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Seven trends that healthtech innovators expect to shape 2019

This article was originally published on Forbes.

2018 was a big year for healthtech, with digital health companies securing over $7.5bn in investment across the year. The last 12 months also saw a notable shift in the public and media debates around healthcare.

In fact, I would say that the role of new digital technology is now a fundamental part of any conversation about how we can improve both our physical and mental wellbeing, and the effectiveness of our care systems overall.

2019 is set to be another significant year for healthtech so, to kick off the year, I wanted to ask some of my peers about what they expect to see over the next 12 months. Here are their predictions for seven trends to watch in the year ahead.

#1 2019 will be all about scale and reach

Maxine Mackintosh, co-founder of One HealthTech, believes that 2019 can be the year in which digital health tech will start to truly impact the general population:

“My hopes or predictions for 2019 in digital health are really about scale and reach. There’s a plethora of apps, devices and software that transform the lives of a couple of people, marginally improve the lives of a few, but do nothing for the majority. But a number of factors indicate digital health solutions are infrastructurally becoming more prominent; from the ever-growing deal sizes and number of investments, the blurring of the line between suppliers and providers, to the acquisitions of digital health companies, by other digital health companies. My hope is that this scale will enable some of these solutions to become more real. By that I mean solve actual needs, of actually sick people, in a way that actually fits with the health system.”

#2 AI will be deployed across all aspects of healthcare...

Jean Nehme, co-founder and CEO of Touch Surgery, believes that AI will continue to dominate the conversation and expects to see a growing number of real world deployments:

“I think we will see an increase in platforms leveraging artificial intelligence in healthcare this year as healthcare systems try to find ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency. These AI powered platforms will extend from radiology and primary care to the Operating Room. In 2018 Digital Surgery put the first AI predictive algorithm into the OR. Expect a lot more in 2019.”

#3 ...and will grow fastest in lower and middle income countries

Bart De Witte, Chair Faculty of Digital Health at futur/io Institute and Director Digital Health DACH for IBM, also expects to see significant adoption of AI in 2019, with lower and middle income countries leading the way:

“As the number of algorithms that outperform doctors grow, so the discussion about automated consumer-based decision-making versus augmented traditional physician based decision-making will intensify. We will also see adoption rates of Medical AI continuing to grow much faster in low and middle income countries compared to high income markets. In high income countries the US will lead AI adoption, with adoption rates in Europe remaining relatively low.”

“In terms of the technology itself, we will see the exponential gains of Deep Learning in healthcare continue and AI will become broader, characterized by the ability to learn and reason more broadly across tasks, to integrate information from multiple modalities, all while being more explainable, secure, fair, auditable and scalable.”

#4 We’ll get smarter about how we use data

Of course, AI and deep learning tools can only be effective if they have access to the right data. Digital Health Futurist, Maneesh Juneja expects to see better use of data becoming a major trend in 2019:

”I see a greater emphasis on making use of the data that already exists, linking it all together to enable a better understanding of a person’s health. This effort is essential to allow new tools using Artificial Intelligence to really make an impact on health outcomes. Additionally, as more people start to interact with machines by voice, research suggests that these audio signatures may advance the field of digital biomarkers enabling earlier detection of diseases.“

Similarly, Hugh Harvey, Clinical Director at Kheiron Medical Technologies, expects to see better and more sophisticated data sharing practices this year:

“Synthetic data and ‘split algorithmic training’ will see more traction in 2019 as both data providers and developers aim to ameliorate the problems associated with sharing identifiable patient data. Indeed, the MHRA is conducting workshops in early 2019 to explore split data training and synthetic data, a sure sign that these advances are not only an exciting research topic, but also are in high demand. The conversation with the public around data sharing has been excellently highlighted by the recent Reform report, and governing bodies keen to avoid the Care.data debacle will be on the look-out for novel methods to bypass traditional data sharing techniques.”

#5 Better analytics will put the focus on outcomes, not volumes

Better use of data is also a focus for Dr. Nasrin Hafezparast, co-founder and CTO, Outcomes Based Healthcare:

“Improving outcomes (and not just waiting times) is now firmly on the agenda, and just yesterday was announced to be a key indicator in the NHS Long Term Plan. Outcome measurement requires much more sophisticated measurement through the use of data. We will therefore see an increasing trend in 2019 to bring datasets together and develop the technical architecture and infrastructure required for advanced analytics. In particular, there will be a greater focus on the 'healthy' population, and using data to uncover insights to improve healthy lifespan.”

#6 A big year for genomics

Stephen Bourke, co-Founder, Echo forecasts big steps forward within genomics:

“The NHS has already sequenced 85,000 patient's genomes in order to better identify and treat rare diseases. One in four patients who took part received a diagnosis for the first time, and I understand 75% of treatment plans were adjusted. This is transformational, but it is going to disrupt healthcare like nothing we've seen before.”

“Consumer demand for sequencing and personalised medicine will drive growth in expensive, bespoke services. Many public systems will struggle to compete, at least initially, due to the sheer costs involved but I'm excited at the scale of the NHS' ambition in this space and the long term savings available by treating the patient, not the condition.”

#7 Consumers will see healthtech as an investment in their wellbeing

Lastly, at the consumer level, Hamish Grierson, co-founder and CEO of Thriva, thinks this year will see individuals starting to adopt more sophisticated ways of tracking their wellbeing:

“Millions of us are using services like ClearScore and Monzo to proactively improve our financial wellbeing, and our physical wellbeing is no different. Consumers have come to expect access to their personal information at their fingertips. We’re already using products like FitBit and Apple Watch to proactively monitor our physical activity... and in 2019 we expect this focus to shift from physical activity to what’s going on inside the body. With access to information on your personal biomarkers which can help with the early detection of common diseases through to hormone imbalances and vitamin deficiencies, consumers will be able to make much more informed decisions about their wellbeing.”

As new tools develop and existing technologies become more widely adopted, 2019 will undoubtedly bring us ever more examples of how tech is reshaping healthcare for patients, payers and providers. I’m looking forward to tracking and writing about these trends in more detail in the months to come.

In the meantime, if there are other trends you think I should look out for, please do get in touch via Twitter.


Dr. Claire Novorol
Dr. Claire Novorol

Claire is Ada’s Chief Medical Officer and one of our co-founders.