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European digital health startups are prospering
The devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have not hit funding to digital health startups. Digital health includes categories such as mobile health, wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, and personalized medicine. According to Rock Health’s data, investors poured a record-shattering $5.4b into U.S. healthcare technology startups in the first half of 2020. While the U.S. still represents the majority of the digital health market, Europe has been catching up over the last few years. Regulatory barriers have hindered the development of digital health in Europe for years, but increasing support from governments, for example Germany’s fast track procedure, are smoothing the route to market for start-ups. In 2019, Europe-based digital health startups raised a record $2.6b across 300+ deals and the first half of 2020 started strong with $1.15b invested. COVID-19 is turning the spotlight on digital healthcare solutions and consumer adoption is taking off. Across the landscape, these shifts are creating new and unanticipated opportunities for digital health companies as well as for health investors.
This is your doctor calling
For a long time, telehealth has been promoted as a tool as a contributor to achieving universal health coverage. Telehealth improves access for patients’ to cost-effective healthcare, no matter where they live. The umbrella term for interaction with doctors over video and phone, digital handling of refill prescriptions and appointment making, is already some decades old, but has not seen an uptake until the COVID-19 virus came around. U.S.-based health software company Epic’s figures show that U.S. consumers using virtual doctor visits rose from nearly 0% in January 2020 to approximately 70% in April. By August however, telehealth’s share has plummeted to 21%. Epic states that the recent downturn in digital visits could be a result of patient and provider preferences for in-person visits and/or reduced payer reimbursement for telehealth visits. Nevertheless, digital visits largely remain well above pre-pandemic levels, and chances are that as doctors and patients become accustomed to digital health, and with regulators and insurers taking these solutions more seriously as well, it could lead to rapid improvements in telehealth adoption.
Wearables at a turning point
This month, Fitbit published early data that suggest that its wearables can detect with 70% specificity, nearly half of COVID-19 cases one day before participants report the onset of symptoms. The study is one of many initiatives that investigate how data collected from smart watches, activity trackers or medical wearable devices can aid with tracking the virus. While most wearable devices are limited to tracking heartrate and activity, even these simple metrics can pinpoint telltale symptoms of infection. Several studies, for instance, have found a rise in resting heart rates before or at the time of diagnosis. Moreover, device makers are adding more functionality, such as measuring temperature and stress levels. The newly launched Amazon Halo and Fitbit Sense, for instance, both include a temperature tracker. With more functionality and increasing recognition from the medical community who are testing devices for accuracy and clinical relevance, wearables could be pivoting from consumer gadgets to potential healthcare gateways. Although they cannot diagnose their wearers, they can surely urge them to make a doctor’s appointment.