The future of healthtech: 4 healthcare trends reshaping the industry

Satnavs. Facial recognition. The Cloud. FinTech.

We slip words like these into conversations with the same ease as the next person. New technology has become part of our bread-and-butter vocabulary, without question marks.

Healthtech, on the other hand – that feels a bit more niche. Or it did, until Covid-19 made us sit up and pay attention. 

24 months into the pandemic, nobody needs a lecture on the importance of healthtech; it’s staring us in the face. But health tech didn’t emerge on-the-fly in response to the Covid crisis. It’s been around for a long time.

And it’s big business. In 2017, Forbes valued the digital healthcare industry at an astounding $25 billion globally. They predicted that number will skyrocket above $379 billion by 2024. 

We all know that health tech helps predict the spread of diseases, track pandemic outbreaks, and contain them. But there are lots of other new developments in the future of healthcare that will change the way we live.

And these developments are no longer on the horizon; they have fully arrived. Welcome to the future of healthtech.

Get ready for…

Wearables

Ok, you’ve already got this one. Fitness trackers (like FitBits) are health wearables. We like knowing we’ve put in my 10.000 steps. But other types of knowledge about what’s happening in our bodies can be more vital. For some people, it’s their heart rate; for others, their blood pressure, or their oxygen supply. 

Person wearing smart watch.

Continuously measuring these things makes a huge difference for people with chronic conditions. And these wearables don’t just make the invisible visible; they also act as a kind of coach. They empower wearers to become active participants in managing their health condition. Immediate feedback from a wearable can change habits; habits can change health; and health saves lives. 

Wearables are particularly relevant in the time of Covid-19. But they will continue to be so well beyond it, as part of a bigger drive towards preventative or pro-active health care. 

3D-printed prototypes

3D-printing technology still sounds like sci-fi. But it’s here, and it’s a quiet revolution in healthcare. Technology like this can create everything from personalized prosthetics to bio-tissues and blood vessels, at a fraction of the past cost. It transforms organ transplants and tissue repair. It can even produce realistic skin grafts for burn victims. 

3D Printer in progress in a hospital.

In 2020, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, managed to develop a method for printing 3D-print living skin, along with blood vessels.

Blockchain for electronic healthcare records

Blockchain and the future of healthcare? Not obvious at first. But think of electronic health records, and how important it is to keep those accurate and safe. 

Blockchain technology can play a key role in ensuring that medical records are 100% accurate. It also makes them significantly harder to hack. Conflicting information is automatically detected, thanks to a decentralised network of computers. And blockchain not only helps prevent data breaches; it also cuts costs. 

So it’s no wonder that many health and pharmaceutical companies are investing in blockchain technology.  A recent report put the blockchain health market at $890.5 million by 2023.

Artificial Intelligence


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a key driver in health tech. We already see it in chatbots and virtual health assistants that act as diagnostic tools, and even as therapists

But the real power of AI becomes clear in areas like precision medicine. In the past, many cancer patients received cookie-cutter treatments with high failure rates. Because of AI, we now have more personalised treatments, based on individual genetics and lifestyle factors, amongst other things.

iPad and Laptop with technical charts on screen.

AI also plays a big role in the discovery of new drugs and the development of vaccines. That’s a Bigger Deal Than Ever Before in the Covid pandemic. 

And finally, one of the things AI is exceptionally good at is Pattern Recognition. That means it can analyse large amounts of cancer images that help recognise and diagnose cancer. One famous example of this is Google’s DeepMind, which created an AI for breast cancer analysis. The algorithm outperformed human radiologists on pre-selected data sets to identify breast cancer, on average by 11.5%.

The market value of AI for future of healthcare worldwide? $34 billion by 2025.

VR/AR

Most of us are already familiar with this technology. Immersing yourself in a simulated environment is fun. But it can also be a therapeutic tool. For instance, VR environments help train people to deal with mental health triggers safely. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Bipolar Disorder. Covid-related Stress and Anxiety are now being treated this way.

Woman wearing VR headset for healthcare.

The training potential of VR is – well, awesome. Take surgeons, for instance. A recent Harvard Business Review study showed that VR-trained surgeons had a 230% boost in their overall performance.

Compared to their traditionally-trained counterparts, they were both faster and more accurate. At Case Western Reserve University, students learn via a VR-based HoloAnatomy app. This offers detailed and precise experience without the need for real bodies.

The future of healthcare keeps evolving, and the UK is in a strong position to drive it forward. It has some outstanding health tech companies, a powerful research base, and a solid scientific reputation.

Computing and data are an essential part of (almost) every organization. Regardless of your industry, if you’re a business leader responsible for frontline workers, you probably realized a long time ago that you need to think of your company as a tech company.   

