Portable medical devices, telematic care, personalized medicine, remote diagnosis formulas or 3D printing are some of the technological innovations that have revolutionized the health sector in recent years. A sector immersed in a profound transformation that, as stated in the report “La salud que viene. Five trends that mark the future of the sector”, prepared by Mapfre Open Innovation and Accenture, has also experienced an unprecedented injection of liquidity: in 2021, digital health startups received 31,000 million dollars in venture capital, 60% more than past year.
Along the same lines, the Global Market Insights consultancy valued the global digital health market at 200,000 million US dollars in 2020, with a growth forecast that is expected to exceed 600,000 by 2027. The Deloitte consultancy also highlighted in its article “ Health Technology Investment Trends: A Vision of the Future of Health”, the $21.6 billion invested in digital health companies in 2020, more than double the amount made the previous year and almost four times the amount invested in 2016 , according to research firm Mercom Capital Group.
Technological innovations that have revolutionized the healthcare sector in recent years
It is, therefore, a sector in full evolution, with digital technology as a driver of change capable of contributing to “improving health outcomes by improving medical diagnoses, data-based therapeutic decisions, digital therapies, clinical trials , self-care and people-centred care, in addition to expanding the evidence-based knowledge, skills and competencies of professionals to provide health services”. This is detailed in the “Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025” [Global strategy on digital health 2020-2025] of the World Health Organization (WHO), which wants to contribute to improving and complementing the work of existing or newly created digital health networks by strengthening health systems through the application of digital health technologies aimed at consumers, healthcare professionals, healthcare providers and industry to empower patients and realize the vision of healthcare for all.
‘Home-Spitals’ and ‘Wearables’
The covid pandemic has been one of the main drivers of the digital revolution that the healthcare field is experiencing and, especially, of the advancement of some of the trends that, according to the Mapfre and Accenture report, will mark the future of the sector. Notable among them is the advancement of remote home care or home hospitala term coined by the World Economic Forum which, as the report points out, seems to continue to grow in the coming years, in which it is possible that a relevant part of primary care will move from medical centers to homes: the use of remote devices in February 2021 – with a peak of use in April 2020, during the massive lockdowns in Europe – was 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels, and it is estimated that in 2025 spending on home care will represent 25% of the total health budget.
Beyond the pandemic, adds the report, the progress of telemedicine responds to the saturation of public health systems (even before the arrival of the covid) and the slowness with which physical infrastructures adapt to the growth of the population in urban areas; to the aging of the population; the need for public and private health providers (including insurers) to alleviate operating costs to accommodate the prices of new treatments and the need to return to health care the humane, close and quality treatment that tensions in the system have deteriorated in recent years.
The covid pandemic has been one of the main drivers of the digital revolution in the health sector
Mapfre and Accenture also point to how technological advances have made it possible to make countless self-monitoring devices available to patients, whether for medical, sports or well-being purposes. In the field of consumer electronics, for example, the latest report on trends in fitness conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) indicates that the use of portable technological devices has occupied the first place in the trends of 2023, a position it has maintained since its appearance in 2016.
Along the same lines, the “Disseminating report on the national survey on fitness trends 2023”, carried out by the sports consultancy Valgo Investment, shows that the monitoring of training results and the use of exercise apps for mobile devices are among the 15 top positions in terms of trends in Spain, and portable technology, for its part, occupies position number 20.
The monitoring of training results and the use of exercise apps, among the top 15 trends in Spain
Also in this field, they point out in the trend report, “advances in genetics have jumped from scientific use to consumer health, making molecular tests and genetic analyzes available to the average citizen who, beyond discovering their propensity for certain diseases , you can know your sensitivity to certain substances and change your habits to meet your health and wellness goals: sleep better, lose weight, improve your cardiovascular capacity, etc.”
