Digital health in 2015: What’s hot and what’s not?

I think it’s fair to say that digital health is warming up. And not just in one area. The sheer number and variety of trends are almost as impressive as the heat trajectory itself. The scientist in me can’t help but make the connection to water molecules in a glass — there may be many of them, but not all have enough kinetic energy to ascend beyond their liquid state. The majority are doomed to sit tight and get consumed by a thirsty guy with little regard for subtle temperature changes.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at which digital health trends seem poised to break out in 2015, and which may be fated to stay cold in the glass. As you read, keep in mind that this assessment is filtered through my perspective of science, medicine, and innovation. In other words, a “cold” idea could still be hot in other ways.

Collaboration is hot, silos are not. Empowerment for patients and consumers is at the heart of digital health. As a result, the role of the doctor will shift from control to collaboration. The good news for physicians is that the new and evolved clinician role that emerges will be hot as heck. The same applies to the nature of innovation in digital health and pharma. The lone wolf is doomed to fail, and eclectic thinking from mixed and varied sources will be the basis for innovation and superior care.

Scanners are hot, trackers are not. Yes, the tricorder will help redefine the hand-held tool for care. From ultrasound to spectrometry, the rapid and comprehensive assimilation of data will create a new “tool of trade” that will change the way people think about diagnosis and treatment. Trackers are yesterday’s news stories (and they’ll continue to be written) but scanners are tomorrow headlines.

Rapid and bold innovation is hot, slow and cautious approaches are not. Innovators are often found in basements and garages where they tinker with the brilliance of what might be possible. Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies have worked off of a different model, one that offers access and validation with less of the freewheeling spirit that thrives in places like Silicon Valley. Looking ahead, these two styles need to come together. The result, I predict, will be a digital health collaboration in which varied and conflicting voices build a new health reality.

Tiny is hot, small is not. Nanotechnology is a game-changer in digital health. Nanobots, among other micro-innovations, can now be used to continuously survey our bodies to detect (and even treat) disease. The profound ability for this technology to impact care will drive patients to a new generation of wearables (scanners) that will offer more of a clinical imperative to keep using them.

Early is hot, on-time is not. Tomorrow’s technology will fuel both rapid detection and the notion of “stage zero disease.” Health care is no longer about the early recognition of overt signs and symptoms, but rather about microscopic markers that may preempt disease at the very earliest cellular and biochemical stages.

Genomics are hot, empirics are not. Specificity — from genomics to antimicrobial therapy — will help improve outcomes and drive costs down. Therapy will be guided less and less by statistical means and population-based data and more and more by individualized insights and agents.

AI is hot, data is not. Data, data, data. The tsunami of information has often done more to paralyze us than provide solutions to big and complex problems. From wearables to genomics, that part isn’t slowing down, so to help us manage it, we’ll increasingly rely on artificial intelligence systems. Keeping in mind some of the inherent problems with artificial intelligence, perhaps the solution is less about AI in the purest sense and more around IA — intelligence augmented. Either way, it’s inevitable and essential.

Cybersecurity is hot, passwords are not. As intimate and specific data sets increasingly define our reality, protection becomes an inexorable part of the equation. Biometric and other more personalized and protected solutions can offer something that passwords just can’t.

Staying connected is hot, one-time consults are not. Medicine at a distance will empower patients, caregivers, and clinicians to provide outstanding care and will create significant cost reductions. Telemedicine and other online engagement tools will emerge as a tool for everything from peer-to-peer consultation in the ICU to first-line interventions.

In-home care is hot, hospital stays are not. “Get home and stay home” has always been the driving care plan for the hospitalized patient. Today’s technology will help provide real-time and proactive patient management that can put hospital-quality monitoring and analytics right in the home. Connectivity among stakeholders (family, EMS, and care providers) offers both practical and effective solutions to care.

Cost is hot, deductibles are not. Cost will be part of the “innovation equation” that will be a critical driver for market penetration. Payers will drive trial (if not adoption) by simply nodding yes for reimbursement. And as patients are forced to manage higher insurance deductibles, options to help drive down costs will compete more and more with efficacy and novelty.

Putting it all together: What it will take to break away in 2015?

Beyond speed lies velocity, a vector that has both magnitude and direction. Smart innovators realize that their work must be driven by a range of issues from compatibility to communications. Only then can they harness the speed and establish a market trajectory that moves a great idea in the right direction. Simply put, a great idea that doesn’t get noticed by the right audience at the right time is a bit like winking to someone in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but no one else does.

John Nosta is founder, Nostalab. This article originally appeared on The Doctor Blog.

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