How Healthtech Pushes the Boundaries of Science — and Patient Outcomes

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Technology and healthcare have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. New technologies improve care delivery, and the insights gained from providing healthcare spur new R&D.

“The medical technology industry is an eminent part of the healthcare sector,” healthcare researcher Matej Mikulic writes at Statista. It’s also a lucrative part of that sector, too. In 2019, healthtech generated an estimated $457 billion in revenues worldwide, enjoying 5.5 percent growth overall.

The healthtech industry entered 2020 with significant momentum, allowing healthcare technology companies to meet the challenges of the global pandemic head-on. As a post-pandemic world emerges, here is the state of healthtech today.

 

2020 Saw New Enthusiasm for Healthtech

In 2020, patients, providers and investors worldwide rediscovered just how valuable many healthtech tools can be. Today, healthtech is seeing renewed interest from all three groups.

“Venture funding for health tech innovators, at US$14 billion, almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019,” write Peter Micca and fellow researchers at Deloitte. Many investors see healthtech as the next field of opportunity, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Projects receiving the most attention include those that address well-being, care delivery and data interoperability.

 

Global Growth in Healthtech

Healthtech industry growth isn’t limited to the United States. In Europe, the U.K. leads the way in healthtech startups founded between 2010 and 2020. Germany, Austria and Switzerland also saw growth in healthtech startups, while France offers one of the largest markets in the region for consumption of healthcare technologies.

“The number of young European startups securing funding suggests the continent could come to rival the American and Asian markets in the future,” Freya Pratty writes at Sifted.

Other healthtech markets have sprung to life, too. Prior to the pandemic, healthtech growth was slow in Nigeria, where healthcare is often seen as an issue for charities rather than businesses, and where regulations for healthtech startups are still being written. A few pandemic-related successes, however, have injected new verve into the country’s healthtech industry.

“The numbers [of possible investors] have not changed significantly from before, but what happened was access was harder,” says Wale Adeosun, CEO and cofounder of Wellvis Health. “Now ... nobody wants to miss out if we are a thing that is genuine.”

 

Solving Healthcare’s Biggest Problems

Much of the enthusiasm for healthtech lies in the opportunity to solve some of the most pressing problems in healthcare today. As Devisha Singh writes at Unthinkable, those challenges include:

  • The need to reduce costs and waste. 
  • Improving care efficiency and quality.
  • Predicting health issues.
  • Producing new treatment options. 

“The medical sector’s need for healthtech is to provide an easy and improved alternative to hospital-run healthcare programs,” Singh writes.

Healthtech tools offer particular promise in rural areas, where a lack of critical care experience and the loss of many rural hospitals can pose serious issues for the facilities and staff that remain.

“There’s always the risk that acuity or volume can outstrip your ability to care for all the patients in your hospital,” says Dr. Benjamin Scott, an anesthesiologist at UCHealth in Colorado. Telehealth, smart devices and other healthtech tools all boost these hospitals’ ability to care for their patients.

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Current Projects and Focus Areas

Virtual and hybrid care models continue to expand, as well. “Due to wide-spread adoption of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person companies have adopted a virtual care component, creating a hybrid care model,” SVB’s Kevin Longo and fellow researchers write.

Virtual and hybrid care options provide opportunities for safer care that extend beyond the current pandemic. Hybrid visits, for example, allow patients to receive care at home if they have reason to believe a condition is contagious.

“In my conversations with healthcare providers, they are all talking about how they can deliver care in a way that doesn’t contribute to the spread of infection,” says Laurance Stuntz, director of the Massachusetts eHealth Institute. “Digital health has become much more part of the conversation, particularly as a key piece of how we will deliver care in the future.”

Tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) are also driving changes in healthtech and healthcare services:

  • Artificial intelligence can be used to augment decision-making, which can reduce the need for patients to attend in-person visits, writes Lana Leone, senior marketing manager for healthcare solutions at Zebra Technologies. 
  • Meanwhile, RFID tags can make in-person care more efficient because they allow staff to find needed equipment and medications swiftly. This technology can also help reduce waste by alerting staff when items are about to expire, Leone writes. 

Patients are also more excited about in-home monitoring tools, Calvin Hennick writes in Healthtech Magazine. These tools, which often take the form of smart devices, allow patients to track their own symptoms at home. By doing so, they reduce the stress and expense of in-office visits and may even contribute to faster healing or recovery.

But convenience isn’t the only selling point for patients. A recent survey by VivaLNK found that 55 percent of respondents would use an in-home monitoring device for their health, even if the device didn’t actually reduce their need for in-office visits.

Understanding patient motivation is key to developing and deploying smart devices and other tools in beneficial ways. “While the appointment can’t always be avoided, [remote patient monitoring] is the key to reducing the time, energy and money it takes to physically visit a doctor’s office,” says Jiang Li, CEO of VivaLNK.

“For a long time we have been talking about the potential for better use of data and AI in healthcare and digital delivery of care and tools to support front-line clinicians,” says Julia Hawkins, a partner at LocalGlobe. “Now we are getting the chance to use these for real on a mass scale.”

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Looking Ahead

Companies seeking to make their marks in healthtech could benefit from a focus on specific issues and goals. Dr. Paul Yock of Stanford’s Byers Center for Biodesign recommends that healthtech companies keep four points in mind as they grow:

  • Look for needs that aren’t being met, and collaborate as needed to better understand these needs and address them.
  • Consider the economic context of an idea. What will it cost providers, and where will their savings come from? 
  • Hire the people your growing organization needs to handle the complexities of healthtech. 
  • Understand your own cost/benefit position so your funding requests are adequate to meet your needs. 

A commonality among all four of those criteria? Relationships. Healthtech companies have to build relationships in order to understand healthcare needs, to contextualize solutions, to build teams and to secure funding. Relationships are likely to remain a driving factor of healthtech in the years to come.

“The story is much more about medtech as a community, not an industry,” writes Jim Welch, EY global medical technology leader. The pandemic placed a spotlight on the people who make healthcare possible for the population at large. In doing so, it revealed new opportunities for healthtech companies.

Technology plays a valuable role in healthcare, from offering methods to diagnose, test and treat illness to easing the work of recordkeeping and billing. Currently, the healthtech industry is well-positioned to continue its trajectory of growth.

 

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