High-tech Solutions to Healthcare’s Burden
Spending on healthcare is going up and up. Amid this trend, healthcare systems around the world are turning to digital innovations.
Spending on healthcare is increasing. Fueled by factors such as ageing and growing populations, greater affluence in emerging markets, advances in medical treatments, more prescribed drugs and rising healthcare labour costs, outlays globally are projected to increase at an annual rate of 5.4% from 2018 to 2022. This is a considerable rise from 2.9% from 2013 to 2017.
Amid this trend, healthcare systems around the world are turning to digital innovations. But the benefits are far more transformational than just cutting costs.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, cloud-based computing, virtual health, robotics and quantum computing will herald important evolutions in healthcare – ranging from providing more personalised and accessible services, to making payments and identity management quicker, cheaper and more reliable, to the ability to process DNA data more effectively.
The investments in this direction cannot be underestimated. A new report released in late 2019 by market research firm Absolute Markets Insights, predicted that the medical technology (medtech) market will grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 17.1% from 2019 to 2027, to reach US$2,324.34 million.
.As a result, it is fair to expect the many offshoots that will come from innovation to play a key part in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goal #3 of good health and well being.
Bright future for medical innovation
For now, AI probably has the largest number of test cases in this space. For instance, it is being trained on reading x-ray images with accuracy rates better than most human doctors when it comes to diagnosing illnesses like cancers, tuberculosis, diabetes, pneumonia and blood infections.
However, the applications of new technologies for healthcare are only as limited as the imagination of their creators. Some of these include:
Bluetooth-enabled smart inhalers – where a small device attached to the inhaler records the date and time of each dose and whether it was correctly administered, and then sends it to the patient’s smartphone for tracking purposes.
3-D printing and artificial organs – such as blood vessels and synthetic ovaries that can then grow within the patient’s body as replacements.
Wireless brain sensors – placing bio-resorbable electronics in the brain that measure temperature and pressure, and then dissolve when they are no longer needed.
Mobile cancer screening – using battery-powered, hand-held colposcopes to take high-quality images of the cervix.
Health wearables – to enable more frequent and routine detection of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and to monitor the effectiveness of treatment.
As the industry matures and speed-to-market increases, an ever-greater flurry of real-world usage is inevitable.
Yet various services, platforms and products are already reshaping the delivery and consumption of healthcare services in multiple countries around the world. These come from a mix of types of companies that are leading by example, such as:
Shimadzu – a Japanese manufacturer of analytical and measuring instruments with the aim of improved performance to enhance drug quality control.
Teladoc – a virtual healthcare platform that provides telemedicine services in many countries to increase access.
Waters – a global supplier of high-performance scientific analytical equipment and consumables that help to advance scientific knowledge.
Huami – a biometric and activity data-driven company that launched a new smartwatch in mid-2019 to monitor heart rates, analyse sleep and track exercise.
Asia carves new healthcare paths
In terms of revenue, the Absolute Markets Insights report highlighted that the Asia-Pacific medtech market, valued at just over US$91 billion in 2018, will witness the highest CAGR between now and 2027. Medtech companies in the region are therefore forecast to grow at a considerable pace – including in China (15%), South-east Asia (13%) and India (12%) in less than a decade.
This also follows key government-led initiatives. In China, for example, the central government’s 13th Five Year National Science and Technology Innovation Plan, released in 2017, aims to develop technologies for precision medicine, integrate them into a multilevel knowledge database and create a national platform to share biomedical big data.
India is pioneering on a smaller – yet equally significant – scale. Domestic schemes are underway in relation to mobile health and telemedicine. Further, a growing number of public and private hospitals are moving to online patient registration and service delivery systems.
In Singapore, meanwhile, the government revealed plans in November 2019 to create a dedicated AI unit to develop policy and encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors. It has allocated S$500 million (US$366 million) to nine priority sectors, including healthcare.
Innovative public-private sector research and development within the AI field is helping to transform healthcare in other parts of the region too.
In the eastern China’s Wuxi City, for instance, a new life sciences park opened in September 2019 in line with the local government’s bid to attract global firms to nurture a healthcare ecosystem to benefit domestic and overseas patients.
Given such ambitions, a study by MIT Technology Review Insights in association with Baidu on the future of active health in Asia, suggested local healthcare players focus on the most challenging and widely experienced issues in domestic and international markets.
Further, start-ups will need to consider how they navigate complex healthcare regulatory regimes across different countries, although initial efforts to look at harmonising some of the regulatory frameworks in relation to digital health in Asia give reason for some optimism.
Tapping into the healthcare story
Widespread efforts to innovate in search of solutions to healthcare challenges are also creating new investment opportunities.
According to an October 2019 Nomura research paper , for example, around US$120 billion has been raised in China by funds to invest in healthcare and life sciences, with about half of that amount yet to be deployed.
The paper also cites the example of Hong Kong’s stock exchange, HKEX, allowing since April 2018 pre-revenue and pre-profit biotech companies to list. At the same time, the healthcare sector in middle-income markets like Malaysia and Thailand is continuing to grow.
If these and other ways to access the growth trajectory of medical innovation in Asia continue to attract more capital, it will provide a well-appreciated boost to interest and appetite for further support towards a healthier society overall.