Healthtech: a young startup sector ready to wake-up the system

The Covid health-crisis unveils the limitations of our healthcare systems. Often underfinanced, labour intensive and inefficient due to time costly face-to-face appointments and red tape. Although medical science exploded in the last decades, the health system can’t keep up with the growing patient needs, with limited resources. During these critical times, future challenges are already lurking around the corner. Latest estimates confirm overweight already affecting 30-70%, and obesity affecting 10-30% of European adults. The WHO has been repeatedly warning for an obesity pandemic by 2030. In addition, the global population aged 65 or over is expected to double from an estimated 727 million to over 1.5 billion by 2050.    

Technology can help. Healthtech startups can reduce costs for consumers and insurers, establish remote convenience and improve capacity in heavily strained hospitals and private practitioners' practices. Plenty of opportunities are being looked into, as to the preparedness of infrastructure  databases and (ML)software focused on predicting, identifying, tracking, and even containing pandemics. The crisis is currently accelerating tech adoption and regulation between patients, staff and insurers, daily getting more accustomed to remote digital solutions.

Investments in European digital health startups are speeding up, yet this remains a very young sector with 63% of European funded startups founded in the last five years. Benelux and Southern Europe are laggards in the digital health space and are considered undercapitalized markets. It remains to be seen if healthcare is willing to invest budget, time and adapt regulation, contrary to the UK or Northern Europe where walk-in appointments are being replaced by video-visits and online medical files. Policy has a huge responsibility in creating awareness on modern healthtech services, educating on types of digital care and looking into modified insurance coverage. Solutions are clearly needed to relieve pressure in skyrocketing costs, managing epidemics, and building a future proof system.

On a micro level, the healthy lifestyle is all over with sport activities, personalized diets and workouts (and ubiquitous coverage on social media). The last decade produced a tsunami of wearables and mobile apps allowing consumers to monitor, and improve personal health and engage in communities. The possibilities are endless with hundreds of high growth startups focussing on fitness, yoga, exercise, behavior modifications, sleep quality, meal plans, meditation and community building. In the near future, improved connectivity such as 5G will offer even more powerful solutions: on-demand tracking, virtual racing, lightspeed navigation, and high-quality video and content sharing. The monetization potential is huge, and investments are hard to follow. Both this trend and the pandemic are clearly boosting partnerships between employee wellness providers and corporates. HR and wellbeing are hot topics with remote working, resulting in more coaching, behavioral, mental products and services, next to a new generation of accommodation and flex working.

Many sectors were disrupted in their distribution of services. Whether we look into banking, shopping or traveling, all these core activities have been digitized via mobile and online tools. If we want to treat or cure more people, at a reduced cost, the health system will need to embrace direct-to-consumer telehealth solutions and other novel technologies. If the pandemic has taught us anything, is that we can’t allow less valuable use of time and resources.