5 digital health trends to watch in 2021, according to investors
Interest and investment in European health technologies is booming. The (often archaic) healthcare industry has adopted a new technology like never before – from digital screening and diagnostic apps to patient engagement platforms and materials.
Healthtech startups attracted new users en masse, and the sector has seen a Investment increase of $750 million from 2019 to 2020making it a record year for the sector.
But what will 2021 bring? We spoke to three health tech investors – Dr Fiona Pathiraja, Founder and Managing Partner of Crista Galli Ventures, Ashley Abrahams, EIS Team Fund Manager at Guinness Asset Management, and Pam Garside, Angel Investor and co-chair of the Cambridge Health Network – on the trends and technologies that matter most to them.
Social distancing has necessitated much greater use of telemedicine, a concept we are all familiar with now thanks to companies like UK-based Babylon Health and Sweden’s KRY. All three investors see this trend continuing as technology improves.
Pathiraja sees innovative uses of telemedicine on the near horizon. She says, “One of my companies, Arthronica, uses computer vision to measure the movements of people with rheumatoid arthritis. You can do it by video and it gives you an objective measure to say that the patient is 30% worse than the previous appointment.
Abrahams adds that the technology is improving to the point that microphones could soon replace stethoscopes, further bolstering the growth of telemedicine. He says, “It’s not quite there yet, but you can see emerging trends emerging.”
And even though not all doctors’ equipment can be replaced by a smartphone, telemedicine has enabled medical professionals to collect new information. White coat syndrome, for example, is a condition where the stress of being in a doctor’s office raises a patient’s blood pressure, giving the doctor an inaccurate reading. Virtual home visits can improve the quality of some tests and treatments and allow doctors to identify potential lifestyle factors when ill, including assessing nutrition from a refrigerator, checking thermostats, and monitoring history for tripping hazards.
“It’s not quite there yet, but you can see emerging trends emerging.”
2. Mental health
Lockdown has had a negative impact on mental health in the UK, IFS study finds 8.1%.
Mental health startups — from workplace wellness and loneliness to depression diagnosis — have been growing steadily since 2014, and many more are still being launched. Mental health startups that have raised funds in the past year include Spill, the Slack app that monitors mental health, workplace mental health platform Unmind, and Meru Health, an AI matchmaker for better therapy.
Record investment in the sector — $588 million in the first half of 2020 alone – has led some, like Garside, to warn that the market may not be able to support all new players, but Pathiraja points out that there is now unfortunately a wider potential customer base for mental health startups: “The pandemic is going to drive a mental health crisis for people who don’t have a large community or are in some way socially isolated.
She says that in the past, the group that suffered the most from loneliness was traditionally the elderly, whereas now isolation causes loneliness in all groups, including Gen Z and Millennials. mental health emerging and targeting younger generations.
An example is Triumf Health, which operates from Finland and Estonia. Triumf offers app-based behavioral and psychological support to children, including those with chronic conditions, in the form of “wellness games,” for which they won the EIT Health Catapult Nasdaq People’s Choice Award in 2019.
3. Deeptech and AI
Even before 2020, AI was seen as a solution for help health systems manage growing demand with limited supply.
“We have now reached a point where there is real AI and machine learning in healthcare,” says Garside, referring to one of his portfolio companies, Kheiron Medical, which uses AI. to evaluate mammograms. It’s a more cost-effective way for a health department to screen for cancer because it often eliminates the need for a second doctor to analyze the x-ray.
Similarly, Spain-based Methinks is cutting assessment time for stroke patients by using AI to analyze preliminary CT scans, for which it won the top digital health award at EIT Health. Catapult in 2020.
As the pandemic pushes healthcare professionals to their limits, the adoption of AI presents a unique opportunity to alleviate some of the pressure. European healthcare startups using AI include France-based Cardiologs, which helps health professionals identify patients with heart conditions, and Britain’s Healthily (formerly Your.MD), which uses AI to help users check their symptoms before deciding to see a doctor.
“Now is the time for deeptech to really come to the fore because there is a lot of science that is needed in the pandemic.”
Beyond freeing the healthcare system from heavy administrative tasks and improving the accuracy of screenings, deeptech could play an even bigger role in the fight against the coronavirus. Pathiraja says, “Now is the time for deep tech to really come to the fore because there is a lot of science that is needed in the pandemic. We’ve created vaccines in a short time, but artificial intelligence and machine learning can do a lot around supply chains for vaccines, PPE and drugs.
4. Personalized and preventive care
Medical care tailored to the individual user is also on the rise, which telehealth offers more than traditional health services. Services are emerging that are specifically designed to provide accessibility to women, LGBTQIA+ people, and black and brown communities.
Grace Health, for example, is a Sweden-based app that claims to be the “first-ever digital assistant for women’s health.” Users can track their period and monitor their health using AI-powered predictions and 24/7 chat support.
Because Covid-19 has interrupted most doctor visits, the personalization of preventive care is also increasing. Abrahams has invested in UK-based Thriva, which makes personalized nutritional suggestions to patients based on the results of a home finger prick blood test and can detect issues such as iron, B12 deficiencies or vitamin D.
Babies also benefit from advances in preventive care, as samples can be taken in a much less intrusive way. Spanish startup New Born Solutions, for example, created a medical device that can non-invasively screen for childhood meningitis and won them the Medtech EIT Health Catapult top prize in 2020.
As bespoke health technologies grow, Garside sees genomics as an overlooked area for startups, despite the crucial role it plays in monitoring of Covid-19 mutations. She says, “Personalization is an important trend. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more 23andMe-type companies that go directly to consumers by providing genetic profiles.
5. Health at work
Pathiraja believes that another area with great potential for growth is occupational health.
Most of the world is forced to work from home this year, and that could become a permanent change, post-pandemic – that’s estimated that 37% jobs in Europe can be performed remotely.
Pathiraja has invested in two companies in this space – Vitrue Health and LiveSmart, both based in the UK. LiveSmart uses comprehensive health assessments and coaching to create a healthier workplace, while Vitrue Health develops computer vision to monitor motor function, ensure workers are safe at their desks, earning themselves a place as a semi-finalist in EIT Health Catapult 2020.
“They will measure you ergonomically to see how you are working. And they have the same kind of technology to do physiotherapy at home,” Pathiraja said.
The pandemic as a catalyst for ideation and creation
Abrahams thinks we’ll see a lot of product development, hiring and investment in health technology this year.
He says: “In any crisis there are opportunities and we’ve seen a lot of really interesting businesses spring up in response to [the pandemic].”
“People are bubbling together as founders. This will be a net positive for idea generation, innovation and acceleration in the health technology space. The crisis has shown the quality and talents of the ecosystem. Everyone adapts. »
Want to know more about the future of digital health? EIT Health Catapult is a unique competition and training program that introduces biotech, medtech and digital health start-ups to leading experts and investors across Europe. Application for the 2021 edition before March 16and 2021, and learn more in join our webinar on February 10, 2021.
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