The digital revolution of healthcare

Global funding to private digital health start-ups grew for the 7th straight year in 2016, hitting a high of $6.1 billion. 2017 has so far already seen its first billion dollar exit with CoverMyMeds being acquired by Mckesson. The market of digital health is expected to grow at a CAGR of 21.0% by 2022, according to research by Business Wire, and, in particular, the mobile health (mHealth) segment is expected to witness the fastest growth during the forecast period, at a CAGR of 34.0% globally.

The digitization of the health sector is no small feat when you consider that the whole industry is characterized by strong regulatory constraints, designed to protect people’s privacy, that cover all stages of the healthcare process, from research to therapy approval, to data communication. This resulted in a slower and more controlled progress of the digital revolution, but finally, healthcare start-ups are gaining an increasingly important role in the health industry. Mobile technology, for instance, allows a continuous and constant contact between users and healthcare staff; also, thanks to big data and analytics, the industry can now find, monitor and study huge amounts of data and information, and use them to personalize the healthcare process.  Genomics, artificial intelligence and deep learning technologies are all tools that can revolutionize – and are already doing it – the healthcare industry as we know it today.

Tech giants like Google, IBM and Apple are well aware of this and have already made early inroads into digital health, investing in wearable devices, apps and digital databases. Google, for instance, has launched a proprietary search service that offers medical explanation of symptoms. For Apple, too, health is a whole new business: in 2014 a platform called HealthKit was released, that allows developers to integrate health-dedicated applications into Apple systems. The company led by Tim Cook is also moving in the space of telemedicine with CareKit, a platform that is specifically designed for doctor-patient applications, in order to enable a totally technological dialogue and a considerable reduction of costs. The future of healthcare, then seems to be digital: according to IDC Technologies services, the company that monitors the market of new technologies, 70% of health organizations worldwide intend to invest in mobile and wearable applications, in order to collect remote data on various – sometimes very serious – diseases.

2017 could mark a turning point in the industry of digital health: so far, the digitalization of healthcare has mostly interested the management process, but today, clinical and decision-making segments are ready to embrace digital solutions, especially if they are ICT (Information and Communication technology). People working in healthcare seem to be ready to welcome digital innovations – even in Italy: according to research by Netics, in 2016 over 62% of doctors and 51% of nurses said they were “not satisfied” of present hospital ICT solutions. Hospital managers, too, expressed a previously unstated demand for innovation. Digital health offer is beginning to provide to this demand with platforms and application solutions that are increasingly oriented towards supporting clinical and decision-making activities, such as the so-called “unified communications and collaboration platforms” – designed to share more or less structured information, high-resolution images and sound, documents and data on various channels. Or Clinical Decision Support Systems, the new software solutions aimed at clinical and social healthcare, that are able to support decision-making thanks to machine learning technologies.

From the perspective of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the digitization of the Italian health process is still lagging behind the majority of European countries – with e-health spending amounting to less than 1.5% of public health spending, against the European average that lays between 2% and 3% (with a peak of 4%). Nonetheless, attention to the issue of digital health seems to be growing. Every year starting from 2014, the Italian Digital Health Summit brings together leading experts and innovators in the industry, and in recent years many incubators are specializing in promoting the growth of Italian start-ups working in the segment of digital healthcare.