It’s impossible to discuss digital healthcare without looking at the impact of COVID-19. The health technology market was growing steadily for several years – investors pumped $26.9 billion into the sector during the first half of 2019 alone. Healthtech M&A specialist Jonathan Simmet says the industry operates under a “pressing imperative: to deliver better healthcare, cheaper, against a backdrop of an ageing population, data protection and the pressures of cost-efficiency.”
Throw in a pandemic and likely global recession, and digital healthcare is suddenly being thrust into the mainstream. Hospitals, clinics, researchers, patients and doctors are being forced to adapt on the fly. Already, predictions are that global digital healthcare will be worth USD$328 billion by 2025. These are some of the emerging trends that will shape the industry over the next few years.
AI and machine learning probably represent the biggest shift in the operation of global healthcare. Medical data is already doubling every 73 days, and the McKinsey Institute estimates that – by harnessing the power of Big Data, and developing AI models to process it – pharmaceutical industries could save up to $100 billion every single year.
But medical AI goes way beyond administrative efficiency. Neural networks are already being used to improve imaging diagnostics, and over the next five years, AI could help medicine transition from reactive to proactive care. As consumers gain more access to their own health data (through mobile electronic medical records and wearable healthtech) AI will crunch that information to help predict illness before it even arises.
Andrea Fiumicelli, VP at DXC Technology, says this technology could even assist with common psychological disorders, like clinical depression. “AI could offer insights into a wealth of data to determine the likelihood of depression,” she says, “based on the patient’s age, gender, lifestyle, environment, thus enabling clinicians to provide more effective treatment sooner.”
Telehealth is simply the use of digital technology to support long-distance clinical health care. The health sector was already beginning to embrace telehealth before COVID-19 – particularly in remote communities – but that steady growth has become a “tsunami” over the last few months. Research firm Frost & Sullivan now predicts a sevenfold boom in telehealth by 2025, which is going to put a huge strain on providers, practitioners and worldwide digital infrastructure.
This is why so many experts see 5G technology as the turning point for healthtech: 5G wireless networks provide lower latency and faster speeds than 4G, which could substantially improve the quality of remote patient care. Companies like AT&T and Ericsson are already developing 5G integrated networks, ready to analyse patient records, roll out medical training programs, and even assist VR-guided remote surgeries. “With 5G wireless connection, it could be possible to perform a pre-planned surgery by an expert surgeon in Cambridge or Boston, when the system (and patient) is located in another part of the world,” says Damiano Fortuna, CEO and President of robotics imaging company, Imaginalis.
In some ways, wearable healthtech has benefitted from the broader fitness industry. It’s no longer unusual to wear a smart device on your wrist – in fact 80% of us now embrace the concept of wearable tech. But wearable devices have already gone way beyond simple step counters and heart monitors, and the applications will only multiply over the next few years.
There are now wearable ECG monitors, which can detect atrial defibrillation and immediately alert your GP; self-adhesive biosensors which can track body posture and skin temperature, even detect patient falls; Apple has even added a “Movement Disorder API” to its open-source ResearchKit, which allows your Apple Watch to monitor the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
Wearable healthtech isn’t just clinically useful. With so much data being collected, the research implications are enourmousenormous. According to IBM Watson, the average human generates about one million gigabytes of health-related data in their lifetime – the challenges for healthcare over the next five years are, first, to collect that data safely. Second, to harness it efficiently.
This is where bBlockchain technology comes in. Blockchain is essentially a decentralised digital ledger that allows for the secure transmission of information. Any information. Patient records, research notes, private health data, clinical files – as healthcare becomes more and more data-driven, the security of that data will become absolutely fundemantelfundamental. Cyberattacks are not only risky for patients – they’re incredibly costly for health companies ($3.92 million per breach, at last count). As such, expect to see bBlockchain become more and more integrated into mainstream healthcare, expect clinical practices to improve transparency, particularly around data collection, and expect the associated legislative changes – probably lagging two or three years behind the times.
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