAA compliance

As consumers continue to monitor their health at home, there will surely be an increase in patient data. This is extremely beneficial to help manage and understand the health of a patient outside of the doctor’s office. Patients no longer need to visit a clinical setting to obtain this data. However, as patients continue to measure their health via devices, patient data can be compromised given currently limited privacy protection for consumer-level data.

Today, only covered entities (health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, providers who use electronic transactions, etc.), are required to comply with HIPAA regulations.

The law does not give the authority to regulate private businesses or public agencies through HIPAA, therefore, wearable medical device companies have no obligation to comply with HIPAA.

As a result, this is a very big topic right now in our industry; HIPAA compliances will need to be updated to reflect industry changes and protect patient data with remote and wearable medical devices.

Healthcare will continue to evolve, and so will the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The world of digital health is expanding rapidly, and the FDA is facing historic questions about the future of medical software in a post-pandemic world. I believe the administration is open to the future of medicine. The fact that they’ve started reviewing medical video games and approved the first prescription medical video game in 2020, EndeavorRX, to help children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is a sign that they are aligned with the technological evolution within the healthcare industry. Reviewing and approving a medical video game suggests that the FDA took on a lot of infrastructure and is receptive to emerging medical software.

In summary, the healthcare industry has a lot of catching up to do. With the help of AI technology and recent surges in data from consumer-based medical devices, patients’ health information will be at risk until HIPAA updates its compliances.

The increased importance of offering telehealth services

Telehealth is no longer considered a luxury, but an integral part of a health systems’ care strategy. Remote healthcare is here to stay, and healthcare institutions should invest in the proper technology to remain relevant in an ever-evolving virtual care world—this includes ensuring that patients have the same-quality visits in a virtual setting as they would in the doctor’s office.

Recent surveys have shown the increased patient preference for telehealth offerings. For example, Applause, a digital tech company that tests best practices for digital innovation for the Healthcare sector, carried out a global survey in July 2021 that examined telehealth services. The data confirmed that out of 5,000 respondents, 46% had participated in a virtual physician visit at least once and 84% used telehealth to avoid in-person visits during the pandemic. Of note, 63% of respondents communicated that they’ll continue to use telehealth more than they did prior to the pandemic and 77% of patients stated that they enjoy using remote care.

As healthcare continues to evolve and the pandemic eschews in a world leveraged through technology, we see shifts in traditional mechanisms such as how care will be delivered, how patients will interact with their medical providers, how the FDA evaluates the diagnostics and therapeutics, and even how we learn and interact with each other. The future is a hybrid of the old and new and we are all excited to see what the future holds for digital health and its benefits to the American healthcare landscape.

Photo: Feodora Chiosea, Getty Images

Eric Gantwerker, MD, MS, MMSc (MedEd), FACS is a pediatric otolaryngologist at Cohen Children's Hospital at Northwell Health/Hofstra, associate professor of otolaryngology at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, and vice president, medical director at Level Ex.

Gantwerker holds a Master of Medical Science (MMSc) in medical education with a focus on educational technology, educational research, cognitive science of learning, and curriculum development from Harvard Medical School and a Master of Science in physiology and biophysics from Georgetown University. Gantwerker’s clinical focus includes complex aerodigestive disorders, airway reconstruction, children with tracheostomies, persistent obstructive sleep apnea, and quality improvement.

Level Ex is a medical video game company that utilizes game technology and psychology to create interactive educational experiences for healthcare professionals. As the medical director, he oversees all the medical and educational functions of the company including strategy, design and development, and efficacy studies.

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