The tech revolution reshaping European healthcare

The European health tech industry has made a “quantum leap” into using digital health technology due to the pandemic with the help of a growing number of trailblazing entrepreneurs, according to AlbionVC.

The London-based venture capital firm provides a useful overview of how healthcare has changed over the last decade, and where digital health is expected to make the most impact in the future, in their first Health Tech primer for Europe report.

It shows that while digital activity has been focused on consumer- or patient-facing applications for mental health and teleconsultation, the biggest potential to transform care is with those digital health companies working in chronic conditions where solutions can be delivered remotely.

Technology companies are providing those solutions and helping healthcare institutions rethink how it delivers care to suit the needs of today, rather than the needs upon which the industry was built more than 100 years ago, the report’s authors say.

Digital care

Pre-pandemic, there was a slow but steady increase in the adoption of digital healthcare. COVID became the “catalyst behind the rise of digital technologies”, notes the report.

“In certain areas of healthcare, considerable momentum was already starting to build with a shift to digital in the middle of the last decade … however, the early successes were mostly confined to the USA whereas Europe continued to move very slowly.”

In the European hospital setting, the first to digitise were the picture archiving systems (PACS) in radiology departments then electronic medical records (EMRs), patient administration systems and departmental IT flow work solutions (eg, laboratory information systems and radiology information systems). The progress was slow then the pandemic hit.

“Faced with an existential crisis brought about by the acute strain on providers from Covid-19, rapid resource re-allocation on a massive scale, social distancing measures as well as patient concerns, the entire industry had to learn how to do things differently almost overnight.”

The health industry realised very quickly that technology is the key to overcoming many of the challenges posed by COVID-19. Today, what the report terms the ‘digital pharma’ and ‘digital care’ industries have expanded exponentially in Europe.

“[A] category that has seen strong growth, in particular following the onset of the pandemic, is teleconsultation with companies such as Babylon or Kry. [Another] and, we believe the one with the biggest potential to transform healthcare, is digital care with companies such as Oviva, Kaia or Healios focusing on chronic care and which are primarily B2B businesses where solutions are delivered remotely,” reads the report.

The report highlights a simplified patient-provider journey with AlbionVC’s view of the state of technology adoption and where the most start-up / scale-up activity is in Europe today.

Telecommunications

One widely adopted and valuable health technology is telecommunications, which allows both physicians to maintain a high level of care than they otherwise could have during the pandemic and pharma companies to continue clinical trials.

Halting in-person general practitioner visits became a necessity due to measures implemented to stop the spread of COVID.

“Outpatient / GP visits dropped by >50% at the peak of the first wave compared to pre-pandemic. At the same time, teleconsultations jumped from low single digit percentage points to almost 70%,” the report notes.“We’re seeing evidence of the enormous potential in some of the recent telehealth success stories in the USA such as Teladoc and Livongo, the former a remote teleconsultation service focused on primary care, the latter a platform for remote support of chronic diseases that started in diabetes.”

However, it’s not just GPs and patients who were affected, pharma companies were impacted as well. Clinical trials were severely restricted or stopped completely, so pharma could focus on COVID-19 and enforce social distancing.

“Clinical trial enrolment almost came to a standstill in the UK during the peak of the first and second waves. Clinical stage programmes have received tens, sometimes hundreds of millions of investment from its pharmaceutical sponsors and can be worth billions in revenues, so the industry had to find ways to adapt.”

The beneficiaries again were technology vendors, especially those whose platforms help move activities that traditionally happen face-to-face to remote. The report highlights the value chain for pharma, provides a view of the state of technology adoption and notes where the most start-up / scale-up activity in Europe is today.

No going back

Along with the transformation of digital care, digital therapeutics were adopted to prevent, manage or treat disorders or diseases, especially in the realm of chronic illness. The report outlines how chronic conditions can easily be evaluated and treated remotely, advocates for an almost full switch to digital therapeutics for treating chronic conditions, and provides three examples of how “investigation, diagnosis and treatment can be delivered remotely using technology”.

It also states type 2 diabetes care can essentially be delivered remotely, excluding the initial diagnosis and health assessment, as monitoring the disease is based on elevated blood sugar levels or its effect on haemoglobin as measured by HbA1c.

“Adoption of technology enabling remote diagnosis and treatment [such as Livongo] has been given a boost by the Covid-19 pandemic, with Livongo’s diabetes patient numbers having grown >100% by mid-2020 to over 400,000.”

“Anyone can buy a blood sugar meter in the pharmacy and get [their] HbA1c home testing kit from companies such as Thriva in the UK and CeraScreen in Germany. Treatment typically starts with weight loss therapy, for which there are remote providers, such as Oviva.”

The report states if weight loss would not achieve the desired result, oral anti-diabetic drugs are typically prescribed, and these can be delivered directly to the patient by an online pharmacy service.

“Exactly where we are going to end up on the healthcare digital technology adoption curve once Covid-19 has been brought under control, nobody knows. The result will partly depend on how much longer the pandemic will impact healthcare systems and the need for continued social distancing. But one thing is clear already: there’s no going back to the old ways.”

About the author

Jessica Hagen is a freelance life sciences and health writer and project manager who has worked with VR health companies, fiction/nonfiction authors, nonprofit and for-profit organisations, and government entities