As 2021 draws to a close, MobiHealthNews consults experts across the EMEA region to find out their vision for the year ahead in digital health.
Filippo Falaschi, senior consultant, digital health and med tech investment management firm Spex Capital
There’s no doubt the pandemic served as a major catalyst in the development and adoption of digital health technologies at speed and scale. Investment figures and deal counts in 2021 have dwarfed those from previous years and, with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.5%, the industry is now projected to reach nearly $650 billion (€574.2) by 2026. While the question of how and when COVID-19 will finally be overcome remains, what is certain is that growing investment interest in health tech will continue at full speed not just in 2022, but for the remainder of the decade and beyond.
The rise of digital health solutions aimed at facilitating delivery of healthcare services will spill over from 2021. Virtual care through telehealth and remote monitoring will continue to be an incredibly important vehicle to increase healthcare access.
In association with the rise in telehealth we can expect an increase in demand for integrated ‘companion’ solutions, from wellness and remote monitoring to the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). As the digital transformation continues to make healthcare more patient-centric, unlocking data will be crucial in informing growing areas of interest such as digital therapeutics (DTx) and the shift towards a more value-based healthcare model.
Rayna Patel, CEO and cofounder, Vinehealth
The last 18 months saw a dramatic increase in the need for remote care, as well as a surge in the uptake of technologies that enabled this need to be met. So, as 2021 draws to a close, going forward we expect to see a positive step change materialise in the willingness of clinicians to take on technology into their day-to-day workflows, beyond the technologies that supported their work throughout the pandemic.
We also expect to see the conversation around balancing health and quality of life – and how this differs across individuals – become centre stage, reiterating the growing importance of patient-centred care. Again, there’s a huge opportunity for technology here: not only can it provide not a more personalised, human-centric service to patients, but in doing so, it can have a hugely positive effect on patient outcomes.
Hassan Chaudhary, global digital health specialist, Department for International Trade, UK
It’s been a tougher year than expected for most digital health firms. There’s been so much hype around the sector and more funding available than ever, but it hasn’t been easy for firms to capitalise on the opportunities. They’ve also had to adapt as healthcare systems adjust to the pandemic.
I’m glad there has been far more awareness of, and commitment to, regulation, standards and evidence. However, there’s also far more noise now. There are simply too many firms for buyers to keep a track of – all promising they can do wonderous things and failing to differentiate themselves.
It’s all about the deep tech now. Buyers and investors are no longer satisfied with the simpler things in digital health which saw success a few years ago. They are demanding rigour in innovation. It feels like the penny has dropped on digital transformation and how 80% of the focus must be on people and change and 20% (if that) on technology, and that will define 2022.
We’re also seeing buyers increasingly move away from point solutions towards whole pathway thinking. How do solutions integrate with each other towards a patient or citizen benefit? Firms which don’t grasp this will lose out.
Professor Eyal Zimlichman, deputy director, chief medical officer and chief innovation officer, Sheba Medical Center, Israel
Though for several years, we have seen digital health solutions adopted into health systems, the COVID pandemic undoubtedly created a surge in the adoption of these technologies, which we will see continue in 2022.
Telemedicine became a central tool for patient care and management. Through 2022, additional services will become virtual, and COVID will continue to drive adoption of these services to enable patients and physicians to safely interact, bolstering the growing trend of ‘hospital at home’ programs. Specifically, patients with acute conditions such as pneumonia and chronic diseases like heart failure will be able to be safely monitored in home environments using digital health solutions that provide care teams with real-time data.
We will also see expanded use of artificial intelligence (AI) driven tools to support diagnosis and treatment of patients. Three areas we will see AI having a greater impact include clinical decision support tools in radiology, remote patient monitoring systems and digital pathology.
Rainer Herzog, founder and managing partner, Digital Health Partners, Germany
We’ll see a strong trend in healthcare systems moving towards connected care and the exchange and analysis of health data. This can only be accomplished on the basis of digital infrastructures such as electronic patient records, digital health exchange platforms or telematic backbones and structures. We’ve seen this is a pre-requisite to steer and manage care on a larger level, especially in crisis situations.
The use of DTx to complement traditional drug therapy will gain importance. Germany has introduced a legal framework for certification of digital apps to achieve DTx status and reimbursement. Other EU countries will follow.
Patient engagement or co-creation in the context of digital app or DTx development will become more important. Some life sciences companies have already started to combine their patient relations and digital innovation teams.
Digital solutions and tools will increasingly be used to collect Real-World-Data (RWD) directly from patients and in clinical trial settings. Registration authorities such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the FDA put an increasing emphasis on RWD in the context of drug approval.
Liz Ashall-Payne, founding CEO, ORCHA, UK
There will be a big focus on upskilling healthcare workers in 2022. Whilst social prescribers and the new roles created through the NHS Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme will likely lead the field in activating digital solutions, it’s vital that all frontline staff are familiar with these new approaches.
ORCHA’s digital health training academy, sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim, will be open for all UK healthcare workers from March 2022. This UK-first service will offer free, CPD-accredited training in digital health skills. We’re excited about the potential of our academy – we want it to be a catalyst for real progress.
Our clinical teams at ORCHA believe digital health is extremely well placed to help the NHS tackle the elective surgery backlog. The British Medical Association (BMA) estimates that, between April 2020 and October 2021, there were 4.13 million fewer elective procedures. Digital can support across a broad spectrum of the priority medical conditions, in particular ophthalmology, musculoskeletal (MSK), cardiology and dermatology.
Ian McNicoll, CEO, freshEHR clinical informatics and director, openEHR International, UK
Over the last year, the focus in the NHS data strategy on separating data from applications meant that for the first time this is seen as a real strategic option at both national and regional level. As such, 2021 has seen a real practical interest, and increasing deployments of standards-based clinical data repositories as a viable low-code data management approach and the use of a variety of standards – FHIR, openEHR, IHE-XDS and SNOMED CT – the FOXS stack -is being understood as the direction of travel.
In 2022, we expect increasing interest in the UK and across Europe in standards-based platform architectures alongside traditional interoperability, but also better understanding that a blend of standards is required and there are no silver bullets. It will take time but there will be recognition that top-down standardisation has limited impact and community-led evolutionary approaches are needed in parallel.
Outside of standards, I think we’ll see the assumption that the GP system is the primary source of the longitudinal patient record being challenged, with several regions exploring single shared prescribing records, as have been deployed in Denmark.
Tomaz Gornik, CEO, Better, Slovenia
As we look to 2022, healthcare systems across Europe continue to face significant pressure due to COVID-19 and the effects of care backlogs. The pandemic, while immensely challenging, proved that healthcare can adapt, and digital innovation has been central in this. Digitalisation and opening up the use of data has enabled the services to be more resilient and innovate quicker.
I believe that in 2022 we will see platforms to transform healthcare take a leap forward across Europe. I think we will see the scaling of innovation at pace, with far more significant deployments tackling problems in different ways. I also think there is the potential for greater inter-industry collaboration to drive just as much innovation as the systems themselves, however we need health leaders to set the right conditions to facilitate this.