Is Digital Health Dead? Or is it Just Getting Started?

There are strong opinions on both sides of the debate.

Infographic of a sportswoman who's using her smart watch.

According to Rob Coppedge, CEO of Echo Health Ventures, the venture community has poured more than $16 billion into 800+ digital health companies in the past three years, only to watch many of them wither on the vine or attempt to reinvent themselves. He cites a variety of reasons for the failures, including inadequate go-to-market strategies, poor consumer adoption of solutions, and underestimating the complexity of not just selling into enterprise health systems but implementing software once inside.¹

On the other side of the debate are calls for patience and a focus beyond financial returns. Matt Ripkey, Director of Business Growth & Development at Redox Engine, argues that the influx of capital into digital health will result in winners and losers over time, which ultimately will drive consolidation in the market. Companies that solve discrete functionality better than anyone else, he argues, will be acquired by larger platform companies. “You’re going to have really strong digital health companies that can do a whole bunch of amazing things,” he writes. “Once that begins to happen, people are going to be really excited with the things that can be done. . .”²

And yet another argument is that organizations are grappling with implementation, i.e., how to use digital health solutions to achieve the Triple Aim – i.e., a better healthcare experience and better health outcomes at lower cost. According to Fard Johnmar, a senior fellow for the Society for New Communications Research, there are some successes but little awareness of them, and many organizations “are still not using digital innovations optimally.”³

These three different perspectives are actually aligned in a number of ways:

  1. No one is arguing against the need for solutions that transform healthcare for the benefit of consumers; the need is more urgent than ever.
  2. Digital health innovation has value – despite appearances, no one is arguing it’s a dead end per se. (The market seems to agree: Despite the many failed endeavors alluded to by Coppedge, investment in digital health is alive and well. A record $3.5B was invested in nearly 200 digital health companies in the first half 2017, according to digital health fund Rock Health.4)
  3. It’s really the execution of digital health solutions, namely the adoption and use of these solutions, which is problematic. For instance, more than 40 percent of employees say they have never used the health solutions and programs – including digital health solutions – put in place by their employers.5

And that’s the crux of the issue – digital health solutions are not widely adopted and used by consumers, even though nearly nine out of 10 people in the U.S. are online, and nearly eight of 10 own a smartphone. Even though our country’s widespread adoption of internet technology is one of the reasons the U.S. has been ranked the fourth most innovative country in the world for two years running.7

The question isn’t whether or not digital health is dead. It’s why are digital health applications and programs not taking our country by storm? Perhaps it’s because with every new discrete digital health solution, the consumer’s world of healthcare becomes a little more fragmented and a little more complex (so much so that in many cases, people are not even aware they have access to a digital health solution through a health plan). There’s one more place to go, one more password to recall, and one more set of personal health data generated. Most likely, this data remains idle in an online silo for only the consumer to interpret and take action on as he or she deems appropriate.

Imagine a very different scenario. What would happen if all of these digital health solutions were instead connected – part of a larger, fully integrated healthcare ecosystem that puts the consumer at the center? People would have just one place to go, one password to remember. Personal health data would flow – securely – into a consolidated personal health profile, which would serve as the foundation for nurses, doctors and other caregivers to provide personalized healthcare support to each individual.


Raj Singh, CEO of Accolade, recently talked with Kate Warnock, social media manager for GuideWell, at the Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Center Summit. He shared his thoughts on the impact an integrated, high-touch, high-tech approach can make on healthcare.

Introduce artificial intelligence into the equation, and now we could deliver personalized recommendations to individuals more efficiently. And with every interaction, the technology grows smarter, empowering caregivers and the consumer to make the best decisions for their health and well-being – which ultimately improves the healthcare experience, improves outcomes and lowers costs. The Triple Aim.

Digital health is not dead. Patience has long worn thin. Acquisitions, which have iffy track records, are not the answer. We have the answer today – create an ecosystem. Use technology capabilities that exist today to deliver a seamless, compelling, and fully integrated consumer healthcare experience.

Let the data flow across boundaries. Give people a single place to go, and an easy, personalized high-touch, high-tech experience.

  • 1 Coppedge, R. (2017, Sept 6). Digital health is dead, says this health-tech investor, CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/06/digital-health-is-dead-says-this-health-tech-investor-rob-coppedge.html
  • 2 Ripkey, M. (2017, Sept 14). Counterpoint: Digital Health is Just Getting Started. Redox blog. Retrieved from https://www.redoxengine.com/blog/counterpoint-digital-health-is-just-getting-started
  • 3 Johnmar, F. (2017, Sept 11). Is Digital Health (Already) Dead? The Conference Board blog. Retrieved from https://www.conference-board.org/blog/postdetail.cfm?post=6406
  • 4 Tecco, H. and Zweig, M. Digital Health Funding 2017 Midyear Review: A record breaking first half. Retrieved from https://rockhealth.com/reports/2017-midyear-funding-review-a-record-breaking-first-half/
  • 5 Harris Poll on behalf of Accolade (2015, Sept). Accolade Consumer Healthcare Experience Index.
  • 6 Pew Research Center (2017, Jan). The evolution of technology adoption and usage. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/12/evolution-of-technology/ft_17-01-10_internetfactsheets/
  • 7 Weller, C. (2017, June 15). The 16 most innovative countries in the world. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/most-innovative-countries-in-the-world-2017-6