Top 10 Digital Health Stories of 2014

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2014 was a milestone year for digital health. Startups had access to never before seen funding opportunities, while consumer electronics giants like Apple, Samsung, and Google all expanded their presence in the digital health sector, creating more competition, but also more data-sharing opportunities. 3D printing found more use cases in healthcare than any other industry, and IBM doubled-down on its Watson supercomputer despite a slower than expected road to profitability.

To those working day-in and day-out to bring innovative solutions to healthcare’s problems, thank you. Here is HIStalk Connect’s top digital health stories of 2014.

1. Who Has Health Data to Leverage? 

Apple, Samsung, and Google all launch smartwatches and integrated health data aggregation platforms. While the new devices have largely underwhelmed health technologists, the broad data-sharing platforms they connect to have turned out to be the more promising development and as EHR vendors line up to connect with them, could bring real benefits to healthcare at large.

2. Digital Health’s 2014 Funding Hits $4B, or $6.5B, Depending On Who You Ask 

Digital health investments soared 125 percent, driven by new demand for tools to help health systems move to value-based reimbursement models, and tools to help reduce readmission rates. Population health, data analytics tools, telehealth vendors, and healthcare consumer engagement systems led in funding.

3. 3D Printing Storms Healthcare 

2014 saw major advancements in the use of 3D printing in healthcare. Organ printing took one step closer to mass commercialization with a breakthrough in engineered blood vessel scaffolding. 3D printed casts led to improved recovery times, 3D printed splints were used to reconstruct a newborn’s damaged airway, and 3D printed vertebrae were used for the first time to help treat pediatric bone cancer patients.

4. Genome Sequencing Hits The Long Sought $1,000 Tipping Point 

The first human genome to be fully sequenced cost $3 billion and took 15 years to complete. At the start of 2014, the cost to fully sequence a genome was only $10,000. However, during 2014, the cost to fully sequence a genome dropped below $1,000 for the first time, a cost threshold experts have long predicted would lead to broader adoption of genetic testing in care delivery.

5. What Can We Learn from Healthcare.gov? 

Despite a troubled start, Healthcare.gov went on to enroll more than 7 million new subscribers in 2013, and is on pace to repeat during the 2014/2015 enrollment period. The new insurance exchange, along with its state-level counterparts, have introduced a new marketplace to the insurance industry that consumers seem to be embracing.

6. Google Unveils Smart Contact Lenses That Double as a Non-Invasive Glucometer 

Google has made some major announcements that impact digital health last year. The company unveiled a glucose monitoring contact lens developed in its X labs that will bring non-invasive glucometer technology to market through a partnership with Novartis. The company followed that by announcing:

  • In the Google X lab, researchers are working on a smartpill technology that would release millions of nanoparticles into the blood stream, each coated in antibodies that will allow them to detect early-stage cancer cells, ideally detecting tumors in the earliest possible stages, when doctors have the best chance of beating the cancer.

  • Also within X labs, it is launching a “Baseline Study” project aimed at aggregating the most comprehensive dataset ever constructed on a small population of healthy adults.

  • The company has launched a genome data storage business, providing cloud-based storage options to researchers for $25 per fully-sequenced genome, per year.

  • Google tested embedding virtual consultation services within its search results. The one-day pilot displayed a “Talk with a doctor now” link presented within the search results list when users searched for health symptoms.

7. IBM Watson Struggles To Deliver in Healthcare Segment 

Despite multiple pilot programs running at many of the country’s most prestigious hospitals, the Watson business unit has yet to release any compelling applications to the digital health market. Despite the slow road to monetization, IBM announced several new pilot programs in 2014, including a project at the Mayo Clinic where Watson will be used to match cancer patients with ongoing clinical trials, and a project at the New York Genome Center where Watson will be used to help discover relationships between genetic mutations and brain cancer treatments.

8.  Nike Closing Down FuelBand Business Line 

Nike closed down its FuelBand fitness tracker product line to focus on growing its Nike+ ecosystem. Nike had a respectable 14 percent market share in the global fitness tracker market prior to the decision, behind Jawbone and Fitbit. BASIS, whose market share was just behind Nike, was acquired by Intel this year for a rumored $100 million, leaving the overall fitness tracker market much different at the end of 2014 than it was at the beginning.

9. Castlight Health Files $2 Billion IPO 

Castlight health stocks soared 149 percent in its first day of trading, but the company lost those gains and then some by the end of the year, in what turned out to be a rough year for digital health’s five 2014 IPOs. Care.com experienced a similar fate, climbing initially, but closing the year down 67 percent. Imprivata ended the year down 27 percent. Everyday Health (8.37 percent up) and IMS Health (11.43 percent up) were the only digital health IPOs of 2014 to end the year with gains.

10. State Medical Boards Revamp Licensure Laws to Make Room For Telehealth

2014 was a big year for telehealth. The Federation of State Medical Boards announced sweeping changes to licensing requirements in an effort to remove barriers to broader telehealth adoption. CMS expanded telehealth coverage for Medicare patients. Telehealth vendors also led in funding, including: MDLive ($23 million), Teladoc ($50 million), and American Well ($80 million).


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