Parallels have been drawn between the healthtech and fintech sectors, with the conclusion being drawn that the former is where the latter had been, just a few years ago.
The emphasis in the healthcare sector continues to be on greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and as a result innovation is ongoing. Accelerated by the pandemic and further hastened by changing demographics and staffing needs, that trend is reflected most dramatically in the rise of healthtech, which the World Health Organization has defined as “the application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures, and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve quality of lives.”
Most notable is the increased use of cloud-based technologies, artificial intelligence, blockchain and wearables. Such devices enable clinicians and users to track vital signs, activity levels, sleep levels, etc.
Moreover, it has led to greater and greater investment in the sector. In fact, parallels have been drawn between the healthtech and fintech sectors, with the conclusion being drawn that the former is where the latter had been, just a few years ago. One observer noted that according to CBinsights.com, some $132 billion was invested in the fintech space in 2021, while $57 billion was invested in healthtech. The latter figure is similar to the amount put toward fintech in 2018.
This is not to say that it is an apples-to-apples comparison. Sean Manion, Chief Scientific Officer for the blockchain company Equideam Health, told Becker’s Hospital Review in a July 2022 interview that risk aversion tends to be higher when it comes to innovation in the healthcare realm, and not without reason. As he put it, "If you mess up something with regard to fintech, money can be lost. But if you mess up something in healthcare, people can die."
Nonetheless it is safe to conclude that healthtech is on the rise, and those in the field realize, now more than ever, that indeed it must be. Nearly half of all physicians responding to one survey said the pandemic accelerated tech adoption, and over six in 10 said it forced them to make changes they normally would have delayed.
Other factors come into play as well, such as the explosion in the sheer amount of data that is available. It is estimated that by the end of 2022, some 97 zettabytes (i.e., 97 billion terabytes) of data will have been created, copied, captured or consumed around the globe, according to Statista. That compares to 15.5 in 2015 and 64.2 in 2020, but pales in comparison to the amount that will be in circulation in 2025: 181 zettabytes.
It is important to understand that this is in all sectors, and (as mentioned) in all parts of the world. But the point remains that in healthcare it is essential to find the means to organize and analyze all that information, so it can be put to its best use. As Joe Miles, Google Cloud’s Managing Director of Cloud Healthcare and Life Sciences, told Health Tech Magazine:
“The sheer volume of this data presents the biggest opportunity in healthcare and life sciences — to provide deeper insights, distribute them to the right people and then make better real-time decisions. … In healthcare, one of the biggest challenges we’re seeing customers face is getting to the right information. This requires time and significant resources coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise. It also requires a fluency in speaking many healthcare data languages natively.”
Another expert, Pete Johnson, field CTO for CDW’s digital velocity solutions team, emphasized to Health Tech Magazine that the cloud is “a pattern, not a place,” and that it is capable of using information more efficiently. To date cloud solutions have been used most often in non-clinical applications, according to the piece – i.e., computing, storing information and increasing network capabilities.
On the diagnostic side, artificial intelligence has been found to be of great value, as it can do such things as automate the analysis of digital images – as when this technology was used to identify COVID-19 on chest X-rays – as well as reduce dosage errors and play a role in robot-assisted surgery. Overall, it can ease workflows, no small consideration in an era when the number of clinicians is decreasing and the number of Americans aged 65 and over is increasing. In other words, there will be fewer people to do more work since patients’ needs tend to increase as they age.
As for blockchain – a secure online ledger sometimes likened to a digital spreadsheet– it has been found to have value in areas like data management and transfer, which could go a long way toward achieving the goal of interoperability. In addition, blockchain can impact matters such as supply-chain management, management of drug-trial data and even medication adherence. Allied Market Research projects that the market for blockchain in healthcare, which stood at roughly $531 million in 2021, will reach $16.3 billion by 2031.
In the home healthcare realm, devices that measure vital signs and provide emergency alerts have been available for years. More recent developments include wearable headbands capable of tracking brain activity and detecting the danger of stroke, eyeglasses that project blue light and improve the body clock, and smartwatches that measure vital signs and make it possible to communicate with healthcare professionals.
Given such growth and innovation, the comparison between healthtech and fintech is apt. Other evidence would be the fact that 50 digital health companies have gone public since 2019, and that the number will increase by 29 percent by 2025. In short, the need is there, and momentum is gathering. There’s no reason to believe it won’t continue.
Joel Landau is the founder and chairman of The Allure Group