Academics Embrace Digital Health: Bringing Measurement and Participation To Medicine

I was thrilled this morning to read about UCSF’s newly-created Center for Digital Health Innovation (CDHI), an effort to organize and catalyze the university’s efforts and activities in this vital, emerging space.

This initiative seems to be driven by much the same spirit that led a group of us to establish the Center for Assessment Technology and Continuous Health (CATCH) at MGH and MIT: the recognition that healthcare faces unprecedented challenges -- challenges that emerging technologies and approaches to information can, must, and will help address.

If I had to distill the opportunities of digital health in medicine down to two themes, I’d nominate “Measurement” and “Participation.”

Measurement refers to our increased ability to measure both peopleand process.  Technologies permit us to understand both health and disease with far greater granularity, and in a continuous rather than episodic fashion, affording comprehensive understanding, and ideally enabling the sort of precision medicine for which UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann has so passionately advocated.  CATCH Director Dennis Ausiello and I have argued that phenotype is the new genotype, and that integrating the two may be especially powerful (and very challenging).  Such integration has also been effectively championed by Eric Topol, Director of the Scripps Translational Research Institute and author of digital health’s defining bookThe Creative Destruction of Medicine.

Technology also provides us the means to study the delivery of care, to critically evaluate quality and cost, and to identify opportunities for improvement.  While medical research has not always paid adequate attention to these sorts of systems issues, healthcare’s apparent movement away from fee-for-service to some sort of value-based approach has highlighted the need to figure these questions out.