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Guest article: Healthcare technology – trends, challenges and opportunities

Almost 20 years ago, in 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a resolution calling on member states to consider so-called "e-health" strategies and infrastructure for modern healthcare in order to reap the benefits of "equitable, cost-effective and comprehensive access". There have been many initiatives since then, but the change is most evident in the distinction between the period before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the supply gap between high- and low-income countries due to disruptions in (pharmaceutical) supply chains or lack of access to comprehensive hygiene and protective measures. On the other hand, the lockdowns have highlighted the advantages of digital supply alternatives and technologies and accelerated their adaptation.

There is no doubt that healthcare technology offers great opportunities. As quantified by the WHO as part of its “Triple Billion Program” (2019-2023), thanks to health technology:

  • More than one billion people have access to healthcare,
  • and more than a billion people will be better protected against health emergencies,
  • and more than one billion people achieve improved health and well-being.

Healthcare technology: trends and market potential

The term “healthcare technology” covers a wide range of services and offerings. Globally, the digital healthcare market is estimated to be worth more than USD 250 billion (2023) with an annual growth rate of 19 percent in the coming years between 2023-2030. Buzzwords in this area include the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual care, remote monitoring, artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, blockchain, smart wearables and telemedicine.

In summary, healthcare technology can be described as a tool that enables the transfer, storage, linking and evaluation of healthcare data across the entire care cycle – from research and approval to education and diagnosis through to treatment and aftercare. This leads to improved therapy results and a higher quality of care.

These are the biggest challenges in the healthcare technology sector

The healthcare system is a complex network of interacting parties, including providers (e.g. doctors, clinics, pharmacies), payers (e.g. the state, insurance companies), companies (e.g. medical technology, pharmaceutical manufacturers), voluntary foundations, patient associations and private households. There are a number of challenges to overcome on the way to digitizing this complex system. The five biggest are:

  1. Patient safety and patient-centricity: ensuring that (digital) healthcare solutions focus on the patient. DMPs (Disease Management Programs), which currently exist – with the involvement of specialists and patient associations – for some chronic diseases such as asthma, COPD or coronary heart disease, are a helpful approach to this.
  2. Ethics: In Germany, the involvement of the Central Ethics Commission, set up by the Executive Board of the German Medical Association, is important in this regard. In addition, guidelines, i.e. systematically developed recommendations for diagnoses and indications, must be considered and updated.
  3. Access and scalability: There arenumerous barriers, such as a patchy supply infrastructure due to a shortage of specialists and the resulting weeks-long waiting times or increased costs. At the same time, regulatory requirements must be taken into account, which can create incentives for innovations, but which often also delay the scaling of solutions, e.g. due to restricted advertising under the Therapeutic Products Advertising Act.
  4. Interoperability: Modularity and compatibility with different systems as well as user-friendliness are crucial. The systems must be understood in order to be used effectively.
  5. Data security and protection: Health data is some of the most sensitive data of all. Compliance with data protection laws such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is therefore essential.

Healthtech as a game changer: these five benefits could change care and treatment forever

Despite all the challenges, healthcare technologies and innovations offer the greatest leverage for ensuring the quality of medical care in the future:

  1. Efficiency and effectiveness: Improving resource utilization and treatment outcomes through the use of technology.
  2. Patient-centricity: An individual approach in both research and treatment is necessary in order to take specific needs into account and enable “personalization” (e.g. through precision medicine) beyond “one size fits all”. This includes, for example, the consideration of a gender-specific context and life cycle, such as female patients who have historically been underrepresented in clinical trials (“gender data gap”).
  3. Collaboration and partnerships: Public-private partnerships, joint ventures and open source initiatives promote innovation.
  4. Sustainability: Sustainability in the sense of conserving resources (e.g. improving waste management), but also in the sense of treatment (e.g. promoting preventive measures).
  5. Access to health information: Increase health literacy by improving access to relevant health information and educational resources that help patients, providers and healthcare professionals make better decisions.

Healthtech already offers enormous potential in everyday life

Healthcare technology is at a turning point and offers immense opportunities. While digitalization is revolutionizing healthcare and making it more accessible, we need to ensure that these technologies are safe, ethical and accessible to all. Case studies such as SORMAS (disease outbreak surveillance and analysis platform) in Nigeria show how digital innovations can already have a lasting impact in certain parts of the world. The use of AI will also multiply the potential of possible applications in the coming years.

However, much remains to be done to achieve the global health targets and ensure fairer and more efficient healthcare. Especially for our healthcare system in Germany, which is still one of the leading systems in the world, we need a digitalization push to keep the quality of care high. However, we need to take off our national perspective and think in European dimensions – despite the different healthcare systems.

Focus on similarities, not differences

The vision is to focus on commonalities and not cling to established differences that are considered “non-negotiable”. In my opinion, this is the only way to achieve change or innovation as opposed to stagnation. This requires a certain degree of proactivity, specifically: helping to shape discussions and trying out different approaches. This is exactly what we want to show with the health.tech Conference. It brings together the most important European and international thought leaders as well as a selection of 100 innovative startups in the field of healthcare technology and a reflection of the entire ecosystem of investors, organizations and companies.