My Definition of Digital Health
Digital health is the convergence of the digital and genomic revolutions with health, healthcare, living, and society. As we are seeing and experiencing, digital health is empowering us to better track, manage, and improve our own and our family’s health, live better, more productive lives, and improve society. It’s also helping to reduce inefficiencies in healthcare delivery, improve access, reduce costs, increase quality, and make medicine more personalized and precise.
Why is genomics part of the definition of digital health? There are two reasons why I include genomics AND explicitly name it within the definition, i.e. digital health is not simply an outcome of the digital revolution as many shortsighted definitions typically state. First, DNA is a digital molecule (see Venter’s quote below) and the digital revolution has enabled and accelerated the field of genomics well beyond what it could have been without the digital revolution (see Dr. Eric Topol’s quote below). Second is that, as illustrated by the flood of genomics-related news we’re all seeing (from CRISPR gene editing and designer babies plus newborn screening, to improved disease diagnoses, treatments for cancer, gene drives to, for example, eradicate malaria-spreading mosquitoes, and personal genetic testing for insights on disease carrier status and future disease risks, not to mention athletic and health insights and ancestry genetic heritage reports, plus efforts to address food security), the impact of genomics nn us and our world is prominent and distinguishable well beyond the digital revolution by itself, even if it’s been enabled by the latter.
“We completely synthesized the genetic code of a cell starting with a digital code in the computer—it’s the ultimate interface between computers and biology. The digital code and the genetic code have a lot in common; something Schrodinger pointed out in 1943, saying it could be something as simple as the Morse code. Digital code, as you know, is a binary code, and ones and zeroes, and your genetic code is literally four-base code with ACGs and Ts. We can now readily convert in between the two, and we can define life at its most basic level. Things that were a mystery fifty, sixty, seventy years ago, we now understand completely.”
— J. Craig Venter, at The Edge Dinner in Turin, 2012
“One important application of haplotyping is in genome-wide association studies (GWAS). These studies became possible because of jumps in the technology of genotyping. In 1997, we could only genotype one SNP at a time; by 2007 we could genotype one million SNPs in an individual using chips and automated robotic systems. GWAS is more than 99.9 percent accurate in correctly identifying the bases (A, C, T or G) at a specific location.”
— Dr. Eric Topol, “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care“, 2012 (Chapter 5 – Biology; Section: “A Peek Into the Genome (GWAS)”)
And why do I call it a Genomic Revolution instead of a Genetics Revolution? Richard Resnick summed it up perfectly: “A “Genomic Revolution” strikes me as more fundamental and powerful than a “Genomics Revolution,” the latter seeming to stress the technology behind the revolution, and the former vamping more on the implicit societal change. As for genetics vs. genomics, I think the genetic revolution happened when we first started planting crops rather than gathering them, and when we first started cultivating wolves into dogs. The genomic revolution implies an understanding of the genetic tOME — a totality of some sort — and is therefore analogous to the digital age. The idea behind the “OME” is that of a totality of understanding, e.g., the biome as a totality of all living things, or a tome, (representing a very large volume of knowledge of some sort). So we go from genetic (genesis, the beginning, etc, as being studied from the outside) to genome (the entirety of knowledge of genetics).”
— Richard Resnick, Entrepreneur (in email communications with me)
Also, I highly recommend viewing Richards’ 2011 TED Talk: “Welcome to the genomic revolution”
I created two animated videos—“What is Digital Health?” and “The Story of Digital Health (Part 1)“—illustrating the essential elements of digital health, underlying lexicon, plus example use cases and opportunities for improving our health.
“What is Digital Health?” (2013) — 2 minutes long
‘What is Digital Health?‘ is from 2013, and I’ve since updated the definition by swapping out ‘Genetics Revolution’ with ‘Genomic Revolution’, which is more accurate. Also, I’ve added that the impact of the Digital Revolution extends beyond Health and Healthcare to Living and Society. These four elements are intricately linked to our health. Transcript available here.
“The Story of Digital Health (Part 1)” (2013) — 6 minutes long
In ‘The Story of Digital Health (Part 1)‘, also created in 2013, I expand upon the definition video and provide an analogy for digital health in addition to providing use cases and opportunities. Transcript available here.
Also, here are some other entities that, subsequent to my definition and promulgation of it, have put forth their own definitions for digital health or have pages focused on it:
- United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Digital Health page. Note that their definition is almost verbatim with mine, particularly on the benefits
- United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “Five Questions You Can Ask Your Doctor about Digital Health“