It can be said of all industries: 2020 was a year of challenges that made space for opportunities. Because the coronavirus was a health crisis in itself, the healthcare industry was one of the most affected of all. Faced with an unprecedented (the world’s most-abused word of 2020) test, healthcare organizations were forced to join hands with tech companies to create innovative ways to solve old problems. Looking at the year ahead, transformations have only just begun. Global healthcare spending could reach over $10t by 2022. Investors poured record sums into digital health start-ups in 2020 (an estimated $12b), and we expect funding to remain high in 2021.
Following 2020’s virtuous example, this is going to be a big year for e-health companies going public – we already know that start-up healthcare organizations like Alignment Healthcare and VillageMD will enter the public equity markets.
Let’s run through some areas of healthcare that will drive the modernization of healthcare and could also serve as winning growth opportunities.
Your local grocery store is now your local clinic
Companies that are not even in healthcare, like Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT), are trying to move into the industry for the noble cause of making services more accessible (in addition to business profits, of course).
Operating in the US, where the costs for healthcare are astronomical, Walmart has the scale and incentive to make an impact. Faithful to its “spend less, live better” motto, the retail giant launched Walmart Health in order to provide “affordable, transparent pricing for key health centre services for local customers, regardless of insurance status”. In rural America you’re more likely to be closer to a Walmart than a hospital, so offering basic health services through these retail outlets as a distribution strategy could have a great impact on often marginalised communities.
Amazon, meanwhile, is focusing on funding e-health startups (eg Haven) and launching healthcare services (eg Amazon Care) for its employees. Amazon is also supporting the cause against COVID-19 by being one of the leading distributors of vaccines. All this to say that the company won’t be falling short of making an impact in the industry in 2021.
Healthcare at your fingertips
5G is enabling the growth of telemedicine services, which includes virtual doctor appointments, home healthcare, and remote patient monitoring. The network’s potential to support telehealth services is particularly helpful in the context of COVID-19, which has forced healthcare to embrace remote ways of working as patients live far from facilities and social distance. In 2020, virtual doctor visits have skyrocketed because of the pandemic, particularly for routine appointments, and the need to fulfil more complex service has seen growing demand. Patients and healthy individuals alike will see a direct impact on their well-being as more app-based resources become available for health management.
Some applications of 5G to healthcare professionals include: monitoring vital signs, blood pressure, and heartbeat (all from a distance!). Integrating 5G with other advanced technologies – Artificial Intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things – will be key in unlocking its full potential.
Dr Robot, here to help you
This brings us to Artificial Intelligence (AI), which indeed has countless applications in healthcare. According to Infoholic Research, the “Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Market” is expected to reach $1.1b by 2020.
AI has been predominately used in the healthcare industry for basic surgeries, prosthetics, and hospital logistical support, so far. Companies providing friendly robots leading in this space are Intuitive Surgical, Rewalk Robotics, and Diligent Robots, to name a few.
However, in the last few years, research has shown that Artificial Intelligence can match expert-level performance even in tasks like early cancer detection. One company seizing this opportunity is Google’s (GOOGL) DeepMind, which has created an algorithm built to predict breast cancer. In fact, Google has become highly active in AI healthcare applications – its affiliates DeepMind and Google Health have created several AI-driven systems that predict patients’ outcomes, averting blindness, and even just reducing wait times, to name a few.
With this in mind, from the perspective of a more futurist state of mind, AI-enhanced with other technologies, such as machine learning, can have an even wider impact on the development of an Internet of (Medical) Things. Enabled by 5G, companies in this space can connect smart medical devices and software applications to improve the services offered by hospitals, medical equipment manufacturers, and health insurance companies, to name an example. It seems that, before we know it, we’ll be living like the Jetsons!