While health tech has always been a thriving business in the health industry, in 2021, investment in the sector doubled from just under $20 billion to nearly $40 billion, thanks largely to the pandemic. While ‘thanks’ may be a dubious word to use when referring to COVID, the fact remains that this remarkable level of investment has resulted in some equally remarkable technologies — and here, we’re going to take a look at some of the biggest game-changers out there.
Probably the biggest player on the health horizon, personalized medicine is set to place traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ medicine firmly at the back of the shelf. In the past, pharmaceutical companies would test and formulate drugs based on their general effectiveness within the population — if they didn’t work for a particular individual, that was, unfortunately, just the way the dice rolled. However, with the advent of genomics (the study of genes and the mapping of entire genetic structures), we’re now in a position where we can tailor medications to fit the individual.
With a person’s DNA structure mapped, medicines can be designed specifically to work for them — a process that’s already leading to groundbreaking new treatments for a number of diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s. What’s more, even if an individual is healthy, their DNA profile can tell them what conditions they may be genetically prone to in the future, allowing doctors to prescribe pre-emptive treatments, create bespoke diet plans, and advise on lifestyle changes.
While all of that is undoubtedly a huge game-changer, it’s also not going to be nearly as expensive as you might think. When scientists mapped the first human genome in 2003, it cost about $3 billion — today, we can do it for around $600. Give it a few more years, and they’ll be giving away your genome free with every box of cornflakes.
One of the major changes that the pandemic kick-started was remote care. With the number of medical consultations taking place online shooting up from 0.01% to 43.5% pretty much overnight, it signaled a completely new path for the health industry. Although the root of this was, of course, the need to halt the spread of the virus, the use of telemedicine and remote patient monitoring systems (RPM) is set to grow dramatically, irrespective of the pandemic, and for several very good reasons.
With wearable kits that monitor everything from blood pressure and sugar levels to heartbeat and activity levels, we can produce 24/7 data without the need for a hospital visit. That means that these RPM devices significantly reduce the stress placed on an already overworked healthcare system. Further to this, telemedicine can bring healthcare to remote regions of the world where there is little or no access to doctors. And with remote care in a ‘virtual hospital’ set to be an increasingly common feature of the health market, it’s estimated that by 2024, thirty million patients will be using RPM systems. Considering that there are already over 350,000 healthcare apps available and that your phone is probably already monitoring how active you are, calling this a ‘trend’ may well be understating it a little.
From CT scans to humble prescriptions, the one thing the health industry produces in absolutely huge quantities is data. While that’s a good thing, unless you have the capacity to analyze and draw meaning from it, it’s not much use. Thankfully, artificial intelligence (AI) is going to offer us exciting and efficient new ways to manage this data.
With AIs capable of identifying patterns in huge datasets, we’re going to be in a much better position to predict health issues in individuals and the wider population as a whole. More than this, operating hand-in-hand with healthcare apps and RPM systems, AIs are not only going to help monitor a patient’s health but will be able to assess their symptoms and prescribe treatments.
Admittedly, the legalities of diagnosis by app may still be a tricky area, however, the chance of having an around-the-clock doctor who never needs to sleep or play golf is going to be too good to pass up.
A lot is made of how bad meat production is for the environment and how detrimental it is to an individual’s diet. However, getting the population to migrate away from it in sufficient numbers to make a difference is proving to be a challenge — unfortunately, hamburgers are simply amazing. Artificial meat, however, may be the solution.
Now, admittedly, a lab-grown hamburger doesn’t sound like a hugely appealing thing (we’ll wait for their marketing department to solve that one), however, meat that’s been grown from muscle tissue in a laboratory is going to solve a number of pressing issues. From reducing the amount of energy and land used in the livestock business to the amount of animal-produced methane that’s released into the atmosphere, artificial meat is a veritable planet-saver on a plate.
With artificial meat products set to hit the mainstream health industry market this year, we could be witnessing the beginning of a new dietary age. And although this stuff may not be much better for you in terms of cholesterol or blood pressure, if you count surviving a global climate catastrophe as a personal health win, then it’s definitely worth thinking about.
While there are certainly other health trends that we haven’t covered here, the above four are among the big players on the immediate horizon. With your AI-driven digital doctor set to prescribe you a lab-grown quarter pounder, it may not sound like a romantic night out, but it’s going to be a much healthier one.