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The Rise of Digital Phenotyping in Healthcare

Over the last ten years, smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices have become a linchpin in the healthcare sector. Telemedicine and devices like mobile phones have many benefits in the healthcare environment, including better coordination among physicians, improved patient communication and medication adherence, and increased medication reconciliation accuracy. However, the latest developing field in digital healthcare is digital phenotyping. This market is expected to see steady CAGR growth between 2022 and 2026.about:blank

What Is Digital Phenotyping?

Digital phenotyping was first defined in a 2016 paper in JMIR Mental Health, an academic journal that focuses on internet interventions and digital health. The multidisciplinary scientific field involves taking the copious amounts of data that are collected from an individual's smartphone, wearable device, and other digital devices and using it to determine behavior related to mental health and other diseases.

In this field, the data collected is often passive, which includes phone usage patterns and does not require active participation from users. The term digital phenotyping is derived from the field of genetics, where the phenotype is a set of observable traits or characteristics of an organism. The study focuses primarily on an organism's morphology or physical structure.

It's worth noting this idea of using data from smartphones and other digital devices to determine an individual's unique physical or behavioral attributes is not a new revelation. For example, companies and governments collect biometric data for these reasons, and setting up smartphones using fingerprint or facial recognition is one of the primary ways biometrics get collected. However, unlike the several risks involved with biometrics, such as false identification by law enforcement, early research has suggested there are positive uses of passive digital data in mental health research.

According to reports, studies have shown that keystroke patterns have the potential to predict manic episodes in bipolar disorder, and geolocation data may be associated with depressive episodes and the relapse of schizophrenia. Likewise, digital phenotyping has suggested that the way toddlers gaze at smartphones can be a reference to detect early symptoms of autism.

Digital phenotyping is the latest example of how technology has advanced healthcare in significant ways. Besides worldwide smartphone and internet penetration, the need for remote services has also increased the accessibility of digital health services. In 2020, the global digital health market had a value of $96,794.51 million, and analysts forecast the industry will continue on an upward trend and grow at a CAGR of around 16% from 2021 to 2028.

That being said, much like the disadvantages of biometrics, digital health poses some security concerns. One of the main risks is cyberattacks, which is an offensive maneuver that has affected several industries, with the latest being Samsung. Fortunately, however, there are preventative measures companies can take to protect their business, such as using a VPN service.

Digital healthcare still has a long way to go. Yet, every day, technology and the people operating it are pushing new boundaries and finding new ways to gain a better insight into human life by incorporating our everyday devices like smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

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