COVID-19 and Health Tech – a defining moment for the sector?

Posted on: April 1st, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made investment in Health Tech businesses an immediate necessity.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the sector was beginning to see significant investment, resulting in users having greater access to online consultations, testing and health apps. However, COVID-19 could prove a defining moment for a sector many have argued is resistant to change, helping to remove any remaining barriers, the result of which will have long term implications on how we all use and access health care.

What is Health Tech?

The World Health Organisation defines Health Tech as the application of organised knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve quality of lives. Put simply, Health Tech is the use of technology to improve our health.

What’s been happening?

As a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain areas of the sector are seeing unprecedented public and private investment. Ordinarily, public investment in any sector would be subject to strict rules around State Aid, however, these rules may be relaxed to deal with the current crisis. Last week, NHSX, the unit driving the NHS’ digital transformation, earmarked £500,000 of funding for new technology that can be scaled “within weeks” to support people who are self-isolating due to coronavirus.

Some private health tech companies have been helping the NHS respond to the pandemic, for example AccuRx announced it has developed two new products – video consultation and pre-appointment screening – both available for free. Modality Systems has reportedly offered the NHS a free licence to use OneConsultation. OneConsultation has been designed for use in the healthcare sector to provide a secure virtual consultation room that both doctor and patient can join using Skype.

More generally, even private individuals have been donating tablets to hospitals for use by patients in self-isolation showing what an important role technology can play in times of crisis.

A silver bullet?

With burgeoning costs and an aging population, many have argued, rightly or wrongly, that the NHS was already in crisis, long before the pandemic. Health Tech offers an opportunity for long term change because of the opportunities for scale-up, cost reduction and the reduced risk of disease spread, both to health professionals and the wider public. However, it remains to be seen whether all users will fully embrace new technologies and also whether such technologies could act as a barrier to certain vulnerable groups receiving timely care.

Despite these potential issues, the current influx of investment in the technology sector may result in a lasting change in how we access and receive health care, similar to how working from home may become the new normal, even after the crisis has been brought under control.

Find out how other areas of business are affected by the coronavirus pandemic by takings a look at our coronavirus hub.