A few weeks ago, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law, allocating $6.3 billion in new spending over the next decade on medical innovation, including $1.8 billion for cancer research. The bill also streamlines the approval process for new drugs and medical devices and includes support for Electronic Health Records, precision medicine, interoperability, and mental health.
Outside of the government, we are also seeing significant growth in funding for digital health initiatives -- from $2.3 billion in 2013 to $5.1 billion in 2014 and $5.8 billion in 2015, according to CB Insights. In 2016, MobiHealthNews covered 194 funding deals, including some names already familiar to employers. Accolade Health, a digital health concierge platform, raised $70 million, Welltok, a health management company, raised $33.7 million, and Zipongo, a digital nutrition platform, raised $18 million -- to name just a few.
So how are employers taking advantage of the latest innovations in health care? It depends, but we've observed a few key approaches to innovation that are worth considering:
1. Focus on a Big Problem: Because it takes commitment -- and additional resources -- to implement, nurture and grow a new program, some employers focus on innovations that address a significant health issue in hopes of realizing the greatest return possible for their investment. A good example would be programs that focus on diabetes; there is solid medical evidence that behavior-change programs can have a positive impact on this prevalent chronic condition.
2. Narrowcasting: On the other hand, some employers focus on programs that touch fewer people but can make a huge difference in peoples’ lives, such as programs that address infertility, autism, or high-risk medical procedures.
3. Go Different: Or perhaps a different approach all together? In the category of unintentional health applications, Pokémon Go, which uses augmented reality to allow users to capture monsters in real life, had an estimated 7.5 million downloads in one-week. Pokémon Go uses the player's phone camera and GPS, so players must physically move around in order to advance in the game. (One player even logged 24 miles over the course of a couple of days walking around San Francisco, and collectively, users have walked 5.4 billion miles, which extends from the Earth past Pluto!).
And as the percentage of Americans who own wearable devices that track fitness rose to an impressive 25% in 2016 (according to a survey from Rock Health), companies may want to consider a BYOD -- bring your own device -- program that encourages employees to keep active using whatever device they’ve chosen and purchased for themselves.
Looking for guidance on how to take advantage of health innovations as you look for new ways to manage cost and engage plan members? Check out Mercer's webcast from January 19: Innovation in Healthcare: Embracing Disruption. We will share some practical suggestions for navigating the surge in healthcare technology solutions as you begin your planning and strategy for 2018 and beyond.