Digital Health Ecosystem: Highlights 2019

Every year, we organise a Health 2.0 Barcelona chapter where I share the highlights from the previous year in the digital health space and touch on what we can expect for the coming months. Here is a summary of the 2020 edition, looking back at 2019:

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Some notes about the slides

  • Investment scene:
    • 2019 was another strong year for digital health funding, the second record year after 2018, with about the same number of deals and the same average deal sizes (ca 20M). It was also the IPO year in digital health/wellness with 6 companies that went public, 4 of which ended 2019 with positive results.
    • Investments received by European companies: Babylon leading the way with the highest ever round received by a European digital health company. Lead investors for those deals are from outside of Europe (Saudi Arabia, US, etc). When can we expect to see series E deals led by European companies?
    • 53 acquisitions: The two notable ones being Patients Like Me and Fitbit. In both cases, concern were raised around patients/consumers data being owned by Google and a big health insurance company. 2019 saw an increased interest toward behavioural health, with the acquisition of Aligned Telehealth and Klue. We should expect more behavioural health solutions’ acquisitions in 2020.
  • Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple keep moving into healthcare:
    • Facebook launched Preventive Health Tool, providing a list of recommended screening based on users’ age and sex (cancer screening, ear checkups, flu vaccines, etc)
    • Project Nightingale is a partnership project between Google and Ascension, a US catholic healthcare system. The goal is for Google to develop a software using AI and machine learning, that will make health records more useful and searchable by doctors. The software could suggest prescriptions, diagnosis and even to assign or remove healthcare professionals from a patient’s care team.
    • Google could learn from this partnership and apply those findings to their other activities and develop new businesses. They are said to be active for instance in the field of Emergent Medical Data (EMD), information inferred by AI from mundane consumer behaviour by analysing the digital traces that we leave when we interact with technology. This will lead to detecting early onset of diseases in people who have not been to the physician.
    • Launch of Amazon Transcribe Medical, automated speech recognition software to facilitate notes taking and offload physicians from their administrative burden
    • Plan to launch Amazon Care, a virtual primary care for employees with access to telemedicine, online chat with nurses, in-house calls etc Amazon wouldn’t hire their own medical staff but would be subcontracting Oasis Medical Group.
    • PillPack integrated with insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Members can order, pay for and receive their medication at home directly through PillPack services.
  •  Voice-based Solutions:
    • Alexa became HIPAA compliant, enabling new skills to be released like connecting medical prescriptions with Alexa to receive medication and prescription refill reminders; looking for the closest urgent care, booking an appointment or sending updates to the care team.
    • Voice based solution have the potential to ease physician’s burnout by facilitating notes taking, documenting and interacting with patients. Good example is Sopris Health and their chat-like solution integrated with EMR.
    • It’s not all about voice. Companies like Gulp analyse sounds of babies while breast feeding to determine if they had enough food. This could also be applied to patients who lost their voice to analyse the sounds and moaning they produce and reestablish some sort of communication.
    • Amazon would be working on detecting onset of diseases by listening to the voice of users when they interact with Alexa.
  • Digital Therapeutics:
    • Very active year with 20 partnerships signed between pharma and DTx companies. Those partnerships were mainly R&D or commercial – to distribute the DTx products through the pharma’s channels and networks. Good sign to see so many pharma companies getting involved. Although some partnerships already broke up, we can expect things to concretize in 2020 and to find the best collaboration models. This new year should also bring the results the market has been waiting for to prove that DTx actually work and are as good (or even more efficient) than traditional drugs alone.
    • Interesting collaboration of Salesforce with Voluntis to implement their platform supporting DTx prescription and reimbursement. We can expect to see more partnerships like that in the coming months, between DTx companies and non-pharma corporations.
    • Read my piece on DTx to get a better overview of what digital therapeutics are.
  • 2019 highlights:
    • Digital Supply Act, through which health apps could be prescribed by doctors and reimbursed in Germany.
    • Exoskeleton controlled with the brain through 2 implanted sensors reading brain waves. It opens the door to many opportunities especially for tetraplegic patients.
    • Increased focus on mental health and Femtech, with 750M poured into Femtech in 2019 and expected to reach 50b by 2025 for 41b in revenue. More women are joining VC firms, increasing the amount invested in Femtech solutions too.
    • TikTok, lip-synced looping music videos, very popular amongst GenZ and taken over by the infertility community, both patients and healthcare professionals, to share experience, empower peers and educate.

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