Digital health companies optimistic on COVID-19's long-term business impact

Many are anticipating greater adoption of digital health services and more favorable regulatory and reimbursement environments, according to a recent poll sampling 513 digital health and adjacent companies.
By Dave Muoio
03:13 pm
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The coronavirus pandemic is causing upheavals in healthcare delivery in every corner of the world, but those hailing from digital health firms are more optimistic than others within the industry that these changes will ultimately benefit their long-term business, according to a recent survey and white paper released by Research2Guidance.

The market analysis and consultation firm polled 513 health company representatives between March 24 and April 8.

Fifty-one percent of these respondents were from digital health companies, with the rest representing organizations such as research institutions and universities (11%), healthcare providers (9%), pharmas (8%), accelerators and venture funds (5%), and other groups. These respondents' organizations were primarily headquartered in the E.U. (49%) and North America (26%), although Asia/Pacific (8%), non-E.U. European (7%) and Middle Eastern (7%) companies also had some representation.

Overall, 34% of respondents said that COVID-19 would have a positive impact on their business, while 31% predicted a negative effect. Those from digital health companies had the highest hopes (with 44% positive, 11% neutral, 22% negative and 24% unsure), while hospitals and other healthcare providers were much more pessimistic (with 9% positive, 67% negative and 24% unsure).

“COVID-19 has dented our business plans in the short term, but in the long run we firmly believe that the situation will result in the acceleration and wide adoption of digital solutions, especially those with a remote care component,” an unnamed respondent from a digital health company told Research2Guidance for the survey.

On the subject of digital services adoption, 53% of all respondents said they expect the pandemic to increase digital health acceptance among patients, while 42% and 39% said they expect positive changes to the regulatory environment and payer acceptance, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, telehealth was singled out as the major benefactor of the crisis, with 65% of respondents saying that these services will see the greatest impact. This was followed to a lesser extent by remote monitoring, self-testing, data analytics and symptom checkers. In addition, 62% of companies said that they have either launched or are planning to launch new digital-service offerings specific to coronavirus.

WHY IT MATTERS

The survey highlights the long-term COVID-19 mindsets of digital health and adjacent companies. For Research2Guidance managing director Ralf-Gordon Jahns, the confluence of new COVID-19 services and general anticipation of long-term digital health adoption is likely driving the increased optimism among many respondents.

"Companies speculate that the greater acceptance and attention during the [coronavirus] crisis can be transferred to other areas and that the trend will continue after the pandemic has subsided. And if digital solutions are becoming the norm in healthcare, this will translate into business," Ralf-Gordon Jahns, managing director of Research2Guidance, told MobiHealthNews in an email. "If companies succeed in converting the currently high level of acceptance and simplified regulatory framework into increased long-term use for other services, the [coronavirus] pandemic will in retrospect be described as the breakthrough point of the digital health industry."

And although Asia/Pacific companies saw less representation in Research2Guidance's survey, the research firm reported disparities among their responses compared to the broader sample. These respondents more often anticipated that COVID-19 would have a negative impact on their business, but also expected the pandemic's impact to be shorter lived than other regions.

"Two factors might play a role in explaining why Asian companies are more hesitant when it comes to the long-term impact the pandemic has on the digital health industry," Jahns said. "First, they have a few more weeks of experience with the current outbreak. Second, lessons learned from former epidemics (SARS 2002-2004, or swine flu 2015). These might be two factors why more Asian companies envision that after the hype, business will go back to normal."

THE LARGER TREND

The companies' expectation of greater digital adoption falls in line with a recent consumer poll suggesting that the majority of people would prefer remote health consultations prior to in-person appointments, in light of COVID-19. Consumers participating in this poll also said that, while there is still room for improvement, their remote-services experience with healthcare has been better than those of other industries such as banking and telecom.

Similarly, the regulatory and reimbursement situation has also been shifting toward the side of greater digital health access.

In the U.S., CMS has temporarily expanded telehealth benefits, the FDA has enacted emergency policies permitting wider use of connected remote vital-sign monitors, and the FCC is bankrolling a major investment in telehealth infrastructure across a variety of provider organizations. Numerous European countries, meanwhile, are following WHO's recommendations for increased telehealth access and support.