Digital health: the sleeping giant of the health technology sector
Despite the widespread disruption COVID-19 is wreaking, there are potential opportunities for the digital health sector.
It is apparent that healthcare peak bodies (both medical and allied health) and government policymakers have embraced rapid reform during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the digital transformation of Australia’s healthcare system to reduce the relative risk of infection.
An example of a government initiative demonstrating the push for digital health technologies is the COVIDSafe app (notwithstanding the technical issues and questions of relevance highlighted in the media).
There is also some optimism within the digital health sector that opportunities will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Various survey reports suggest that there will be greater adoption of digital health services by the community and clinicians, and improved regulatory and funding environments.
ANDHealth, a not-for-profit organisation aiming to facilitate and support the commercialisation of clinically validated digital health technologies in Australia, has engaged with more than 300 emerging Australian digital health companies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, to gauge its impact.
The companies engaged for the report are diverse in terms of clinical specialties, end-users and technology applications, covering areas such as remote patient monitoring solutions, self-management and behavioural change solutions, data analytics and clinical systems, mobile health technologies, and chronic disease management tools.
The following is an overview with some findings from the recently released ‘Digital Health: The Sleeping Giant of Australia’s Health Technology Industry’ report.
Some key insights:
- following the first coronavirus death in China in January 2020, weekly investment into the digital health sector dropped off substantially
- the single most unused person in healthcare is the patient
- in a connected world, people expect pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers to administer services to help them manage their health
- notably, nine per cent of companies believe that their ultimate paying customer is the government
- as healthcare costs rise and consumers demand more from health systems around the world, digital interventions that improve our health and wellbeing will be crucial.
Potential positive outcomes of COVID-19 on the Australian digital health industry:
- increased acceptance by the medical community as well as consumers
- more reimbursement for digital health technologies
- larger market for digital health technologies
- increased awareness among investors.
Likely areas of growth arising from COVID-19:
- telehealth-related digital health technologies
- remote monitoring
- data analytics
- mental health-related technologies.
These digital health companies can be regarded as sleeping giants in Australia, driving innovation by stimulating economic growth, medical research breakthroughs, advanced manufacturing and high-value STEM jobs.
There are, however, some key challenges for Australian digital health companies impacted by COVID-19, including their ability to access customers, raise capital given the lack of specialised digital health investors, and have access to government funding.
Nonetheless, there are various Australian government-funded initiatives to improve infrastructure and innovation in this space, namely,
ANDHealth, My Health Record, and the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre. Clearly though, more needs to be done to future proof Australia’s role in the global digital health ecosystem.
Despite the lack of access to customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of digital health in Australia looks promising for healthcare providers, digital health companies, the government and, ultimately, the patient.
>> You can check out the report here.
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