The strain on the UK healthcare system has been a problem since long before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Generational demographic trends, such as extended lifespans, have challenged the NHS and other healthcare infrastructure.
To tackle this problem, we have seen a profound shift into technology-enabled clinical healthcare delivery. Digitally enabled healthcare aligns both physical and digital pathways and moves our experience of healthcare provision beyond the four walls of a hospital or GP practice. This sea change in approach is transforming people’s lives.
At the intersection of healthcare and technology, advances in ‘healthtech’ are driving down costs, while improving patient access and outcomes.
Much of the innovation in this space has been driven by early-stage ventures, where technological progression is fuelling healthcare advances and breakthroughs.
Investors in digital healthcare can now gain access to an increasingly broad church of innovation, ranging from data analytics and clinical decision support to artificial intelligence for remote patient monitoring. These technologies, including big data, the internet of things and machine learning, are key themes in the digital healthcare revolution and the advancement of national healthcare systems.
Ensuring healthy adoption
Unfortunately, transforming our healthcare systems is not merely a case of simply implementing technology. Adoption is crucial. Previously, a catalyst was lacking for the mass adoption of an expansive form of digital healthcare. This catalyst came in the form of the pandemic, which shifted behaviours and supercharged innovation.
The pandemic revealed the enormous pressure on healthcare systems and structural inefficiencies. The net outcome was a realisation that things needed to be done differently.
Working from home and social distancing practices made old models of care, such as GP visits and certain types of in-patient hospital care visits, suddenly seem inefficient and prohibitively costly. The behavioural change swept away traditional ways of thinking about healthcare delivery.
For example, the pandemic tailwind for adoption has supported the wider embrace of tech-led delivery models that harness technology to enable remote monitoring and testing. These delivery models can improve diagnosis and screening, as well as the timing of interventions, while boosting operational efficiency and lowering costs.
The irony of the pandemic is that its legacy might not be how it diminished our healthcare systems, but how, ultimately, it made them more resilient. It has also deepened the investment case of digital care in the UK. For context, the UK is home to the largest number of digital health start-ups in Europe since 20101. With a combination of early-stage venture capital and re-affirmed NHS goals towards a digital care future, we see the opportunity set widening further.
There are still challenges, however. Adoption is accelerating but it won’t happen overnight. For the next few decades, we will need to see doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals work in symphony with technology – this is the key to unlocking the power of cutting-edge digital solutions.
This means developing clinical solutions that can be incorporated into existing workflows and achieving immediate practical impact. By leveraging technology in smarter ways, we can improve access to high-quality care – but also drive out costs and inefficiencies. Solutions need to be intuitive and seamlessly flow into existing practices. At an inception level, collaboration is vital.
We need to create an ecosystem where private capital can engage with start-ups and early-stage companies to enable stakeholders, from software engineers to clinicians, to work in concert. This will then allow them to leverage the NHS and other healthcare systems to provide sustainable value-added solutions and deliver high-quality care.
The scale of the challenge ahead requires early-stage innovation. This is happening. 2021 was considered a breakthrough year for healthtech and biotech, with a global record amount of venture capital investment to the tune of $79 billion.
Healthcare also remains one of the least digitalised sectors, leaving plenty of room for growth. However, we must be able to scale solutions if we are to tackle significant challenges such as an ageing population.
Our focus is on supporting tech-led companies further up the early-stage curve with established revenues. The themes of these innovative leaders range from robotics that prepare surgeons for the operating room to enhanced imaging technology -such as, real-time images from ultrasounds can be cleaned using algorithms that move imaging from 2D to 3D. This allows clinicians to get a more accurate picture and better plan for interventions. It also reduces surgery downtime and the need for CT scans or X-rays. By making the process more real-time, surgery times can be cut by 20-30%, which ultimately means more patients going through the operating theatre.
The impact of technology will become more obvious as it is adopted and, arguably, the impact will be far more significant in the clinical environment than for therapeutics. Over the next decade, robust data will reveal the scale of change.
We see the greatest impact in three ways: better access to clinical care; improved clinical outcomes for patients; and reduced costs. Ultimately, however, the best indicator of positive impact will be improved quality of life for patients.
The pace of digital adoption in healthcare is driving more investors into the space. The healthtech revolution is just beginning, but we are already seeing how it can transform the healthcare experience.
If you would like to find out more about our Healthcare Ventures team, please click here.