Digital Health: A Solution to Growing Problems in Healthcare

Feb. 19, 2019

What do Netflix and the healthcare industry have in common? Both are leading the way in applying technology to provide hyper-personalized experiences to their customers.

Digital technology is now a fundamental part of conversations about health and wellbeing around the world. Healthtech, or digital health, is the use of technology (e.g. databases, applications, mobile devices, wearables) to improve the delivery, payment, and/or consumption of healthcare.

The Healthtech industry spans a broad number of sub-sectors: hospitals and practitioners; insurance companies; consumer-facing services; pharmaceuticals; and government – to name a few. A report from KPMG (2017) states that investment in Healthtech continues at pace with more than $4.5 billion invested in 2017.

Challenges Breed Opportunity

While the Healthtech sector continues to grow, it also faces a number of challenges. For instance, preventing or limiting the sharing and distribution of personal data is proving to be a major roadblock to the development of the sector as IoT (Internet of Things) devices become integrated and interconnected. Lack of trust could starve the Healthtech industry of the basis for its future technological development.

There are also many concerns around potential breach or malware infections on data centres and issues around companies selling personal data.

healthtech data

Many Healthtech startups also don’t have the necessary resources to navigate the regulatory environment, especially when compared with their much larger counterparts, and the funding is still harder to come by when compared to some other sectors.

Despite the lack of resources or funding, Healthtech innovations do not seem to be lagging behind.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Big Data play an increasingly important role in Healthtech. Data and analytics company GlobalData has said that healthcare adoption of big data in Healthtech has been slow but its use will increase dramatically in 2019 across a number of core functions, such as drug discovery and design; clinical trials; electronic health records; healthcare intelligence; and hospitals and healthcare systems.

The usage of intelligent connected devices like brain sensors, fitness wearables, and sleep monitoring devices is on the rise, as is remote health monitoring in general. Remote health monitoring not only minimizes costs and reduces the need for frequent doctor visits, but also has the potential to transform healthcare in emerging markets – where access to healthcare is difficult.


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Consumers are also becoming accustomed to the ‘experience-first’, on-demand, 24/7 approach when purchasing products and services, and this is becoming increasingly true for healthcare too. Patients are demanding the best in class ‘anywhere, anytime’ monitoring, diagnosis and treatment from their healthcare providers.

Telescopic Vision and Indoor Gardens

When it comes to the Western world, a particular Healthtech vertical – Wearables – saw explosive growth in the US and Europe over the past couple of years as consumers in these markets became increasingly interested in their health and wellness.

wearables

An increasing emphasis is placed on prevention, holistic health, as well as self-management via an ongoing relationship with healthcare providers. For example, a San Francisco doctor’s office Forward pairs its Members with physicians who use proprietary technology including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Forward Body Scanner, real-time onsite blood testing and genetic testing to build a complete picture of patient health and help them plan a healthier life.

In-home patient monitoring will become the norm due to the development of advanced sensors and devices, as will precision medicine (medicine that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle when considering diagnosis and treatment). Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are already being used across multiple points in the healthcare industry, including healthcare professionals’ training, patient education and treatment, and even patient pain relief.

In the medium to long term, scientists are looking to prevent and treat diseases (and perhaps even ageing) by editing the human genome. There has also been a lot of movement towards, and backlash against, human augmentation (e.g. hearing enhancement, telescopic or microscopic vision, and more).

Over the next few years, it’s expected that medical robotics will evolve and transform medicine for the better by assisting or extending the efforts of clinicians. Drones are already delivering medicine, blood, and even organs to remote areas around the world. Human-centred hospitals, with indoor gardens and optimized light and noise, are seen as the future of patient care.

medecine

Emerging Markets Leading the Way

The most interesting HealthTech innovations that were observed in a report written by McKinsey (2018) did not come from developed countries but rather from emerging markets. The report indicated that this could be due to the “necessity driving innovation”. Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure in emerging markets could mean fewer constraints to the development of the Healthtech sector. This means that emerging markets have all the potential to leapfrog their Western counterparts.

There are a lot of opportunities to expand on the existing health services in emerging markets, as well as to create completely new systems using advanced technologies.

For example, a South African platform Essential Medical Guidance (EMGuidance) that won the Healthcare Prize at the Seedstars Summit in 2018, solves a critical problem for medical professionals by aggregating medical content from regional experts in one app.

CMED Health, a Dhaka-based healthcare startup that won the Innovation Prize at Seedstars Summit 2018, created a cloud-based system with smart sensors and smart mobile application to measure and record different vital signs to monitor health.

The Healthtech sector has the unique potential to majorly contribute to SDG3 Good Health and Well-Being. While many more people are living healthier and better lives than ever before, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases continue to plague most nations of the world; and drinking water, unsafe sanitation and lack of hygiene continue to be major contributors to global mortality.

A lot of optimism around Healthtech stems from the fact that new technologies are helping address these challenges and are also democratizing healthcare, especially in emerging markets.


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