Realizing The Digital Health Opportunity

Over the last decade, the world has experienced a wealth of development in the life sciences and healthcare space, with new digital solutions gathering pace. It goes without saying that 2020 was the year that this trend was considerably accelerated, with the COVID-19 pandemic proving the catalyst for a massive leap forward. As Stefanini’s Global Digital Health practice leader – and having spent more than twenty years working in the digital health area – I have long observed trendsetters and early adopters demonstrating the enormous potential of life sciences and healthcare through new solutions. The most successful of these involve ensuring the patient is always at the center, also known as patient-centricity. COVID-19 has made patient-centric digital health more important than ever, as a result of new patient requirements, social distancing mandates, and the need for unified remote care.

It seems fair to say we’ve entered an entirely new era globally when it comes to how to manage our health. This hasn’t happened because it had become possible but instead because we were forced to make it possible. COVID-19 has brought niche innovative solutions into the industry mainstream – with approaches used in a minority of cases now being used in the majority. This is a huge difference compared to where we stood a few years ago when there were much lower levels of adoption and willingness to move to a more digital approach. At that time, four main issues needed to be tackled in order for life sciences and healthcare innovation to truly deliver on its potential and gain wider acceptance and adoption. Firstly, skeptics were demanding tangible proof that becoming digital would generate a real and verifiable positive impact on life sciences and healthcare as a whole. Secondly, a functional range of efficient business models was needed to enable these digital solutions to deliver market value and define who would cover the costs of these digital health services. Thirdly, there had to be a trigger that would accelerate the development and implementation of the digital revolution in the industry, which came in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, there had to be a number of players in the industry with a strong footprint, experience and credibility in the life sciences, healthcare and IT space, with the ability to take existing digital technologies and match these with the rapidly changed and immediate requirements brought about by the pandemic. We’re now seeing the results of all four of these conditions being met.

Telemedicine is the perfect example. Hospitals were full and very contagious, vulnerable patients were less mobile while the need for medical examinations was growing rapidly. Reports show that before the pandemic, less than 1% of all doctor visits in the United States were conducted remotely through telehealth solutions. Within the first three months of the pandemic, this number increased to over 50% and continues to rise every day. This trend has extended beyond telehealth, with nearly all aspects of digital health experiencing an accelerated progression.

In order to address this enormous increase in the demand for digital health solutions, it is crucial for industry experts to transform their approach to digital services. This will involve remaining constantly aware of the most recent innovative developments and continually matching these with the rapidly changing needs of the digital health industry.

There are three key steps that will be required for industry leaders to maintain the digital health momentum:

  1. Create a helicopter-view in order to obtain a clear understanding of any new value proposition, including what the service or solution will look like and the return on investment (ROI) it will generate. 
  2. Perform strong due diligence on how the solution will be designed in order to fit with the ongoing market dynamics, including detailed investment buy-back scenarios and whether these mean reimbursement by the patient, the payer, the government or any other party involved.
  3. Create a strong team, work with validated data, and establish a good idea of where you fit into the ecosystem.

Based on the significant opportunity for digital health, Stefanini believes now would be the ideal moment to reflect on the future of industry.

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