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2021: A review of the health tech industry

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Odgers Berndtson’s Chris Hamilton and Mike Drew discuss some of the key health tech developments in 2021.

Last year, health tech really came into its own. Private equity investment skyrocketed, with 2021 becoming a record year for health tech funding. Huge numbers of both established businesses and new entrants saw swift and successful growth.

Data-sharing within the healthcare sphere become increasingly accepted among the general public, despite a number of hurdles. And cross-sector collaboration put health tech on the map, setting the sector up for what will arguably become its defining decade.

These are among some of the most important developments we’ve witnessed in 2021 within the health tech industry. Below, we explore these developments in detail, and explain what they could mean for 2022 and beyond.

Greater public trust

2021 demonstrated how crucial clinical data is for developing vaccines and treatments quickly and safely. And with this has come a willingness from much of the general public to share data that, under normal circumstances, they would have been reluctant to share. It’s a mindset shift that will be invaluable to the health tech industry and the wider healthcare sector.

Everything from drug discovery to pre-clinical trial validation is becoming swifter and more accurate thanks to the ability to analyse large swathes of patient data.

Google’s new Derm Assist, launched this year, is one such healthcare technology that will benefit from the increased acceptance to share medical information with health tech providers.

The AI tool will enable users to identify skin conditions by uploading images of possible abnormalities. The more data that is shared with Derm Assist, the more accurate the technology becomes.

However, both private health tech businesses and public health bodies will need to tread carefully into this data-driven future. Earlier this year, the NHS faced serious backlash after it announced plans to share the medical histories of 55m patients with third parties.

Organisations will therefore need to demonstrate very clear patient benefits if they are to gain support when sharing and analysing medical information.

Increased investment

During 2021, early-stage health tech companies were the recipient of an incredible amount of investment. A report from London & Partners and Dealroom, calculated this to be in the region of $51.3 billion globally, up a whopping 280% from 2016.

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for this growth, accelerating the use of tech and innovation in many areas of the health tech ecosphere, from identifying diseases to communications between hospitals. Much of the investment has been into tech companies delivering innovations specifically related to pandemic preparedness and protection.

However, particularly in the UK, health tech has benefited from an eager community of incubators, early-stage investors, and growth funds that view the sector as an incredibly exciting opportunity. Established firms have also done exceptionally well, with many organisations pushing into overseas markets.

As a result, we expect to see an increase in demand for chief product officers over the next 12 to 18 months. These individuals are likely to come from a biotech background, where taking products from initial conception to market is a well-trodden path. The cream of this crop will have expertise in AI and a knowledge of how to incorporate it within health tech products.

Greater collaboration

The past year has brought the healthcare sector closer together. There’s been an unprecedented amount of collaboration between NHS bodies and private partners; between NHS bodies and local authorities; between hospitals and GPs; and between local health providers and voluntary organisations.

And this doesn’t even cover the monumental work of citizen scientists, researchers, and private companies that scrambled to access and jointly analyse huge quantities of virus data in the early days of the pandemic.

Underlying this collaboration is technology. Shared systems have been set up across national healthcare providers to record and track the symptoms of COVID-19. Remote GP consultations have become a normality.

Remote monitoring has made its way into the care sector, where wearable devices can record the vital signs of vulnerable patients on a 24-hour basis. And of course, the NHS app has been downloaded by millions to demonstrate vaccine statuses.

We’re already seeing this have an impact on the types of leaders health tech and the wider healthcare sector is now looking for. Prospective leaders need to demonstrate that they can engage with hospitals and government healthcare organisations and build trust with patient groups, especially where patient data and medical records are concerned.

They need to prove that they’ve built relationships across the sector and how they’ve broken down silos to engender collaboration. And they now need to be able to demonstrate how they’ve applied technologies like AI and data analytics to a shared purpose. Above all, they will need to embrace health tech as both a force for good and the monetisation opportunity it presents.

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