The COVID-19 pandemic has “catapulted” the adoption of technology in healthcare five to ten years ahead of where it would otherwise have been now, one of the sector’s most prominent investors has said.
In forcing the sector, and particularly the pharma industry, to act and adapt quickly, the opportunities for change necessitated by the pandemic showed what could be possible, according to senior figures at Albion Capital Group.
And the ongoing appetite for technology is also being driven by the “consumerisation of healthcare”, with people more invested in their own health through the use of apps and online platforms than ever before.
“I think COVID has shown the main reason for not (adopting technology) was inertia. Pre-COVID, they didn’t have to. Now, it’s essential,” says Christoph Ruedig, partner at Albion Capital.
“There has been a move into technology gradually, the size of opportunity has been increasing, and in the last two years we have seen rocket-fuelled growth in adoption.
“COVID has probably catapulted us five to 10 years ahead.”
Albion has been investing in healthcare for over 25 years – initially in nursing care, but with a gradually broadening remit which now takes in the breadth of healthcare, from hospitals and nursing care through to life sciences and theraputics – and is now set to support the next phase of digital-led growth.
In pharma, the lack of access to patients in medical environments to complete clinical trials forced them into adoption of technology, says Christoph, who was a radiologist before moving into investment management.
“The whole lifeblood of the pharma industry is the pipeline. They really scrambled to adopt technology very quickly, it was pretty impressive pick-up,” he says.
“Digital trials were more widely adopted – a problem for pharma was getting representation in trials, but now with technology, pharma companies recognise it is a very efficient way to reach populations they couldn’t.”
Andrew Elder, deputy managing partner at Albion Capital, continues: “COVID absolutely forced that to happen, it’s now on the lips of everyone that aspects will be done in hospitals and clinics, and others through remote monitoring and digitisation.
“Pharma doesn’t like changing very much but data is now being used in pharma in ways that five years ago it wouldn’t be.
“The maturing of the business model needs to be done first, making the drug development process more efficient. Pharma is now investing heavily in that and it is a huge area of future growth.
“There are still certain parts which would have been deadzones, but through the vaccine and mRNA, anything to do with that side of life science development has taken off. It can be used in other areas than vaccines, rather than being a cul-de-sac in technology.”
While in frontline care, digitalisation is playing an important role in areas like remote monitoring, an equally important function is in assisting with the redeployment of existing resource, says Andrew, who initially practiced as a neurosurgeon in his career.
“There are large chunks of the pathway which won’t be replaced, there are lots of reasons why we need physical contact, but there are efficiencies to be made and ways to do it better,” he says.
“We can use a nurse where we normally use a doctor, but backed up by software. That can allow the doctor to focus on areas where his skill is needed.
“The human touch is very, very important in healthcare, in mental health it is critical, but we can make the whole process more efficient. It can be optimised, but the human interaction will always remain.”
Into the future, key areas of growth include fertility, mental health and wellbeing and femtech, with patients’ greater role and interest in their own health helping to create opportunities.
“Patients are engaging in health apps and platforms, we’re seeing a big growth in that area,” says Christoph.
“Europe is a bit behind the US, but there are many opportunities around the consumerisation of healthcare. People are much more invested in their own health. People getting more interested provides opportunities for companies to deliver those services.
“There are some really exciting things happening, and we feel really well-positioned to help providers in their use of technology.”