In the second of a three-part series, I explore key areas for innovation in 2021
Digital health came of age in 2020. There really is nothing quite like a global pandemic to drive innovation and modernise Australian healthcare infrastructure.
And with growing levels of comfort and an increase in the number of health tech businesses securing funding, this is a trend that is only just gaining momentum.
It is fair to say that digital healthcare had a bumpy start with the Australian Government initially failing to convince consumers to let them do what the tech giants have been doing for years – using technology to track health data.
At the launch of My Health Record, a digital summary of an individual’s health records that the government keeps in a centralised database, 10% of Australians opted out. With clear potential to improve patient mobility and use data for policy development, for many people their privacy and cyber security concerns were insurmountable.
But in 2020 the government’s My Health Record earnt its stripes. As of October 2020, there were 22.85 million My Health Records and 96% of hospitals were accessing the data.
In November the Australian Digital Health Agency’s (ADHA) acting national health chief information officer Kerri Burden announced a new National Infrastructure Modernisation (NIM) program that will be rolled out over the next decade.
Ms Burden reinforced the ADHA’s commitment to increasing the pace of digital adoption by breaking down key barriers for consumers and healthcare providers. The NIM program is centred on what a digital health ecosystem could deliver to Australian patients through healthcare providers.
The tech giants have long viewed healthcare as a large opportunity. Apple has been collecting health data from users of its watch product for years.
Ten years ago, Google set its sights on healthcare with a healthcare advisory board, drawing on both expert knowledge and extensive patient data to produce a specialist health search engine.
It then abruptly abandoned plans to set up individual accounts where users could store medical records as it found the heavily regulated industry to be plagued by conservativism that made progress slow and difficult.
C-19 has changed this by forcing adoption and with high levels of consumer comfort for sharing their information with the tech giants. Once again this presents an opportunity for tech companies to use their strengths to break into the sector.
With the benefit of experience, companies like Microsoft are launching a fresh assault.
Eric Horvitz, chief scientist at Microsoft, recently said: “We’ve continued, as a tech sector, to typically underappreciate a bottleneck,” which comes from trying to move, “from computer science principles to the real world of clinical care”.
He says that a better understanding of the day-to-day needs of medical workers will ensure that tech solutions have better take-up.
Digital health has been on an upward trajectory on the Gartner Hype curve for some time so with mass adoption now a reality we could also expect to see second generation tech businesses usurping businesses who were first to market with more advanced technology.
For startups there are some front runners emerging in the key areas of telehealth, remote monitoring and connected devices.
We have seen the successful adoption of real time telehealth and for startups such as HotDoc there is an exciting opportunity to expand consultation so that patients can receive medical advice remotely by sharing images and videos digitally for a doctor to review at a later time.
If Medicare is able to cover appointments that are not taking place in real time, we can expect to see rapid growth in technology to meet this demand.
With vaccines rolled out around the world we can also expect to see digital health passports being essential criteria for international travel. In the UK late last year, VST Enterprises has launched a public “fit to fly” health passport designed for air travel.
The cross-border platform called V-Health Passport can be downloaded and used alongside any form of C-19 testing and vaccination that does not use unsecure bar codes and QR code technology. Airlines and transport carriers can also download and use the system.
Wearable technology has become a mainstay for those interested in health and fitness but the applications of this have far reaching potential. In the US social fitness platform Strava has reportedly achieved unicorn status after raising a further US$110 million in a late stage funding round.
Subscription based fitness tracker manufacturer Whoop raise a further US$100 million as part of a recent financing round, valuing the company at US$1.2 billion. The use of wearables has great potential for monitoring those suffering chronic conditions.
But healthcare technology is fraught with sensitivity so for startups addressing privacy will be key to their success. As well as cyber security concerns, there is nervousness around the use of data by insurers, employers and data brokers who benefit from information that identifies their risk and allows them to profit.
For tech companies to success in their fresh assault on healthcare, the benefit to society and individuals must always stand above the gain for governments and the profit to business.
- Benjamin Chong is a partner at venture capital firm Right Click Capital, investors in bold and visionary tech founders.