At the start of 2023, trends such as AI in healthcare and an increased focus on patient data and staff wellness were predicted to define the healthtech industry.
Nine months in, is this still true — and what are the trends defining the industry?
Remote healthcare and wearables
As startups and companies continue working on making remote healthcare apps and wearables faster, more accurate and with increased capabilities, their popularity is also growing. There is also the challenge of staff shortages across the healthcare industry, which is making consumers turn to at-home care and treatment more than ever before.
The mobile phone is, increasingly, the first thing people turn to when they experience a health issue
“If you look at everyday health, some of the big transformations we’re seeing are around how people are seeking prevention more than just addressing symptoms,” says Kenneth Siber, global partnership director and head of the Re/Wire StartupVenture studio at consumer healthtech company Haleon.
“The mobile phone is, increasingly, the first thing people turn to when they experience a health issue, and that’s interesting for us. Just the fact that you’ve got the Apple Watch, which reads your heart rate, and you’ve got a mobile phone, which can measure things like sleep patterns. This makes these devices powerful health diagnostics tools — all these things combined is a different consumer landscape.”
Devices for monitoring specific medical conditions such as diabetes are booming, with the multi-billion dollar sector expected to grow significantly over the next few years.
However, as healthcare apps and wearables expand and operate across borders, the evolving legal and regulatory frameworks of different countries could prove to be a challenge. As providers of apps, wearables and third-party platforms increasingly collaborate, issues around intellectual property, data ownership and data privacy may also arise.
Growing collaboration in the sector
While there’s increasing consolidation and collaboration in the healthtech industry, there’s a pressing need for more.
“The healthcare system in every country is broken,” says Dr Padma Gadiyar, a clinician and founder of Smilo.ai, an AI-driven dental solution. “No one is talking to each other — what is happening in the patient’s mouth to how their general health is affecting it, no one has a clue.”
Kim Palmer, founder of Clementine, a hypnotherapy app for women, says that there are plenty of digital solutions out there, but “people aren’t feeling better”. She says the answer to this could be more collaboration between creators, developers and incumbents in the industry.
The healthcare system in every country is broken
“Even in specific areas like menstrual health, it’s so fragmented. It’s amazing that there’s all these different companies, but the problem is that it’s made it difficult for the consumer to know where to turn.”
Clementine has partnered with Haleon, a consumer healthtech company, to provide increased access to their solution. Palmer says that collaboration and strategic partnerships are the way to go for healthtech. For example, Clementine is developing a digital solution for pain management that could be adopted by the NHS. This could help reduce the need to medicate people, as medication can often lead to issues such as addiction and is also a huge cost.
“We would never be able to do that on our own — but the collaboration between big and small [players] to create better digital products could be a total game changer for people and for the NHS.”
For Siber, the consolidation in the sector can be seen in healthtechs pivoting from B2C to B2B — especially mental health and women’s wellness apps, which are now selling to corporates instead of directly to consumers in order to scale.
“We see so many platforms that are pivoting from a B2C channel as it can be much easier to sell your mental wellness app to Haleon, who will then provide it to all their employees.”
Focus on mental — and digestive — health
According to the 2022 Health at a Glance report, almost one in two young Europeans (15- to 24-year-olds) have unmet mental healthcare needs and the pandemic worsened mental health conditions.
Siber says that he’s seeing a lot of new mental health startups, which “speaks to the fact that people want more than just to take a pill — they want better ways to manage their mental wellbeing.
“There’s huge funding in the ecosystem. It’s also already beginning to become quite mature, with some big players like Calm and Headspace — but we’re still seeing lots of interesting developments.”
Market research shows that there are more than 1,810 mental health startups globally.
Another related trend Siber is seeing is digestive health, specifically with a growing focus on the gut-brain axis. Consumers are becoming increasingly more aware of microbiomes: the collection of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that live on and inside the human body — and a new wave of healthtechs are developing solutions that foster a balanced microbiota.
Capitalising on the vast amount of research available on the topic, these startups are personalising treatment, developing supplements and looking at skincare solutions, vaginal health, the gut-brain connection and more.
“Through our venture studio programmes, we’re seeing a lot of these [digestive health] startups — people are beginning to realise that what you eat and how you eat has a profound impact on how you feel,” says Siber.
AI is big, especially in health data
One of the biggest use cases for AI in healthcare is to analyse large amounts of data — X-rays and CT scans, information on diseases and vaccines, and even handwritten doctors’ notes.
It’s crucial to have digital solutions and systems that work well for clinicians — who’re not always tech-savvy
Access to, and appropriate use of, healthcare data is expected to continue to be vital for the development of innovative products — and for enabling competition in the healthtech market.
Gadiyar says that as healthtech booms, it’s crucial to have digital solutions and systems that work well for clinicians — who’re not always tech-savvy: “If you build tech that’s hard for people to understand and navigate, then consumers will not use it.”
Palmer says that at Clementine, AI models are being trained to speak and write like the voices of Clementine’s experts, to be more efficient with content creation.
“For example, we’re creating a whole range of new sleep sessions and we’ve been doing a lot for children as well. While the actual scripts for this are still written by the experts, if a lesson is for adults, it can be made child-friendly quickly by AI, saving us half a day’s work,” she says.
These sessions are aimed at children who have trouble sleeping, are neurodiverse or have other conditions such as depression, she adds. “So, if we can get the product out really quickly using AI, that’s going to help them — and it’s also making it more accessible by reducing the cost for parents.”