With a new coronavirus variant afoot and an uncertain 12 months ahead, MobiHealthNews has compiled 2021 predictions on the key themes that will affect the digital health industry during a potentially turbulent year. We hear from a range of EMEA-based health and tech leaders on the continued efforts to close the health equity gap, the growth of self-care apps, VR technology, employer technology investments and the improved use of health data.
Matteo Berlucchi, CEO of UK-based self-care app, Healthily
"I think people are now feeling more empowered because of the advances in mobile technology and ubiquitous, affordable connectivity. This feeling of empowerment translates in the desire to take more control of one's life: from finance to dating, from travel to healthcare. Health is somewhat the laggard of the digital era so I expect 2021 to be the year in which the majority of mobile users will start turning to their devices to better understand their health and how to improve it.
"COVID-19 has changed the world and, sadly, it will stay with us in some shape or form for the foreseeable future. People are learning the hard way that self-care is the most important type of care and I expect 2021 to be a big year for people looking to manage whatever health situation they can on their own.
"Healthily took many years to build because of its complexity and focus on patient safety. This year we are finally ready to go to market and our app will empower everyone who uses it to take control of their health with AI self-assessments, the most reliable health library in the world, the most versatile and secure journal and a range of bespoke hubs for the management of the most common self-carable conditions."
Dr Philipp Wustrow, Swiss teledermatology platform OnlineDoctor
"The field of dermatology is undergoing profound change. We expect this trend to continue and even accelerate in 2021 due to the pandemic.
"We have an increasing number of dermatologists in our network who wish to spend over 50% of their working time in the home office and they assume that a significant proportion of their future work will involve digital communication with patients. In this regard, we expect asynchronous communication between dermatologists and patients to prevail over traditional video-consultations.
"We sense a significant increase in openness from physicians and patients to take advantage of teledermatology. Thus, we anticipate that teledermatology will become an integral part of the treatment and diagnosis of dermatology cases in 2021.
"In 2021, we will observe that there will be a "bottom-up" effect from patients who actively request and expect the possibility of teledermatology consultation. In addition, there will be an increased "top-down" effect from physicians actively promoting teledermatology services to their patients. Dermatology will appear in a new guise in 2021, a digital one."
Prof Daan Dohmen, CEO of Netherlands-based remote patient monitoring platform, Luscii
"In 2020 we saw digital healthcare take significant strides forward. More and more healthcare sectors introduced different forms of teleconsultations in order to stay connected with their patients in times where hospital capacities were stretched. But this is just the start.
"More healthcare organisations will start organising new “front doors” using digital apps for their existing and new patients. These digital triage systems able to triage patients even before they leave to go to the doctor or hospital will become more important as A&E and GP resources are stretched in the fight against COVID. With this, patients can be screened and connected to the right care professional or self-help immediately away. It could be seen as the next generation of 111.
"During COVID-19 remote monitoring of patients is used in many trusts as a method to keep a ‘finger to the pulse’ of patients with chronic diseases such as COPD and heart failure. Different projects, like the virtual ward project in Sunderland (UK), showed how the data collected creates a full picture of how patients are doing at home negating the need for regular hospital visits. In 2021, the available data will be used even more intelligently by adding artificial intelligence capabilities to help doctors and nurses intervene at just the right moment in time.
"Virtual wards - as set up during COVID-19 - show that healthcare needs transformation on the way budgeting is done. Instead of budgeting based on ‘activities’, we will see more and more budgeting based on subscriptions. Patients will get access to 24/7 remote care and will be regularly checked by the technology and nurses within the virtual ward. This will lead to earlier patient discharges and reduced hospital admissions. It is the future of integrated care systems!"
Roberto Ascione, group CEO and founder of global digital health company, Healthware Group
"The inevitable invisibility of digital health, and by that I mean, as with other industries, when technology starts to dematerialise. Digital health will start to be woven into everyday objects more and more. We’re starting to see this happen through the emergence of smart homes and smart cars (i.e. the steering wheel measuring the heart rate). As more data is collected passively, there will be greater opportunities for integration.