But do you know that your organization should now be a healthcare company too?

In light of the Covid pandemic and rapid growth in remote work, safeguarding your workers has become a mandatory part of doing business. This means you’re now also looked upon to bring in measures like: 

  • Enhanced biosecurity
  • Sanitization stations 
  • On-premise screening technology 
  • Quarantine areas at places where workers need to be on-site

By making these types of smart technologies accessible to your workforce, you can give way to improved safety standards and early alerts that reduce the risk of contagious threats. 

Here are the top 4 trends to keep you up-to-date on recent developments in the world of healthcare and technology. Use them to identify opportunities to leverage them for your organization going forward. 

Virtual care and remote medicine are on the rise

You drive to the doctor. You sit in a waiting area for ages until your name’s called. When your appointment finally happens, it’s a few questions, a prescription, and you’re sent on your way. You wonder why you spent so long commuting for a matter of minutes.

Sound familiar?

That’s why virtual care is replacing minor in-person appointments. The past two years have further accelerated this trend, leading to an increase in virtual visits or telephone consultations. 

According to a recent McKinsey study, the number of people using telehealth rose from 11 to 46% during the pandemic. It further predicts that telehealth would account for $250 billion — 20% of the US healthcare spending in near future.

Healthcare infographic displaying data that reads: 'the number of people using telehealth rose from 11 to 46% during the pandemic'.

Virtual care not only reduces the risk of spreading contagious diseases but allows healthcare professionals to fit more consultations into their daily schedules. This is a vital factor for highly populated nations facing a shortage of medical professionals, such as India and China.   

A healthcare practitioner examining something under a stethescope.

Genomics and gene editing lead to further breakthroughs 

Before you get all excited — no, we haven’t figured out how a spider’s bite can turn a normal kid into spiderman.

But the good news is that there’ve been significant breakthroughs in gene editing, accelerating the development of different types of “precision medicine.”

This means drugs can be tailored to the genetic profile of each patient, enhancing their effectiveness and minimizing side effects.

Precision medicine is already used in many ways, one of which is ‘lab on a chip‘ — a technology that allows fast detection of Covid. It’s a hand-held device that can detect if someone is infected with better accuracy than conventional signals such as fever and coughing. So, it can go a long way in getting our lives back to normal. 

Data and AI drives shift to fairer healthcare insurance and coverage 

With all the strain that the coronavirus pandemic has put on our healthcare resources, you’d think it must have grown the bottom line too. Surprisingly, that’s not the case. In the US, healthcare revenues fell by 50%  as patients avoided surgeries and hospitals. 

Healthcare infographic displaying data that reads: 'US healthcare revenue fell by 50% during Covid-19'

But the silver lining in midst of all this is the revelation that people are willing to share their personal data when it’s a matter of their health. This is evident from how much people have engaged with track-and-trace systems. 

The more data people share with health services, mobile apps, and online systems powered by AI, the more accurate picture healthcare providers will have of their well-being, along with a sense of when they should intervene. Not just that, it helps healthcare providers forecast the most efficient way to deliver their services.  

This also matters from a financial perspective because other entities such as insurance companies can use advanced predictive technologies to measure risk and set premiums more accurately. 

AI, IoT, and Smart Cities improve our ability to detect and respond to future outbreaks 

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we were embarrassingly unprepared to deal with an outbreak. And we should have a collective, predetermined strategy if something similar happens in the future.

A key part of this strategy is the concept of “Smart Cities,” powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT). According to Statista, global revenue from smart city projects is estimated to reach $129 billion in 2021. 

The idea of a smart city is based on incorporating digital connectivity and data-driven decision-making at our respective locations. And its applications extend to many areas such as: 

  • Energy distribution
  • Public transportation networks
  • Refuse collection
  • Environmental health initiatives

It’s not just the organizations that are becoming health-care oriented, but also city planners and municipal authorities. These government bodies are now allocating resources to develop technologies that can help us predict, detect and prevent pandemics. 

Another major focus is environmental health. Tech-driven initiatives are being put in place to reduce air pollution and build resilience to the effects of climate change, including the rise in sea level and temperature.

Conclusion

Even if most of your workers are remote, don’t think for a second that your health concerns are over. They now require even more attention because you don’t have the luxury of regular, face-to-face contact. It’ll be hard for you to tell when your employees are burning the candle at both ends. So you still need to support the mental health of employees as they perform their duties in the field, or from home. 

That’s where the healthcare technology trends we outlined can help. There are several health apps available for professionals to monitor physical activity, practice meditation, set reminders for breaks, water and exercise, and so on. 

The only way to avoid setbacks that can take you by surprise is to stay on top of the latest trends and innovations. The faster you can respond to relevant changes in your industry, the better for your organization.