It’s no surprise – advances in health care and medical technology are extending life expectancies worldwide. Humans are simply living longer, and although this is generally good news for human kind, it increases macro pressure on health care systems and social programs. In challenge lies opportunity – enter digital health – but we’ll table that for now.
Yes, people are living longer in the aggregate, but I believe this statistic is still rather abstract to most of us non-health care providers. That said, I recently was speaking to a pediatric cardiac health care provider about a specific patient population – the million+ in the US born with congenital heart conditions – and this discussion really helped to illustrate 1) the magnitude and speed of medical advancement to me and 2) the follow-on needs driven by such trends.
In short, cardiac care units within Children’s Hospitals typically reserved for, well, children, have increasingly been inhabited by adults. Why? For one: per the Journal of American College of Cardiology, 50 years ago 20% of infants born with moderate or complex congenital heart disease survived their first year and now, 85+% of these children live to adulthood. That is a HUGE swing. For two: the rate of cardiologists specializing on care for adults now living with repaired congenital defects as kids has not kept pace.
What this means? In many cases, there are limited options for intermittent clinical visits and surgical repairs except a pediatric care center with a cardiac specialty. Over the past decade, it is true that there has been a substantial increase in the number of adult exclusive congenital heart disease centers and programs at renowned US health institutions such as Penn Medicine, UCLA and Cleveland Clinic, but a large care gap still exists for this population (graphic below) with the highest % of first gap occurring upon transition to adulthood. Congenital heart disease is a lifelong condition but the good news is that it can be managed.
So…can digital health help close this gap? Given advances in remote care technology, biometric sensors, and digital cardiac devices, I say absolutely! Digital health applications are vast and it is time for advances in information technology and clinical advances in healthcare to intersect and run in tandem in the future.