What is The ROI on Digital Health?

SEPTEMBER 25, 2016
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

One question that still remains unanswered to many is the return on investment on digital health, including telemedicine. Most see the return as improvement in population health outcomes, the patient experience, and the doctor experience at less cost.
However, pinpointing those numbers can be a challenge for the following reasons:
1. Value is user defined

2 There are several users including patients, providers, payers, and industry partners

3. Value factors are perceived, not necessarily real, and include many that are not quality of care factors, but rather quality of non-care factors like experience, service, access, convenience and speed.

4. Therefore, there is lack of agreement defining the variables that go into defining the ROI and to whom.

5. Who measures can bias the results of the analysis

6. Multiple confounding variables in the equation e.g. other socioeconomic determinates of health outcome disparities

7. Study design 

8. Conflicts of interest

9. Marketing hype and influence of the telemedical industrial complex in funding studies

10. Data validity
Digital health includes many different types of information and communications technologies. Telemedicine is but one, and here are some examples of how stakeholders try to determine ROI.

Trying to independently determine the ROI of digital health may be a fool's errand, given that it is a facilitating technology, not a stand alone one, and the fact that there is no Moore’s Law in medicine. Until there is, we are unlikely to see meaningful improvements at significant multiples in delivering value, whether it is telemedicine or any other kind of digital health application.
After all, what has been the ROI of EMRs?

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