The digital age is well and truly upon us and most industries have made radical changes to do away with antiquated systems. But the medical field, albeit revolutionary in some spectrums, has been coasting along with an “if it’s not broken, why fix it” mentality for the most part.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that this system is in fact, very broken. The new normal was rapidly embraced and the whole industry was forcefully shifted into a digital paradigm. Drive-through care, teleconsultations, and remote patient monitoring is the way forward and seems to be the most effective way to target an invisible foe.
But how sustainable are these systems? Will we see an entire market overhaul once most of the pressure has been relieved? Until we know for sure, MedTech companies are battling it out to be at the forefront of this innovation crusade.
The Covid Effect
Before the world changed irrevocably in 2019, less than 15,000 people received digitized medical care on a weekly basis. Thinking back on it, this number is quite shocking considering the current technological dependency the world is facing. By April 2020, AMA Network Open found that this number has increased by 4,000%. Over 9,000,000 benefitted from these advancements in a short period, a number much more reflective of where the market should have been by that stage.
There has been a large-scale disparity regarding access to these digital revolutions though. The lack of connectivity or funds is an ever-present hindrance that has halted development for decades. The largest concern however is the financial implication of a tech-based medical field. A contactless system has copious amounts of advantages but the initial investment needed may be its biggest downfall.
On the other hand, the decline in expenditure over the long-term might outweigh these start-up costs but could ostracize market segments that cannot adapt to these changes. Face-to-face care and follow-up costs could end up skyrocketing even further, making traditional care unattainable. It seems that for every advantage there is an equal and opposite disadvantage.
What kind of innovation are we talking about?
These systems have been gradually integrated into mature economies over Europe and North America but it is a long way from reaching countries where it is needed most. Initial rollouts of many telehealth solutions have nevertheless shown a reduction in long-term care costs in many cases. Claris Reflex is a wearable remote rehabilitation device. It allows the caregiver to receive information about the patient’s overall health, movement, vital signs, and progress. This has ensured that patients are released from the hospital earlier and eliminates the need for regular check-ups and physical therapy.
Another innovator in digital healthcare is Pear Therapeutics. They are pioneering the field of Prescription Digital Therapeutics. Their introductory products, reSET, and Somryst, cater to individuals suffering from substance abuse and insomnia respectively. Down the line, they are looking to treat severe psychiatric and neurologic conditions too. Patients can receive cognitive behavioral therapy with outcomes delivered straight to clinicians.
Preventative care is another big area that is enjoying much-needed attention. Biofourmis has created a predictive platform to accurately treat chronic patients from the ease of their own homes. This is ideal for mobility-impaired or remote patients to get fast and accurate treatment on a regular basis to prevent readmissions down the line.
What does this all mean for MedTech startups?
The doors have been flung open for innovators to enter the market with cost-effective solutions that can guide the industry into this new phase. But the race is well and truly on for funding from industry heavyweights as the medical field is notoriously monopolized. In 2020 the investment rate in digital health startups doubled in Canada alone and this is a trend that will continue globally. Regulatory bodies are fast-tracking these kinds of innovations to guarantee rapid growth. Next to join are reimbursement bodies that will elevate the accessibility.
Startups need to consider carefully who they partner with and create a definitive outcome to secure a place in a market that will soon be oversaturated. Intellectual property will be hotly contested during these times and providers need to evaluate the economic impact they might inadvertently have.
The need for sound business models is doubly important when you consider that publicly funded healthcare systems generally struggle for resources and have to monitor their finances carefully. Startups need to consider the economic impact of their health solutions given that innovations usually come at a price. Other key elements to consider are having sufficient data to make accurate forecasts, as well as having the right product market fit and sales-cycle projections.
Here is a checklist for digital health startups looking to make their mark on the digital healthcare sector:
- Meet your regulatory requirements — your technology must comply with regulations
- Ensure your goals are the same as your patients — a solution that is personalised to the patient will always win out over a generic one
- Allow enough time/resources for sufficient clinical studies/trials — this will ensure you have enough data/evidence to support your product
- Protect your IP at an early stage to avoid difficulties further down the line
- Put together a far-reaching business model
The digital healthcare industry is only going to increase in size, and startups are well placed to take advantage of this burgeoning sector. It’s not enough to have the right product, however — ensuring all key elements are addressed will increase your chances of achieving the right investment and taking your digital health solution to the next level.
Digital mental health monitoring and innovations regarding information assimilation and privacy compliance have emerged as key sectors during this first phase of expansion. Covid-19 has been a mere catalyst for this emerging market and only time will tell how sustainable it will be.
Bipin Bhola, Brinc MedTech Mentor
Bipin Bhola has been in the medical devices field for 15+ years in diverse roles ranging from fundamental research to applied research product development and upstream marketing. More recently, he was involved in running one of the most successful university based medtech commercialization program in Singapore, called JUMPstart.
Trained as a scientist with a PhD in Applied Physics from the University of Southern California and an MBA from the Singapore Management University, he has a mindset that traverses both the technical and commercial realms and he has applied them successfully to mentor several startups who have found success via large capital raise or global market entry of their products.
Currently, he is a co-founder of a startup that focuses on developing gamified and smart robotic therapeutic solutions for children with neurodevelopmental and genetic disorders. Bipin gets immense satisfaction by helping young and enthusiastic startups grow and watch them succeed. He has a vast network spanning industry professionals as well as healthcare professionals and is always looking for a lively discussion with young startups on their innovative ideas.
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