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What Is Digital Health?

By Keith Speights – May 9, 2017 at 7:04AM

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If you're wondering what digital health is, here's what you need to know.

One of the most far-reaching trends in the healthcare industry right now is digital health. What is digital health? It is a broad array of technologies including mobile health (mHealth), health information technology (IT), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine services, and personalized medicine. 

Digitial health holds the promise for radically changing the healthcare landscape as we know it. And it presents a tremendous opportunity for investors.

Surgeon touching screen with medical icons

Image source: Getty Images.

Multiple technologies, one overriding goal

Although the list of technologies included in the scope of digital health is quite broad, several are tightly interlinked. Mobile health (mHealth) is the delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices. It plays right into the concept of telehealth and telemedicine, which involves providing healthcare services remotely through telecommunications technology. And wearable devices fit right into this concept as well.

Health information technology (HIT) also ties in with these technologies. HIT includes electronic health records, personal health records, and e-prescribing -- plus any other technology for storing, sharing, and analyzing health information.

Personalized medicine, on the other hand, might seem to be an odd fit with the others. It involves the use of information about an individual's genetic profile and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.

However, all of these technologies share one overriding goal. Their purpose is to use technology to improve healthcare, whether it's through reducing inefficiencies and cost or by increasing access and quality.

Strong growth expected

The digital health market is expected to grow by a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 26% over the next several years. By 2024, the digital health market is estimated to top $379 billion, according to research from Global Market Insights. 

Different components within digital health will grow at varying rates. Mobile health, for example, is expected to grow at a sizzling 34% CAGR through 2022. The global telehealth market is projected to grow by a 30% CAGR during the period.

Other digital health areas should see solid growth as well, although not as high as mHealth and telehealth. The wearable device market could grow by close to a 16% CAGR by 2022.  The personalized medicine market is expected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 12% during the period. Meanwhile, the HIT market is projected to go up at a 7% CAGR. Growth probably will slow down somewhat from the last decade, when federal incentives fueled widespread adoption of HIT.

Potential winners

There are plenty of great investment choices in each of the areas within digital health. Apple (AAPL 0.79%) should be a big winner in the mHealth and wearable devices markets. The technology giant is already well-known for its efforts to monitor health through its Apple Watch and iPhone. Apple also reportedly has a secret initiative underway to develop a solution for monitoring glucose using optical sensors instead of finger sticks.

An early pioneer of telehealth should gain even greater success as adoption increases. Teladoc (TDOC 4.56%) provides on-demand healthcare services remotely to patients through mobile devices, internet, and phone. The company's market share in the telehealth industry stands at 75% -- three times larger than its nearest competitor.

Veeva Systems (VEEV 1.65%) looks to be a solid pick for the HIT market. It's currently the leading provider of cloud-based software solutions for the life sciences industry, serving large pharmaceutical companies as well as small clinical-stage biotechs. Veeva became the second-fastest software company in history to reach $500 million in revenue by focusing on effectively addressing complex customer needs. 

As for personalized medicine, there's probably no better investing alternative than Illumina (ILMN 1.08%). The company stands as a key leader in developing genomic-sequencing technology that are essential for research into personalized drugs. Illumina recently launched its latest system, NovaSeq, which holds the potential to dramatically lower the costs of mapping human genomes.

If I had to guess which of these stocks would be the biggest winner, I'd go with Teladoc. A recent report found that while 78% of Americans like the idea of virtual healthcare (including telehealth), only 21% have actually tried it. The potential for growth in this space should be significant -- and no company has more momentum in telehealth than Teladoc.

Keith Speights owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Illumina, and Veeva Systems. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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