Healthtech is big business. In 2020 alone, healthtech companies raised a record $14 billion in funding, according to a Deloitte report. This is the first time in history investment in healthtech has outweighed investment in more traditional healthcare sectors like pharmaceuticals.
The growth of healthtech has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, which spurred the rapid development of new vaccine technology, track and trace systems, and the uptake of telemedicine.
Agile healthtech organizations have the potential to disrupt the traditionally slow-moving field of healthcare, and in the process improve efficiency and hopefully access.
Here are four healthtech trends driving change in the world of medicine.
1. Predictive and preventative care
Healthtech has considerable potential when it comes to predicting—and hopefully preventing—illness.
According to Pew Research, 21% of Americans already track their health with a smart-watch or fitness tracker, and it’s this kind of tech that could guide consumers toward lifestyle choices likely to protect their health.
“Technology-enabled, personalized prevention programs to keep people healthy and out of the expensive treatment pathway will be a major trend for healthtech,” predicts Walter Van Dyck, director of the Healthcare Management Center at Vlerick Business School in Belgium.
“Biopharma companies are massively investing in bioinformatics-based screening and predictive analytical capability.”
One healthtech company doing just that is Ginger—a virtual mental health service founded by a team of MIT graduates in 2011.
Ginger developed software that could predict when its patients would experience a mental health or autoimmune flare-up, based on data gathered directly from users’ smartphones. Everything from geo-location to the number of phone calls made and received helped predict future issues.
2. Personalized medication
Prairie Health is driving another macro trend in medicine: personalization. The California-based healthtech company was co-founded by Stanford MBA, Aaron Kappe.
Aaron and his team have been using cutting edge genetic testing and deep learning tech to improve the way anxiety and depression are medicated.
Technological breakthroughs in areas like genetic testing and predictive medicine mean it’s possible to tailor healthcare interventions to individual patients like never before.
Patients offer Prairie Health a genetic sample, which is analyzed to work out how their body breaks down medication. This information takes the guesswork out of prescribing anxiety and depression medications, which is often a frustrating and costly process of trial and error.
“If your metabolism breaks down pharmaceuticals slowly and you’re given a standard dose, you’ll likely have more side-effects,” Aaron explains.
The company is also involved with research collaborations to predict which medications will be effective for specific individuals.
“We have a vision of transforming the medication experience of mental health, so that anyone who tries to get treatment can be prescribed the right medication at the right dosage the first time,” says Aaron. The company is currently working on expanding out of California and into other states.
Traditional healthcare systems tend to be slow-moving and resistant to innovation, notes Zen Chu, faculty director of MIT's Hacking Medicine Initiative and senior lecturer in Healthcare Innovation at MIT Sloan School of Management.
“They are slow and end up paying for a lot of unnecessary or poorly targeted care,” he says.
For this reason, a major trend among healthtech companies is to move away from these systems and work more closely with the patient.
Ginger cut ties with its healthcare system partners a few years after launching. Instead, it started offering its own suite of mental health and life coaching services through an app, funded as a form of healthcare coverage by major employers. The company recently received a $100 million venture investment, and are expected to IPO soon.
“The consumerization of healthcare is a macro trend that’s been brewing for 10 years, but it’s also been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic,” Zen explains.
“It’s very powerful to put the choice and willingness to pay into the patient’s hands. That simplifies many choices and brings the healthcare provider closer to the consumer.”
This trend will likely be accelerated by the entrance of Amazon to the healthcare scene. The tech giant is set to launch Amazon Care in the US in summer 2021, offering consumers a remote consultation with healthcare professionals, and fast delivery of prescription medications.
“I’m excited for Amazon to bring their obsession with the customer into play,” reflects Aaron (right).
“I think Amazon’s entrance into healthcare will put pressure on the current system to solve inefficiencies and drive down costs for the consumer.”
Healthtech is also accelerating a shift in medical culture, toward a more holistic approach. Healthcare has been a relatively siloed industry for some time, with specialists addressing one component of overall health, without necessarily communicating.
Healthtech solutions can bring different silos together, giving both consumers and healthcare professionals a broader overview of their patient’s wellbeing. Tech giant, Philips, brought this principle into action with the launch of their lightweight, adhesive biosensor in 2020.
The wearable patch is placed on patients’ chests to collect health data including heart rate, respiratory rate, posture, temperature, and activity level, relaying this information to physicians. Equipped with this data, physicians can keep an eye on a broader range of vital signs. Research from Augusta University Medical Center shows the device reduces cases of preventable cardiac or respiratory arrest by 89%.
This shift toward a holistic approach to healthcare has been described by renowned American surgeon, Atual Gawande, as a transition from ‘cowboys’ to ‘pit crews.' The myth of a single, heroic physician is deteriorating in favor of a more team-based approach. The outcome is better, more considered care for the patient.
The intersection between healthcare and business also benefits from this changing approach, thinks Zen.
“Whether you’re a non-profit or for-profit entity, you need a sustainable business model, and too many professionals in healthcare and public health don’t know how these services are paid for,” he explains. “That’s a mistake.”
It’s an expertise vacuum that business school students and graduates, like Aaron, are well-placed to fill, he believes.
“MBAs and other non-life science specialists shouldn’t shy away from thinking about healthcare and medicine,” Zen reflects.
“It’s such a problem-rich space, and that’s what entrepreneurs need to seek out: painful problems. Outsiders sometimes have an advantage when it comes to attacking terrible healthcare problems with new solutions.”
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