By By Scott Wooldridge | December 11, 2019 at 10:04 AM |

The appetite among consumers for digital applications has never been stronger.

A new report by PwC takes a deep dive into the current state of health care in the U.S. Digital health, overseas deals, high prices, consumer trends and business strategies for health organizations are some of the things the report examines in depth.

The PwC report is based on a survey of 3,500 American consumers, 300 provider executives, 100 payer executives and 100 executives from pharmaceutical and life sciences companies. PwC’s Health Research Institute also interviewed thought leaders working at top organizations in the industry, the report said.

Digital health and DIY consumerism

Two of the topics explored by the report have to do with the explosion of digital technologies in health and how that is changing the way consumers experience health care in this country.

To start with, the report notes how ubiquitous data collection and management has become for both consumers and providers. “The health industry’s appetite for data has grown beyond medical histories,” the report said. “It is collecting genetic information, consumer purchasing habits and financial histories. It is digesting claims. It is consuming tweets and message board posts. It is counting calories, steps, fertility cycles and how often we toss and turn at night. The US health industry is binging on data.”

However, the usefulness of all that data is still in question—many health companies do not see digital efforts paying off in a significant way, the report noted. Questions about return on investment for digital tools and applications remain a top concern for health organizations.

On the other hand, the appetite among consumers for digital applications has never been stronger. The report noted that these apps give consumers more opportunities than ever to control their own health. But with that comes risk: as consumers continue to demand data-driven tools, privacy concerns are mounting. In addition, data can be incomplete or can over- or under-represent specific populations. “As the data economy grows, inequities of the present could extend into the future if engineers and companies fail to find datasets that are as diverse as the population that will eventually use the tools,” the report noted.

High prices and regulation

The report noted that emerging gene therapies and other specialized treatment may drive a new wave of high-cost health care. This comes as Americans already see health care as a financial burden. Innovations in consumer financing and delivery options may help address this, but data again becomes an issue, as financial transparency in health care remains elusive.

In the area of regulation and policy, the report noted that the Trump administration has leaned on regulation to achieve its policy goals, rather than legislation. That may or may not change after the next election—but 2021 is more likely to be a year for change than the election year. “An analysis of regulatory activity shows a decline in the 12 months before a presidential election and a rebound in the 12 months after one,” the report said.

On the corporate front: looking overseas, more consolidation

The report noted that many health companies in the U.S. are looking overseas for new deals and acquisitions but warned that such moves can increase tax risks. “All of this activity is occurring in an atmosphere of increased tax scrutiny by local and national governments,” the report said. This includes increased regulatory scrutiny of the international digital economy.

The report said that many organizations are reconsidering their long-term identity as they pursue M&A activity. It also noted the growth of deals with private-equity firms, which are increasing their footprint in the health care world.