2020 was the year digital health proved its worth helping respond to the pandemic. So, what challenges and developments will 2021 bring? Here are my predictions.
2021 promises to be a boom year for digital health. Before the pandemic, the sector was already forecast to grow exponentially, reaching $640bn by 2026. But COVID-19 has dramatically accelerated the uptake of digital health solutions. So, chances are high that growth will go even higher, opening up great new opportunities. But of course, every opportunity also brings its challenges. So, what will we actually see in the next 12 months? Here are my predictions for 2021.
COVID isn’t going away
2020 will be remembered as the year the world shut down. Digital health companies rushed to deliver innovative solutions to help track the pandemic as well as ensuring safer access to healthcare. So, how will digital health help as we go into 2021?
COVID-safe travel. Tourism collapsed in 2020. We all recall the scenes of cruise ships being sent from port to port, unable to disembark their passengers. And airports have been almost deserted for months as flights have been cancelled globally. So, 2021 will see a rapid uptake in apps designed to help promote safer travel. One such is GoSafe, a project supported by EIT Digital, which we have participated in.
Vaccination passports. In the last few weeks, we finally got some positive news about vaccination. Several vaccines are now in the process of being approved, and many have shown they are highly effective. This presents a key opportunity for digital health to create electronic vaccination passports. These will allow people to prove that they have been vaccinated, and should help to reduce the need for lockdowns.
Health data is increasingly under attack
The Vastaamo case in October highlighted that health data is the new target for digital crime. It is certain that other cybercriminals will learn from that attack. This means digital health companies must start treating user data the same way banks do. Start from the assumption that the data is valuable and will be targeted. Then put in place the security and systems to combat that threat.
“We think we are compliant” will no longer be good enough—you’ll need to be able to prove it. And you will be under constant scrutiny from the first day you launch!
Increasing regulation will bring new opportunities
2021 will be a key year for digital health laws. Legislators will try to catch up with a new post-pandemic reality where digital health is the norm. For many countries, this will see a relaxation of strict rules relating to telemedicine. For others, it will see a growth in digital health apps as prescribed treatments (so-called digital therapeutics).
Germany is already leading the way with DVG, which allows health apps to be prescribed by doctors and funded by health insurance. In 2021, this will be expanded to cover care apps. This will create even more opportunities for digital health innovation. However, it will come with challenges too.
2021 may also see the ePrivacy Regulation finally being enacted by the EU. Also, expect to see frantic negotiations to replace Privacy Shield and to cope with potential chaos after the Brexit transition ends. Of course, you can rely on us to keep you updated on any significant changes.
The market will continue to grow
The pandemic has had a profound impact on how people access healthcare. Now, people want to avoid face-to-face consultations where possible. Instead, they rely on phone and video consultations, apps, and remote diagnosis. My belief is that these changes are here to stay. As a result, I am confident that digital health will be one of the booming market sectors in 2021.
According to one recent forecast, the overall market is growing at 28.5% CAGR, and will reach well over $600bn in the next 5 years. More importantly, the apps sector is growing even faster, with a predicted 38.9% CAGR. Or in the language we all know now, that equates to a doubling time of just over 2 years!
AI will become increasingly important
AI offers amazing potential to transform healthcare. Deep learning models are now able to outperform human specialists at tasks like diagnosing mammograms to identify breast cancer. Other companies are using AI to allow remote diagnosis and monitoring of heart conditions, epilepsy and other long-term illnesses. I am confident that the digital health AI sector will continue to grow apace.
One big transformation will come from applying AI to hospital care. Next year, we are joining a number of hospitals and tech partners across Europe in an EU-funded project called AICCELERATE. This will develop AI systems that create more efficient and effective care pathways. The aim is to improve patient outcomes for both critical and chronic conditions.
Coping with the challenges
2021 is sure to be a bumper year for digital health. However, it will definitely bring many new challenges. These include staying updated with regulations, keeping your users safe in a hostile online world and addressing the evolving COVID situation. This is where Chino.io can help. We offer a unique blend of legal advice, technical expertise and tools to help digital health companies to become, and remain, compliant. If you would like to know more, please book a call with us below.