Roberto Ascione, CEO of Healthware International — Intouch Solutions’ international joint venture partner — recently participated in the Health 2.0 Europe 2017 conference in Barcelona, Spain. Here’s his recap of that event.
It has been a very busy couple of weeks in the world of digital health here in Europe, and I hope you were able to make it out to Barcelona at the Health 2.0 Europe 2017 where my good friend Pascal Lardier, Executive Director, International Health 2.0, and I gave the keynote presentation on the state of digital health in Europe in 2017.
On the old continent, Health 2.0 is still very young…
The information relayed by Pascal during his opening comments indicated that Digital Health in the EU is still a relatively young industry, where even some of the more mature players that have been around for a few years are having a difficult time generating significant revenue, and 82% of SME are at pre-revenue or under 100k in revenue per year. There is still significant work to do to get the industry moving forward. Funding is also an area where the EU is lagging behind, and although 2016 was the strongest year on record for funding Digital Health startups, only 20% of the $8.2 billion invested happened in Europe. The bulk of the funding has happened in the US, and for the types of solutions that are consumer-facing.
Given this information, it is clear that Europe needs to do a much better job on the investment front, considering how much is being invested in the US, although there have been some happy exceptions where we have seen some significant funding rounds; last year, for instance, the 100 million round for MindMaze, which officially puts it in the “unicorn” valuation range!
My co-presenter Pascal raised an interesting point regarding the state of funding and its priorities, and as the lion’s share of investment is going to the consumer space and the US, Pascal wondered if Europe can continue to rely on the US for digital health innovation when consumers’ health is its main focus.
The concept of a Health Consumer is a very common notion in the US but not in Europe. In Europe, we see healthcare as a free service, so it is difficult for someone in Europe to justify paying for something like a digital diabetes care platform. On the other hand, wellness solutions (for helping sleep, for instance) are something that European consumers are more likely to pay for out of pocket.
Given the above, the perfect customer for digital health innovation turns out to be the Health Insurance companies, but for them it is a question of branding and differentiation. ROI is not necessarily the first consideration; engagement with the consumers is the thing that is top of mind for them, and they want solutions that are able to deliver on that concern.
Open Innovation in Digital Health
When talking about big players in health, we are starting to see more of a concept around Open Innovation. This is when a big company opens up part of their innovation processes to external partners, of course in a controlled way. Startups are often the ones helping the large companies drive this transformation.
As it has become clear, this is the only way that rapid innovation can happen in large organizations who are usually more apt to excel in improving processes and incremental innovation. When it comes to coming up with completely new ways to work, however, this is not usually something that large companies do well, and this is where the external startups play a defining role, and partnering together helps startups come up sooner, and large companies innovate faster.
Forming partnerships, therefore, is the way that young companies can connect to established companies. For these partnerships to be successful however, they cannot be formed around “pilots,” which are traditionally assured to fail as they are only internal tests. Innovation initiatives should instead be built around proof of concept projects with clearly defined business end goals attached to them, and which continue to point the way as the project matures and grows.
Healthcare Professional Adoption
One other area where we are seeing innovative growth is actually in the adoption of new technology and services by healthcare professionals looking for ways that digital can help them with their work. We are seeing physicians using services and sites like digitalhealthstorymap.com, that helps physicians easily find digital health solutions in a fun way based on a diagram of the human body that displays which digital health solutions are associated with a part of the body itself.
Interestingly, another thing that is becoming apparent is that there is a growing need to educate physicians about digital health, because this is not something that is taught to them in the medical schools. This (negative) trend continues after they graduate, because most continuing education programs available to them do not have components that focus on digital health.
Some of the work we do as an agency is to poll physicians to find out what services and information they would like to receive, and increasingly physicians are asking for more knowledge about what the different technologies can do for them and their patients, as well as seeking information on if or how to communicate with their patients outside of the office settings on things like social media channels. It is clear then that digital health literacy is something that should be addressed in the months to come.
AI Is Everywhere
Another interesting area to keep an eye on is that of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, which are finding more and more applications in healthcare. In the specific case of Machine Learning, if a good model is implemented, then it can deliver a service that gets better with each time it is used. When you apply something like this to a service that helps to diagnose a disease, it can potentially provide much more accurate diagnosis than that of older software supportive technologies, which were rules based. In the end, I do not recommend that AI or Machine Learning should be deployed for everything we do, but certainly for some specific applications this is a technology to consider, especially where pattern recognition and predictive analysis is concerned.
The Dawn of Digital Therapeutics
The rest of the keynote conversation touched on new interesting areas where innovation is making itself felt. These include voice-driven interfaces, emotional robots that will revolutionize the way we interact and “converse” with technology. The tools we will interact with are going to be able to determine our emotional state and respond accordingly, and this is going to be very useful in a healthcare setting. Other areas that were covered in the presentation were advances in genomics and macrobiomics, as well as how big data is really starting to make an impact in creating useful services. Ultimately, the one area that I am most excited about these days is Digital Therapeutics, delivered by some top-notch, clinically validated applications such as mySugr for diabetes control or Amicomed for hypertension control. The other very interesting area to keep an eye on is virtual reality, that is starting to find its way to helping treat people with mental health conditions by creating safe environments that they are empowered to navigate and interact with to help develop coping mechanisms.
For more insightful information, do check out the video of the keynote available on Facebook at http://bit.ly/2rwImJe