"Ageing in place will become more common as baby boomers age and feel more comfortable leveraging tools like remote monitoring, telehealth and disease management platforms. Living independently will be critical to this age group and digital health tools will help support them in that endeavor leading to an explosion of adoption and growth in the overall industry as a result. This is evident in the amount of investment in the category.
"We expect to see what we call, “Health Data as a Service” (HDaS). As an increasing number of solutions and devices generate increasing amounts of health data, there is a greater need for aggregators of that data in a useful way for consumers. Consumers want and need tools to make sense of all that data. They also want to ensure they know who has access to that data, and control over where that data can flow. So, we expect to see more tools supporting consumers in this way."
Laurent Vandebrouck, CEO of France-based digital health and remote monitoring company, Chronolife
"In some EU countries such as France, the Nordics, etc., remote patient monitoring (RPM) has been reimbursed by the payers for the last two years for certain types of chronic diseases (CHF, COPD, diabetes). Back in 2019, the adoption and prescription of RPM to patients discharged from hospitals was really slow, but the COVID-19 crisis has been an incredible accelerator of RPM to ensure that only patients needing critical inpatient care are (re)admitted to hospitals, during a time of continued healthcare resources shortage.
"As a consequence and as an example, the French payer has decided to extend to all CHF patients the reimbursement of RPM services. This means that the RPM market will dramatically increase in the coming two years, but the payer and regulator will have to support and push for a consolidation of the market to ease the job of the healthcare professionals, who are sometimes lost with numerous RPM solutions for which they have difficulties to assess and choose which ones to allocate and prescribe to the patient. The payer and regulator will also have to push for interoperability between the different RPM solutions at the medical device and service platform levels. These two challenges must be met in order to realise our intended objective for RPM's mass adoption and in reducing the overall healthcare cost for all stakeholders."
Steve Roest, co-founder and CEO of digital healthcare provider, PocDoc
"2020 has proven that we never know what’s around the corner, and that we can plan for the most unexpected of situations but we can still be left in unforeseen circumstances – a challenge in itself for 2021.
"It is clear to me that there has never been more need for the innovation we are seeing within health tech, specifically digital health, and the industry as a whole will see significant growth throughout 2021 and beyond. Taking the impact of the pandemic into consideration, we’re bound to see the need for access to health services moving out of clinics and onto individuals and into non-clinical locations, for example the workplace, community and home.
"As we’ve seen primary care locations struggle and become over-stretched, we foresee an increasing demand from healthcare organisations to deliver point of care testing for a range of health conditions, both in and out of the traditional clinic setting. At the same time, patients will demand more of their testing happens at home, or in non-clinical locations. As such, on both sides of the supply/demand equation, more solutions facilitating these demands are required.
"That’s where PocDoc come in, any healthcare professional or individual is able to use a PocDoc test and app to screen for a range of major diseases, with results available immediately using just a smartphone - the service can be used from any location which is an answer to the aforementioned demand. The PocDoc digital platform can integrate both our own tests, as well as any existing rapid test, and our ability to scale at speed, and address major healthcare issues at a global scale, means that we are able to pivot quickly and efficiently whatever the situation."
Christophe Aubry, MD of global AI and natural language processing company, expert.ai
"2020 has been a year of significant advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) applied to healthcare, and we see even more needs for automation at scale in 2021.
"Typically – and despite the growing trend towards digitalisation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, tracking insights in specific therapeutic areas as well as finding and analysing clinical trials still rely on manual, labour-intensive processes. By leveraging the capability of automating the reading, categorisation, and extraction of scientific and research content with high-level of accuracy, AI can streamline the analysis of patient feedback, medical records, and clinical data.
"Thanks to advanced natural language understanding technology, AI is becoming an integral partner to health and life science organisations to accelerate research and development, and provide more cost-effective care."