All this provides them with tools to have more knowledge and control over their well-being, empowering them and making them an active part of prevention and the path to better health, a trend already pointed out by Accenture in its report “TMT Predictions 2022”, which announced that the smartwatches and wearable medical devices would help patients monitor their health at all times, not only when they do sports, contributing, among other things, to addressing the saturation of the healthcare system, the aging of the population and the large investment of resources that they entail. chronic diseases.
AI and precision medicine
If there is a common denominator to many of the technological advances implemented in the healthcare field, that is artificial intelligence (AI). These solutions have been transforming our daily lives for decades and have contributed in the health sector to the design of new medicines and to reducing production times and costs, reducing diagnostic errors, improving the prevention and treatment of common diseases, according to the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (ENIA) promoted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation of the Government.
Thanks to it, genomic tests have also been improved, the early detection of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and skin cancer, progress has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and neurodegenerative diseases, and it has contributed to the research of medicines and personalized treatments. . In addition, precision surgery continues to evolve, and patient monitoring has improved with AI-based applications, biomarkers and software, according to the base document of the “Artificial Intelligence Strategy of Catalonia”.
In the field of personalized (or precision) medicine, AI has been essential
In the field of personalized (or precision) medicine, artificial intelligence has been essential in combining “mass access to aggregated and anonymized information with data sources relating to a specific individual: their medical history, data from sequencing of their DNA and their molecular phenotype, contextual and behavioral factors captured by devices, etc. ”, indicates the Mapfre and Accenture report. Thanks to it, they add, this medical field is not limited to present diagnosis and the choice of treatment, but advances in prediction, contributing to the prevention of ailments and the impact of treatments.
Predictive analytics and its simulation capacity are also used with the so-called digital twins or “digital twins”, in which the AI uses the data to represent complex systems and simulate scenarios based on the changes registered or, even, different organs of the body. body.
3D printing is another of the technologies that takes advantage of AI as an engine of evolution, allowing, for example, testing and planning interventions, reducing the time spent and the associated risks, or printing prostheses or medical material that contributes to personalization and facilitates their availability. .
The report “The health that comes. Five trends that are shaping the future of the sector”, prepared by Mapfre Open Innovation and Accenture, points out some examples of technological solutions that are shaping the present and future of the healthcare sector:
‣ TytoCare telediagnostic device that evaluates the vital signs of the patient in real time, allowing the specialist doctor to carry out a 100% satisfactory and quality examination.
‣ AcuPebble® SA100, from Acurablethe first medical device to obtain the CE mark for the automated diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
‣ Self-service health solutions such as PAI Health (cardiovascular health metric that motivates to stay active) or Koa Health (mental health application), which use artificial intelligence to offer personalized programs that the user can follow individually and independently.
‣ home monitoring of cardiac and respiratory patterns offered by Donisi.
‣ Biofourmis health platformwhich allows treatments to be automatically adjusted based on patient data obtained from wearables and other devices.
‣ digital health platforms such as Savia (Mapfre), Doctor Go (yoigo) or Movistar Salud (MoviStar).
‣ AsthmaMD, that allows patients to self-monitor and control asthma attacks
through adaptive medication administration.
‣ EndeavorRxthe first video game prescribed by doctors for the treatment of ADHD.
Digital divide in health
Although no one doubts the potential of digital health and technological advances in the health sector as a tool to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of different diseases, many point to the risk of increasing inequalities
and bridge the digital divide.
This concept, which the WHO defines as “the imbalance that exists between demographic units or regions that have access to modern information and communication technologies and those that have limited or no access” affects, according to the Forum Spanish of Patients to more than 60% of those over 70 years of age in Spain.
The body urges measures to combat the
digital divide, including offering older people alternatives to online access to health centers and hospitals (appointments and waiting lists), alternative telephone access to people over 65, others
options for access to the health system for older people living in rural areas with little or no connectivity or basic training on internet and health.
Along the same lines, the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine warns about the fact that the elderly and white areas of the territory are currently at risk of health exclusion due to the digital divide, turning digital transformation into a This is another determinant of health that, moreover, overlaps with the social gap: the higher the level of social exclusion, the greater the digital gap.