Institute aims to be a benchmark in evaluating digital health solutions

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Sheila Zabeu -

July 31, 2023

A new non-profit institute created by the Peterson Center on Healthcare will conduct independent evaluations of innovative technologies aimed at improving people’s health and reducing healthcare costs. The Peterson Health Technology Institute (PHTI) will have US$50 million to conduct rigorous, evidence-based analyses of the clinical benefits and economic impacts of digital solutions, as well as their effects on equity, privacy and cybersecurity/">security of health data.

In the view of the new institute, digital technologies have enormous potential to improve both people’s lives and the performance of healthcare systems, revolutionising service delivery, enhancing patient experience and promoting equity, while also helping to reduce costs.

However, information on the effectiveness and performance of many new digital health tools is limited. PHTI wants to close this information gap with independent, publicly available evaluations. The institute will establish an evaluation framework developed specifically for digital health tools, in partnership with the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), recognised in the health economics and outcomes research sector.

“Technology has the power to transform the healthcare sector, improving outcomes for millions of people while reducing ever-increasing costs. It is clear that digital tools and Artificial Intelligence can offer a range of benefits to patients, but we do not have a proper understanding of what works and how much it should cost. By producing independent, evidence-based research on emerging technologies, the Peterson Health Technology Institute will help improve and accelerate healthcare innovation in the United States,” says Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

PHTI will monitor the pipeline of emerging digital health technologies and better inform procurement officers and investors. The institute will collect and analyse relevant data and evidence on the clinical performance of technologies and, through these assessments, identify and highlight the most promising digital innovations, as well as report on products that are not effectively delivering their stated benefits to patients and health systems.

“With digital health tools replacing and augmenting traditional healthcare, they need to deliver better outcomes and more affordability. For technology to contribute to a more effective and efficient healthcare system, patients, providers, and payers need better information about what works,” says Caroline Pearson, executive director of the Peterson Center on Healthcare.

In the United States alone, investment in digital health has increased almost 10-fold, totalling $15.3 billion. Despite this significant amount, most digital tools lack sufficient evidence on their clinical benefits.

That’s why the Peterson Health Technology Institute wants to play a role in eliminating the buzz around new digital health technologies and the commercial interests behind them. “Independent evaluation of digital health tools is not only a great public service, but it can also help make the industry more rigorous and focused on contributions that meet the most pressing demands for information, quality care, effectiveness and efficiency,” says Helen Darling, former president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health and board member of the Peterson Center on Healthcare.

The Peterson Center on Healthcare is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring high-quality, more affordable healthcare for Americans. It works to give the US healthcare system high-performance outcomes through innovative solutions that improve the quality of services and reduce costs.

Little evidence

study addressed the growth of the digital health sector in the United States and the need to measure the impact of investments in this segment. It revealed that in many cases there is little clinical validation and many solutions are not supported by robust clinical evidence. There is also evidence that some claims made by digital health companies are misleading, with some highly publicised cases resulting in lawsuits in that country.

In addition, most studies focusing on clinical impacts are restricted to specific clinical therapeutic areas, with treatment of diabetes and cardiac arrhythmia, making it difficult to extrapolate results to the wider field of digital health. Other studies have examined broader clinical trends, but data on clinical and patient focus are often lacking. To make matters murkier, no studies have examined the clinical rigour and public claims made by the companies developing digital health tools.

The results of the study indicate that many venture capital-backed digital health startups have limited clinical robustness. There is, however, a sizeable minority (20%) that appears to present rigorously tested solutions. While this subpopulation represents a breakthrough, the lack of relevant clinical validation for almost half of digital health companies (at 44%, scoring zero on the robustness score) highlights a major gap in the clinical rigour of current health technologies.