Donal Cummings, VP of digital health and life sciences at Enterprise Ireland’s Chicago office, describes how digital health is expected to change in the years ahead.
Technology is an increasingly important part of the delivery and experience of healthcare internationally. Experts estimate that the global digital health market will exceed €300bn by 2024. Growth will primarily be driven by the US market, which could account for as much as €122bn of total value.
Digital health is an umbrella term for anything which, as the US Food and Drug Administration defines, enables the “convergence of people, information, technology and connectivity to improve health care and health outcomes”. The term digital health covers everything from consumer wearables like Fitbit to electronic health records, telemedicine and genomics.
Some overarching technological trends are emerging which may dictate the future of how healthcare is provided.
Two of the most captivating trends are cybersecurity and augmented reality (AR). Cybersecurity is becoming a cause for concern within the Medtech industry. Valid concerns about health data privacy, combined with the increasing digitisation of that data across platforms, has created a situation in which healthcare organisations are vulnerable to cyber-attack.
There has been a surge in ransomware attacks, situations in which a hacker extorts money in exchange for returning stolen healthcare data. This cyber threat does not just affect healthcare providers. The rise of the Internet of Things is creating fears that medical devices could be hacked. The need to combat these threats, along with the need for compliance with emerging legislation, means cybersecurity’s role within healthcare will only increase in importance.
Two innovative Irish companies are showing how innovative technology will help to allay these fears in the years ahead.
Irish start-up Nova Leah was among the first to address the issue, developing the first expert cybersecurity risk-assessment system for medical devices. Founded and led by international subject matter expert Anita Finnegan, at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Nova Leah provides an automated solution for implementing and maintaining cybersecurity requirements across medical-device product portfolios. There are many opportunities for such companies that can mitigate real and mounting risks.
AR was once science fiction. Unlike its high-profile cousin Virtual Reality (VR), which offers a digital construct of a realistic setting, AR enables the blending of digital components with the real environment, as proved so popular with Pokemon Go. Dublin company 3D4Medical has long recognised AR’s potential to reshape healthcare and is rolling out a number of innovative projects, working closely with an international tech giant, which will see them apply AR to their exhaustive anatomical model. The project offers exciting possibilities for transforming the way healthcare providers engage with patients.
3D4Medical is developing technology to morph a patient’s MRI scans to its models, letting medics adapt the augmented model to the patient’s unique characteristics. Developments are under way to give a visual representation of the effect of disease on the body.
The industry will not be without challenges. A volatile political climate presents obvious challenges in a heavily-regulated sector. Companies need to be agile to deal with unexpected politically-created roadblocks – from new regulations to altered trade agreements.
Every niche is seemingly catered for by software developers and entrepreneurs in locations like Boston and Silicon Valley. Inevitably, major companies appear poised to dominate the market – and the process is under way. Through acquisitions and the utilisation of superior resources, major incumbent tech, medical device, pharmaceutical and insurance companies are gradually gaining market share. Already, 10% of Fortune 500 companies are new entrants to healthcare and digital health.
The digitisation of healthcare represents a vital opportunity. It is well acknowledged that in the current US model, healthcare costs are high, coverage is incomplete and outcomes not at optimum level. Digital healthcare offers an opportunity to change this.