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The Economist has been a consistent advocate of the benefit of digital health and this week’s edition is no different. 

Necessity drives change and investment

The opinion piece summarises the way health systems globally have responded to the Pandemic with innovation. In many works of life (notably retail), the pandemic has accelerated shifts in behaviour and this has been true in health as well.

The Economist describes the scale of the global health sector – 200M employees and between 9% and 17% of GDP and that productivity growth has been slow. The level of digitisation is around 25% – compared to 50% in travel.

The pandemic has spurred rapid change. The Mayo clinic is quoted as having increased their number of online consultations from 4% to 85% as a result of Covid19.

Importantly for companies like eg technology, in the digital health innovation sector, there has been a boom in venture capital funding for medical innovation. $8bn has been raised in the last quarter – twice that of a year ago.

The NHS surprises itself

The article on the NHS focuses on how the service has responded to the pandemic. The pressure and urgency of the pandemic has enabled a wave of innovation. The most visible and widely reported has been the adoption of telephone or remote appointments by GPs which have surged.  In October 137000 appointments took place online but 10M happened by telephone.

A hospital in north west London had a remote monitoring system in place for high risk diabetes patients. When the pandemic hit, they re-purposed it to monitor Covid patients, at risk of hospital admission. The approval of the app took three weeks. In normal times, this would have been a six-month process, according to the Economist.

The article ends with a great quote from Chris Hopson, of the NHS providers;

The NHS surprised itself by how quickly it did some major things. One of the things that will stick is that sense of possibility of much, much more rapid change.

Digital Health set for explosive growth

The final article focuses on the business aspects of digital health. The article quotes McKinsey Global Institute, as estimating that the digital health market will grow from $350bn in 2019 to $600bn by 2024.  Much of this is the dramatic acceleration of existing businesses across online pharmacy, remote consultation and remote monitoring.

The article correctly identifies the flow of health data with health systems and external access to that health data as key to the digital health revolution.  As has been seen from some of the concerns about Deep Mind access to NHS data, this will require public debate and consent to achieve in the UK. (The NHS is moving to address this with their health technology standard).

All of which says that this is a great time to be building up or starting up a digital health business. eg technology has helped many businesses develop their digital health products, from imaging in the operating theatre to remote monitoring.

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