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Digital Health is, slowly, coming

The funding on start ups pursuing digital health is increasing. Source: Business Insiders Intelligence

The amount of investment in start ups focussing on Digital Health has kept growing in the last years and, interestingly, we are seeing recurring investment on the same companies indicating that it is no longer a widespread distribution “just in case”, rather a continuous investment on few companies that show concrete promises of succeeding.

2019 is seen as the year when the focus will shift towards personalised medicine (at least in a few developed Countries) meaning that more and more personal data will be taken into account along the whole healthcare value chain.

I have been talking with a person involved in the health care support in Italy (software provider) and she told me that both data and technology are available to initiate the shift towards personalised health care. The real issues are in the shift of cash flow that the transformation will induce. This means that several of today’s players will see a decrease in revenues and this is a very strong motivation to oppose the change.

Clearly the healthcare processes, and the related money flow, are different in different Countries but they all have in common that change also leads to a shift in the flow of money and revenue distribution.

This, of course, is nothing special applying just to healthcare. The Digital Transformation has two main economic implication in all sectors:

  • some activities that are part of today’s processes will disappear as operation moves to the cyberspace. The related revenues will disappear as well and prices paid by the end customer are bound to decrease (the speed of decrease depends on the effectiveness of the market). Clearly, as those activities disappear the people that are carrying them out today will have to find a different job (and some companies may also disappear as well).
  • other activities will be carried out in the cyberspace requiring different skills and possibly involving different companies, thus shifting values and revenues to different players. New companies will be created, some existing company will expand its footprint, others will shrink and even disappear.

This economic impact, and the impact on jobs, the need for new skills and overall the re-engineering of the value chains and operation is what is really slowing down the Digital Transformation. In the end, however, it will happen, simply because it creates a more efficient market (which also means better value to the end customer).

The new Apple Watch can perform ECG but it is now enabled only in a few Countries since it requires the green light from local regulators. Image credit: Apple

Digital Health is coming, slowly but surely. In Europe Apple has not got the permission to activate the ECG on its watch, it is still pending and possibly subject to pressures from those players that today have a stake in performing ECG. They are voicing their concerns of low precision, risk of generating undue anxiety and so on. Actually, a continuous ECG monitoring, although less accurate if seen as an instantaneous snapshot to be compared by one executed by a professional with professional grade equipment, in the long term becomes more and more accurate and able to raise red flags.  This is the power of big data: multiple data streams observed over long period of times overcome inaccuracy and can derive meaningful information that are simply not possible with a single (even if very accurate) measure.

This is also shifting the business model from selling a product (like an ECG performed in a health care lab) to selling a service (like continuous analyses of data). This shift from product to services applies to most Digital Transformation and it si going to be a revolution in business.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.