As we’ve come to learn repeatedly over this pandemic and other similar global catastrophes, it’s only when crisis strikes that change occurs and decision-makers move into action.
Perhaps emblematic of humanity itself and its last-minute pursuit of change and growth in the face of looming danger, we have seen countries worldwide, both ‘first-world’ and otherwise, pursue wide-scale transformation and reform in retaliation to this pandemic. Entire industries have been revitalised, while others are struggling to hold their head above water following a prolonged lockdown period and on-off quarantine and social distancing measures.
In the case of the health industry, which has lagged behind its contemporaries like fintech and F&B in terms of digital adoption, it has finally received the required public attention needed to push it into the 21st century. A lot of technologies that had been moonshots or luxuries are becoming a mandatory necessity of life in a world ravished by a viral pandemic.
Telemedicine, for example, has existed for many years, but the arrival of COVID-19, in tandem with advancements in the fields of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), have all pulled this technology from the distant future and into the modern day. Regionally, we are seeing a ton of startups crop up in this space. Names like Okadoc, Alma Health, and Altibbi are normalising the act of reaching out to your doctor remotely, which in turn saves doctors time they would have expended on a trivial appointment that could have been solved over a phone or video call, while freeing their schedules up for more severe cases that require more attention and easing pressures on clinics and hospitals.
A branch of telemedicine that is seeing increased growth following the pandemic is telesurgery, which involves a doctor in a completely different location, city or country operating on a patient through the use of a fast network connection, augmented reality, and a surgical robot that the surgeon operates remotely. Telesurgery holds great promise when you consider that the factor of distance, especially for unique and/or serious cases, can finally be circumvented, in a COVID-19 scenario or otherwise, putting a patient in touch with top medical talent across the world. Regionally, one of the top startup players in this field is Proximie, a Beirut-founded company that signed an MoU with the Dubai Health Authority in 2019.
Another product of the enforced distance between patient and medical practitioner has been the increased adoption of wearables. During H1 2021, sales of wearables in the UAE witnessed an increase of 116 per cent compared to H1 2020. Originally a fitness (and sometimes fashion) fad, these devices found critical use as the pandemic was kicking off, helping provide both patients and doctors with real-time data and metrics about the user’s body. One study even found that wearables can detect COVID-19 symptoms and predict diagnosis.
The dashboard offered by genomics startup Predictiv, which tests your DNA for susceptibility to thousands of diseases and chronic conditions and hundreds of drugs
Speaking of prediction, predictive analytics received an equally notable push following the onset of the coronavirus. When faced with a phenomenon that threatened the lives of millions across the world, many medical experts realised that the age-old mantra “prevention is the best medicine” holds as true as ever. They turned to predictive analytics to comb through scores of data to try and predict infection surges by locale, identify individuals at high risk from the virus, review the impact of anti-COVID measures such as mask-wearing on infection rates, and more. This increased adoption and utilisation of predictive analytics helped normalise its use and increase its spread to other realms of medicine, helping predict diagnosis probabilities for diseases like cancer and chronic conditions like high blood pressure.
The face of the healthcare industry has been forever changed thanks to the late but necessary digital transformation of the sector, and healthtech is officially here to stay as both patients and medical practitioners acclimate themselves to it - and the benefits it brings.