Christina Colmer McHugh, co-founder of wearable mood tracker, Moodbeam
“Without a doubt, there’s most definitely been a shift beyond wearable technology being used to track just physical health to also using it to gain a better understanding of one’s mental wellbeing, feelings and general happiness.
“The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent need for people to work from home, if and where possible, has led to several individuals feeling disconnected from others, and businesses should focus on investing in and taking a proactive approach to their staff’s mental wellbeing. Health tech wearables like the Moodbeam One help foster a safe environment to engage with employees’ work happiness in real-time, which can then be used to make improvements or provide additional support where appropriate or be reflected on at leisure."
“My hope for 2021 and beyond is that all businesses champion positive physical and mental wellbeing, equally. It’s such a confusing and unnerving time for us all, so what is important is that we maintain our social connectivity and make time for self-care and reflection, and no more so than when at work.”
Charley Wainwright, The Future of Construction lead at Pagabo
“Undeniably, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the mental health crisis that the UK is currently facing. It’s also fairly likely that there will be some form of ‘PTSD fallout’ from the way that the virus has changed the way we all live and work.
“There has always been a mental health issue within construction, which has been highlighted by the industry’s suicide rate being significantly higher than the national average. In my opinion, several individuals will experience an element of fear from working on-site and with contractors working with people that they’re not necessarily familiar with, this could lead to higher levels of anxiety and uncertainty. My hope is that it becomes common practice to promote a more open and inclusive working environment that champions both positive physical and mental wellbeing among its employees, following the lead of those companies already championing this approach.
“Wearable technology, such as the Moodbeam One, facilitates meaningful conversations between businesses and their staff. Moodbeam offers a non-invasive and simple way for people to record their feelings in real-time through the choice of two buttons, to state simply whether they are happy or not at work, so it’s very easy for people to take that first step in acknowledging how their mood changes from day-to-day and allows employers to understand more about the people that work within a business.”
Dr Sina Habibi, co-founder & CEO at UK-based medical tech company, Cognetivity
"AI will continue to grow in the healthcare space. As we have built huge networks of sensors and infrastructure around collecting and processing data particularly health and medical data, AI will play an ever more critical role in making sense of such a vast amount of data and helping the physicians in making right decisions in diagnosis and also monitoring the treatment efficacy.
"Expansion of smart phones and tablet usage have enabled steady and strong growth in the remote/teleconsultation sector over the past few years, but closure of physical clinics as a result of pandemic has resulted in exponential growth in this sector. Some reports estimate 900% growth over the next five years. Even after the pandemic there will be a big behaviour change in the sector in that you don't visit patients in the clinics unless absolutely necessary.
"Our technology offers numerous advantages over traditional pen-and-paper examinations, including its short duration and high classification accuracy, coupled with the absence of a practice effect or any cultural or educational bias. Nevertheless, it is the computerised nature of the ICA and its ease of use, eliminating the need for the presence of a healthcare professional, that positions it particularly well to enable the switch from in-person to remote assessment as the era of telemedicine dawns."
Miri Polachek, CEO at Israel-based wellbeing startup studio, Joy Ventures
"There have been many trends that have gained traction in the past year, including the continued rise of wearable technology, mental wellness tech, and sleep enhancing devices and products, but other big trends to look out for this coming year will relate to social, corporate and at-home wellness.
"With many companies opting to allow employees to continue working remotely in 2021, supporting employees’ wellbeing and maintaining company culture will be top-of-mind for employers. The global corporate wellness market was recently projected to reach $93 billion (€76 billion) by 2027 (compared to $57 billion in 2019). A growing number of digital solutions focus on helping people virtually replicate the “water cooler conversations” and form meaningful social interactions the workplace once afforded.
"Confronted with more stress than usual in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals have had to rethink what it means to relax and find equilibrium by placing more focus on the quality of their time at home, how it supports their physical and emotional wellbeing, and how they can create moments of joy and self-care in this context. A growing number of consumer products are helping us achieve this sense of calm and recreate the experiences that once brought us peace of mind – like working out outdoors or at the gym – safely from home, including wearables, apps, VR experiences, and video games."