In the last 20 months the healthcare tech sector has been turned on its head, with medical technologies being designed and implemented at a pace previously unforeseen in the healthcare industry. As the world was thrust into lockdown, it became uncertain how patients would be able to access the treatments they needed, and how frontline clinicians, physicians, and healthcare providers would be able to keep providing care.
In a sector with a history of tentative innovation, adoption of new tech and processes is typically slow. The pandemic, however, exposed a need for digital transformation, and the reactivity of medtech and healthtech firms in has not only provided assurance that the sector can continue to provide care in the face of adversity, but also attracted the attention of investors and has laid the groundwork for digital infrastructure to be the new normal of patient care.
This digital acceleration has big implications for the wider life science industry, and here are four key areas we expect to see major growth in over the next few years.
Telemedicine, whilst not a new concept, was underutilised prior to 2020 and had failed to gain universal traction. Where it is the norm to seek out and receive medical advice and treatment in an in-person setting, telemedicine offers the ability for a patient to access care remotely through a two-way communication channel, often via an app, smart device or chatbot.
Babylon Health offers an in-app mobile consultation service that allows patients to see GPs and specialists and place orders for prescription medication.
The technology required has been used by other industries for decades to respond to an increasingly digital-savvy population and provide a wider-reaching service, so we can expect telehealth to take a more prominent spot in the healthcare landscape in the coming years as providers and users recognise its convenience, utility, and accessibility, and gain a greater understanding of building and implementing such systems.
When we talk about big data in healthcare, we’re referring to the information that is collected from patient records and real-world sources; data that can be used to inform medical practice, help measure the post-market success of a product and provide a well-rounded picture of how a treatment or illness impacts (or could impact) a patient population.
Collection of medical data is essential to the discovery and R&D stages of the drug development process, and with enough datasets can drastically impact the cost to develop and trial new drugs and even prevent major outbreaks and epidemics among certain populations.
In the next few years we can expect the amount of data collected from the patient population to increase, and the methods of collection to diversify. Demand for technology that has the ability to monitor healthcare data is expected to soar in the next few years, and world leaders in technology such as Google and Amazon already entering the healthcare space, so we can expect to see traditional methods of data collection such as in GP practices, during hospital visits or monitored during trials used alongside data collected from smartwatches, wearable ECGs, biosensors and other advanced medical devices.
We can also expect to see the way in which data is analysed and processed to transform, too, as advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation provide new avenues to explore with patient data.
Digital therapeutics (DTx) refers to any care that is delivered by software, either in its entirety or to complement more traditional therapeutics. Health and wellness apps are examples of digital therapeutics that are already available to a patient population, and they diverge from the broader healthcare landscape in that they still require regulatory approval to be used to replace or alongside treatment. We typically see therapies in the digital space administered by mobile apps or smart devices, and they can be patient-facing, clinician-facing, or a combination of the two.
In this year alone we’ve seen DTx firms Pear Therapeutics, Virta Health and Akili raise millions in funding, and back in July, personalised care company Biofourmis received the FDA’s first-ever breakthrough device designation for a digital therapeutic for heart failure.
A subfield of DTx, virtual reality, is also set to make waves in the coming years – we’ve already seen it utilised for medical training, planning complex surgeries, and treating developmental disorders in virtual environments.
It’s a huge space that’s set to be worth $56b by 2025, so we can expect the DTx landscape to be a hotbed for merger and acquisition activity between now and then.
With similar benefits to that of telehealth, remote monitoring allows information to pass between patients and care providers with the goal of collecting data, coordinating treatments remotely, and managing complex illnesses – all without the need for the patient or clinician to regularly meet.
Unlike telehealth, remote monitoring is typically continuous rather than depending on patient outreach. It will usually require patients to wear medical devices that will provide round-the-clock measurement of critical health data and provide prompts such as reminders to take medication.
Remote monitoring allows for a less intrusive experience for the patient, whilst still providing a wealth of usable data, reducing stress on frontline physicians and clinicians, and reducing overall costs compared to traditional patient monitoring techniques.
With wearables becoming smarter and more affordable it opens the door to more widespread adoption amongst healthcare providers. It’s estimated that more than 30 million patients will use remote monitoring systems by 2024, and by 2027 the global market is projected to be worth over $1.7b – up more than 125% from what the market currently represents.
The use of digital technologies in the delivery of patient care is fundamental to providing a greater, more consistent level of care at a larger scale. We have seen how digitisation has positively impacted many other sectors, and it’s clear the pandemic has provided a catalyst for proper review, administration, and implementation of new technologies in the healthcare industry too.