The advancements that have been made in digital health in recent years have been phenomenal. These innovations have been dominated by some significant driving factors such as the pressure on health services throughout the pandemic and the need for healthcare providers to consider alternative solutions. In addition, the recognition that mental health needs to be protected in the same way as physical health has led to a rise in digital health solutions and advancements. But given the significant pace of change – how will this translate into digital health solutions in the coming years and which digital health industry trends will dominate these advancements?
As early-stage investors in UK technology companies, digital health is a sector we’ve invested in considerably and will continue tracking as more exciting innovations and developments emerge. It’s also a sector that has seen huge inflows of investment, venture capital investment into UK health tech has increased 9x since 2016, growing from just $420 million (£137 million) in 2016 to $3.8 billion (£2.87 billion) in 2021.
What trends are driving digital health innovation?
It’s integral that the health system in the UK and globally keeps up with the pace of change when it comes to providing healthcare and there is a need for healthcare providers to constantly innovate. But what factors in recent years have dominated these innovations and what solutions are emerging?
The impact of the pandemic on digital health solutions
Back in March 2020, the world was plunged into lockdown and healthcare providers were stretched to breaking point – routine and urgent appointments to check for conditions such as cancer were cancelled and access to services such as MRI scans were significantly limited. One of our own portfolio companies, National MRI Scan is providing its own solution to this growing problem. The company is seeking to minimise long wait times for booking an MRI scan. The platform connects individuals to an MRI provider in a short period of time and also allows private medical practices to capitalise on the fragmented and underutilised scanning capacity.
In the UK, 24% of patients wait over 6 weeks (NHS Diagnostic Waiting Times and Activity Data 2020) for a diagnostic imaging test, and with over 42.7 million imaging tests registered every year, the problem is growing. Having generated over £2m of revenues in a little over a year of operation, the company is currently building its UK B2C marketplace and is planning to launch in the US and Germany in 2022. It aims to be the “Expedia for medical scans”.
The need for digital health services to address the mental health crisis
Globally, there is a better understanding that we need to protect and support people’s mental health in the same way we do for their physical health. It’s a topic that is increasingly being discussed, highlighting that more support needs to be made available to those suffering from mental health issues. This was exacerbated further throughout the pandemic as so many people were left feeling isolated and analysis suggests that the number of referrals for specialist NHS mental health care reached a record high in England by the end of 2021.
Digital healthcare services have played their part in ensuring that mental health support is available for more people, particularly those that believe therapy is financially beyond what they could usually afford. During the pandemic, there was a 200% increase in the use of mental health apps and as Covid restrictions have eased, these apps have remained popular with an average growth rate of 55%. HelloSelf is a company in our portfolio which is providing mental health support digitally. Their team of Clinical Psychologists, Counselling Psychologists and CBT Therapists use science and evidence to inform them about how they can support their patients. Once a patient has communicated why they’re seeking therapy through the app, they’re then matched to one of HelloSelf’s therapists and can book appointments from there to access all the support they need at an affordable price.
While there is a long way to go to solve the mental health crisis, digital health innovations are helping more people access the help they need.
Digital healthcare services supporting those with chronic illnesses
Another important trend in digital healthcare services is the acknowledgement that a one size fits all approach isn’t sufficient and that bespoke solutions need to be available for those that suffer from long term conditions. There is a growing need for those people that suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes to access the same healthcare benefits as those that are well.
For example, life insurance can be challenging and hugely costly to access if someone has a long-term health condition. This can mean that they are unable to get cover at all and potentially leave their families vulnerable if anything were to happen to them. Traditional underwriting methods use outdated methods and models resulting in a lengthy application process, inaccurate spreadsheet modelling and poor customer experience. We’ve recently invested in a seed stage company, Bluezone that is offering a solution to this issue. It offers specialist life cover for those living with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The team at Bluezone are a group of doctors, AI and behavioural scientists on a mission to improve the lives of those with chronic diseases by offering life insurance that empowers customers to live healthier lives.
The future of digital health innovations
So, what trends will dominate the development of digital health innovation in the next 5-10 years? There are several emerging themes that we’re monitoring:
1. Workplace wellbeing – there is an increasing awareness that to get the best out of their employees, employers need to look after their health and well-being. This may be through offering better flexible working solutions but also specific digital health services such as therapy through companies like HelloSelf
2. Genomics – the study of people’s genes is revolutionising healthcare by creating precision medicine that customises treatments to match a person’s genetic profile. Digital health technology is playing a leading role in the development of this
3. IOT and medicine – The Internet of Things (IoT) is the growing network of physical objects that contain software, sensors, and other technologies that enable connections and data exchanges with disparate devices and systems across the internet. Within healthcare, it’s a rapidly growing field – using wearable devices and integrated applications to support healthcare needs.
4. Virtual and Augmented Reality – Within the healthcare sector, VR helps with surgical training and planning, enabling both surgeons and patients to get more comfortable with procedures. There are also many reports about the efficacy of VR for helping with chronic pain management and mental health. It’s a digital health solution that we’ll continue to monitor as it continues to develop.
Digital health innovation is set to continue making significant advancements as the pressure on health services to support the needs of society evolves. As an early stage investor, we’ll continue monitoring the sector and tracking the latest developments and innovations.