With a $50M springboard, a new initiative plans to evaluate digital health tools

A novel $50 million nonprofit initiative, dubbed the Peterson Health Technology Institute (PHTI), launched Tuesday to evaluate digital health technologies and help cut through the hype to identify innovations that actually benefit patients.

The Peterson Center on Healthcare launched PHTI with the goal of assessing the clinical benefits and economic impact of digital health solutions, along with the offering’s effects on health equity, privacy and security. PHTI aims to publicize its methodology for assessment by September with 2024 as its timeline to begin evaluating technologies. The institute aims to fill the information gap created by health tech companies developing at a rapid pace following the COVID-19 digital health boom and the recent injection of artificial intelligence into healthcare solutions.

“Technology has the power to transform healthcare, improving outcomes for millions of Americans while also reducing our rapidly growing delivery costs,” said Michael Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, in a press release. “It’s clear that digital tools and artificial intelligence can provide a range of benefits to patients, but we have an inadequate 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.”

Through data collection, the institute can analyze clinical performance of new tools in order to distinguish offerings that appear to be solving healthcare challenges while calling out solutions that are not matching their stated benefits to patients.

PHTI refers to healthcare as currently existing within a void where patients, providers, payers and investors have little ability to access information on the efficacy and performance of novel digital health tools.

In addition to individual assessment of digital health tools, PHTI will work to keep its finger on the pulse of emerging digital health technologies to inform investment.

“The Peterson Health Technology Institute can play an essential role in cutting through the hype surrounding new digital health technologies and the commercial interests behind them, providing independent, evidence-based evaluations of their potential for improving care and lowering costs,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO of KFF and a member of the Peterson Center on Healthcare’s advisory board, in a press release.

The institute will develop its own original assessment framework with the guidance of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), an organization that practices similar evaluation primarily in pharmaceuticals.

ICER researches health economics and outcomes by weighing how well a new health offering works, comparisons to competition, cost savings it could reap and what the cost of treating all Americans with the disease in question would be.

Through independent research and consultation with stakeholders, ICER shoots to define a value-based cost for a new offering. In addition to new drugs, ICER has assessed and compared digital health technologies treating opioid use disorder.

By the beginning of the year, PHTI hopes to publish reports on tech advancements, disease types and other specific sectors.

“The independent evaluation of digital health tools is not only a great public service and resource, but it can also help drive the industry to be more rigorous and focused on contributions that meet the most urgent needs for information, quality care, effectiveness and efficiency,” said Helen Darling, former president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health and a member of the Peterson Center on Healthcare’s advisory board, in a press release.

Many providers have expressed dissatisfaction with digital health offerings after a scramble to adopt new tools during the pandemic. Clinician burnout has also been tied to "point solution fatigue" as hospitals and health systems shuffle through independent offerings. 

Digital health venture funding reached a peak in 2021 but has cooled in the last two years. And yet, while other sectors reported a decrease in funding during the first quarter of this year, digital health has reached some level of stasis, nodding to the expected permanence of new tools within the sector.