What does the future hold for healthtech & digital health in 5 years time?
Four leaders in healthtech startups ranging from 3D prosthetics, medtech, big data, and a smartphone application share their thoughts on how digital technology could shape health from 2026 onwards.
Over 2021, I was keen to learn how some of the guests on 15 Minutes With The Doctor envisaged technology and healthcare in the future. The Covid-19 pandemic brought about so much change for us in all aspects of our lives while leading to greater digitalisation of healthcare, our personal lives, the economy and more. The amount of capital pouring into the sector is phenomenal. According to Deloitte, over 70 billion was invested in each quarter of the financial year so far in healthtech. That’s just in the US alone.
With all these companies racing to lead the charge in the sector, we are likely to see more changes in healthcare delivery. As some of the guests reveal, we will see more benefits from big data, AI, newer tech such as 3D printing and more patient-centric care. But, it’s vital to ensure we look at patient empowerment and health prevention and not just the treatment of diseases in the future. And seek to ensure the benefits aren’t limited to parts of our society.
Manuel Opitz is the Co-Founder & COO of Mercuris:
So I think the main thing is we will see, as I mentioned with the smartphone, we’ll see an explosion of readily available data. That doesn’t mean it’s always quality data. But we see, for instance, in our case, there are now several excellent and focused healthcare applications such as 3D scanning apps for iPhones and android. So we can really use this abundance of data, which we will have over the coming few years. This will then be turned into new business models by creating new stuff out of this 3D or patient data. So there will be diagnostic business models, therapeutic business models, or in our case, manufacturing business models.
I think there will be new areas not only in prosthetics. There will be a lot of new companies addressing patient needs that couldn’t be fulfilled before, especially on a much more economical level. Because again, as you said Vinay, we can quickly scale it now, as it’s a cloud-based model — This will disrupt some of the classic manufacturers.
George Batchelor is the Co-Founder and Director of Edge Health:
Well, that’s really good and a tough question. I think it’s tricky because if you asked me this question a few years ago, I was potentially much more optimistic about what would get delivered within the existing structures. And what we’re seeing now is a lot of frustration that those structures haven’t delivered quite as much as people would like to see. So I think there will be a degree of consolidation around the market offering. But, on the other hand, there’s an inevitability that bigger organisations will offer more extensive suites of solutions that deliver an end-to-end output.
I think there’s a big question about how hospitals and new electronic patient records will evolve and how they will be accessible or not accessible to developers. Organisations like us can add a degree of intelligence to some of the databases that they provide. I hope that things become clearer so that it’s easier to scale things across the NHS rather than you do one thing with one hospital, and it’s entirely different with the next hospital. It’s a very exciting area, but I think it is hard to predict where it’s going to be in five years.
Vinay: When you say structures, are you referring to interoperability?
Interoperability and data governance. So just simplifying things. Just simplifying the information governance process features across a hospital trust would be a huge step forward. That would save an enormous amount of time that hinders a lot of work at the moment. I think you can imagine a future where there’s effectively ‘sand type’ data environments that developers can work with and safely make products with pseudonymous patient-level data that can then be scaled across actual patient data without so much uncertainty of real-world implications. Something similar happens in the banking sector very successfully. So I’d like to see things like that developed because I think that would be a massive opportunity for the NHS.
Enric is the co-founder of LactApp:
Well, probably where other industries have gone through on this journey of empowering consumers, of making them responsible for their own data, of their outcomes. I think health platforms are moving towards that state where users control and decide what they use, how they use it. I believe health is not going to be different. For example, there’s the nutrition part that’s changing how and what we should eat. The transport part is changing the way we move, the way we live, and where we live. I think there’s a vast transformation worldwide, and health will be a big one, basically empowering and putting the user in the centre and having them decide on what they want to do and with their data, health, and behaviours.
John Marc, Head of R&D at WeWALK:
That’s a good question. Can I predict the future? Maybe, maybe not. I’d say, look, fundamentally, one thing we’ve learned for the visually impaired community is you can never just come in and reinvent the wheel. You know, people have lived with specific standards and certain expectations and requirements for years.
Orientation and mobility specialists, for instance, are a cornerstone of the visually impaired communities. So, you can’t just come in with something like WeWalk or like a crazy new device that completely eradicates the smart cane and just promise, “Oh, well, with this device, you’re going to be able to do absolutely everything perfectly.” There is no such thing.
And so, in five years, I think these foundations are going to remain the same. I think orientation and mobility and the white cane are still going to be the fundamentals of everyday life, But, it’s just that new technologies like our smart cane, like our navigation app, like the other assistive technology providers that are going to be more established and integrated.
If you look at the NHS, for instance, using digital technology to connect people to GPs saves the need for travel. So, it’s keeping the fundamental service the same, and you’re still meeting with the doctor. It’s just made it easier, more accessible and smoother. And I think that’s just going to be the heading. I don’t think anything will come in in five years and completely change the way we work and live.
Well, I say that, and we’ve had a pandemic that’s changed home working of course. But I think that technologies like WeWalk will really have a fundamental setting in mobility in five years’ time. So, it will no longer just be a tech device that’s shiny and brand new, but rather a continuous recommendation that’s found its place in the roster of technology used by visually impaired people.
And so will other mobility tools that try to bring together connected technology. So, it’s an exciting journey ahead for sure. We’re going to keep toning it and growing it. And again, as I hope you realise, we’re going to shift to adapt with our work with our community. Our vision is very much driven by what our community wants. So, in five years, we’ll just try to give our community what they requested.