For the last 50-odd years, healthcare was a lot like the legal industry: slow to adapt, hesitant to embrace new technologies, wrapped up in overlapping layers of bureaucracy. The way we saw doctors in the early 2000s wasn’t all that different from how our parents or our grandparents saw doctors in their era (medical professionals probably smoked a lot less, but the fundamental business model didn’t change).
It’s pretty safe to say that modern healthcare no longer operates according to tradition. It’s motivated by other forces now: speed, quality of care, accessibility and, of course, profitability. Health technology has fundamentally changed the way human beings receive medical treatment, and we’re only just scratching the surface. The global medical tech market was valued at USD$111 billion in 2019, and is expected to cap USD$510 billion by 2025.
Here’s how health tech is impacting the health sector.
Patients will become customers
Doctors have made money ever since they stopped swapping medical treatment for bushels of turnips, but it’s only in the last ten years or so that healthcare has become a serious commodity. As patients start monitoring their own wellness—through wearable technology like ECG monitors and self-adhesive biosensors, as well as smart phone apps—the focus shifts from acute treatment to at-home prevention and maintenance. Patients aren’t just patients anymore—they’re consumers. And they vote with their wallets, just like any other consumer. “This trend will result in a consumerisation of the entire industry and force providers to actively focus on the customer experience they are offering,” says Ecosystem healthtech analyst, Sash Mukherjee. “According to our research data, this is now the top business priority for healthcare providers generally.”
Accessible healthcare for all
If there’s one overarching mission for the health tech industry, it’s removing barriers for entry. Democratizing access to quality healthcare. Improving medical accessibility (and thus, profitability). If you think of patients more as healthtech users, then it only makes sense to increase your active user base. This obviously became incredibly important during the COVID-19 crisis, which saw remote telehealth experience a “tsunami of growth”. 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. It’s also caused healthtech to evolve, in the same way that fintech markets have had to evolve. Patients now expect the same level of digital service that they receive in retail, hospitality, banking or anything other sector.
Treatment is just the beginning
Many prominent healthcare organisations are starting to transition from simple treatment centres into innovation hubs. We’ve already seen this at the Mayo Clinic (whose innovation lab employs 60 full-time IT professionals, designers, engineers and project managers), Johnson & Johnson, AARP and the Boston Children’s Hospital, which recently launched their own tech accelerator. This makes sense from two perspectives: the ongoing mission to improve patient care, and the financial goldmine that is tech-related R&D. In terms of actual technology trends, most experts agree that AI, machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the three big opportunities for healthtech innovation over the next five years.
Data will become medical gold
Thanks to the boom of wearable healthcare technology (smart watches, bio-sensors and so on) the global medical industry is accumulating a truly staggering amount of patient data. About one million gigabytes per person, over the patient’s lifetime. Like any other tech-related industry, healthtech can leverage this data in all sorts of ingenious ways. Patients and doctors could have real-time access to their entire medical history, healthtech companies could analyse local or regional health trends, to better predict seasonal disorders, Alphabet’s life science arm, Verily, is even aiming to create a “baseline” of human health by tracking biometric info from 10,000 volunteers. In theory, patient data could inform everything from clinical trials to government policy.
Of course, there’s a more sinister side to data gathering, too: advertising. David Friend, managing director at BDO, believes patient data could lead to the next big global marketing boom, in the same way that Google and Facebook completely disrupted traditional ad channels ten years ago. “Health care is 15 times bigger than [Facebook and Google advertising],” he says. “We spend $3 trillion. In theory, if this is done right, you’ll have 15 Facebooks and 15 Googles. That’s what’s up for grabs.”
Good research requires good marketing
It’s not enough any more to come up with groundbreaking medical technology. Thanks to increasing competition (and increasingly stringent and complex regulation frameworks) healthtech companies will have to divert serious resources to non-health-related channels: like advertising, branding and marketing. Rather than selling stand-alone devices, companies will instead look to build health ‘ecosystems’ or portfolios (Apple is already doing this through integrated iOS devices, like your iPhone, Apple Watch and laptop). ““As well as undertaking research, life science and medical device makers will need to focus on omni-channel marketing to ensure their offerings succeed in the marketplace,” Sash Mukherjee says.
Interested in health tech and digital health transformation? Check out the newly created suite of Health Transformation courses from RMIT Online.