Top Healthcare Trends, Technologies & Businesses to Follow in 2021

It’s a perfect storm: we’re facing a global pandemic that has pushed our healthcare system to the limit, accelerated regulatory changes, and necessitated technological innovation. Healthcare, as it was before Covid-19, will never be the same—and it’s still being reimagined as we speak.

In their article, “2020 Digital Health,” CB Insights analyzed the 150 most promising digital health startups across the world, spanning categories like administrative automation, drug discovery, virtual care services, real-world evidence, health plans, and pharmacy supply chain.

The leading category of companies focused on clinical intelligence and enablement, or tools that help both healthcare providers and payers make better decisions. Quartet Health, for example, follows patients through their entire mental health care journey, monitoring their progress and ensuring that they’re getting healthier over time.

Certain trends across all healthcare startups emerged. Drug research and development was a significant focus point for investors in 2020. Companies like Healx and ProteinQure are looking to help improve drug discovery using new technologies like quantum computing and machine learning.

Investors also gravitated toward new startups that sought to optimize healthcare costs for patients, providers, and payors. Specifically, administrative workflow solutions along with private health insurers got special attention. Incredible Health is a career marketplace that connects nurses to permanent hospital jobs and Bend Financial created new health savings accounts.

Lastly, according to HealthCatalyst.com, consumerism in medicine remains the biggest disruptor in healthcare for 2021. As individuals demand more price transparency, choice, and convenience, it’s no doubt we will continue to see an increase in innovative payment models and telehealth solutions.

In this article, we’ll recap the recent technological shifts in healthcare, including trends, gadgets, and how the biggest players like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are making their moves too.

Healthcare Gadgets on the Rise

Earlier this year, we wrapped up the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2021, which showcased more healthcare technology than ever before. From telehealth to smart masks to wearables, there’s a new wave of technology that puts healthcare directly in the hands of consumers.

Remote monitoring gadgets got a lot of attention this year. Remote monitoring, sometimes called remote patient monitoring, is a subcategory of virtual care services that gives people the ability to gather and use their health data.

It’s no surprise, really. With the Covid-19 pandemic, it was necessary to shift as much healthcare as possible out of hospitals. If you could treat the patient at their home, why not? It’s safer, more convenient, and more efficient.

At CES, HD Medical shared their HealthyU device. Smaller than a GoPro Camera, it can measure and monitor blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, temperature, pulse oximetry, lung and heart sounds, and a seven-lead ECG. It appears simple to use, requiring patients to hold the device on their chest and rest their fingers on the front sensors.

In addition, Omron shared their connected blood pressure cuff called VitalSight. What makes VitalSight special is its ability to link to major electronic health records and share the blood pressure readings directly with providers.

OptiBP took another approach. Swiss startup company Biospectal shared an app that reads your blood pressure just by pressing your finger on your smartphone’s camera lens. This innovation is particularly compelling for reaching people who only own a cellphone. The company’s mission: make healthcare more accessible regardless of location, economic levels, or other conditions.

Additionally, Nobi is a ceiling lamp that looks relatively normal at first glance. But under the hood, it’s powered by AI to detect falls and send out alerts for help. Inventions like these are made to help the elderly population live independently longer.

Another unique gadget that gained traction during CES is Tatch, a sticker that tracks your sleeping positions. The company asserts that Tatch brings a sleep study into your bedroom. It sticks to your stomach and chest and monitors your respiration, snoring, and restfulness. It cannot detect sleep apnea today, but the company says they’re actively working on more advanced sensors.

Follow the Money: A Guide to Major Investments in Healthcare

Every quarter, CB Insights publishes an Investment Sector & Trends Report that features updates on global healthcare funding, merger and acquisition deals, partnership activity, and technology that’s gaining traction.

Across 2020, they reported significant growth in global healthcare investment in both deals and dollars. Telehealth stole the show with a record $2.8 billion in investment in the third quarter alone. Healthcare AI companies and women’s health companies also saw a new high in the number of deals closed.

Broadly speaking, CB Insights has noticed an increase in investments across the following healthcare company categories:

  • AI – Companies selling AI software as a service to healthcare clients or using AI to develop products for the healthcare market
  • Telehealth – Companies using technology to remotely deliver clinical health services to patients
  • Medical devices – Companies developing medical devices that aid in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, monitoring, or prevention of disease
  • Clinical trials – Companies developing products and services that streamline drug research and development
  • Women’s health – Companies focused specifically on providing healthcare products and service to women
  • Mental health – Companies applying technology to problems of emotional, psychological, and social well-being
  • Health plans and benefits management – Companies enabling more transparent and comprehensive private healthcare at a lower cost

What’s Going on at the Big Tech Companies?

Healthcare is no longer just in the hands of hospitals and innovative startups. Bigger technology companies are getting their feet wet too.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, famously said that health was the company’s “greatest contribution to mankind.” They of course have the Apple Watch calling it, “the future of health on your wrist.” It provides activity tracking and heart rate monitoring, and can detect falls and irregular heartbeats. Paired with their Apple Health app, you can keep track of your personal medical records including allergies, vital signs, diagnoses, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures, and documents.

Last year, Microsoft announced their Cloud for Healthcare by combining the power of Azure, Teams, and Dynamics to streamline care coordination, care team collaboration, and continuous patient monitoring.

In 2020, Microsoft also hosted two all-virtual healthcare hackathons. They teamed up with Johnson & Johnson and the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders (SONSIEL) to bring nurses across together to improve the global response to Covid-19.

At the beginning of this year, we learned that Haven, a joint venture formed between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase, would be disbanding. Haven was announced three years ago, shocking everyone, with a vision to solve the high and rising costs of employee healthcare. Their now ex-CEO Atul Gwande has since shared his experiences saying his biggest learning has been, “To fix our broken healthcare system, you must first start with primary care.”

In 2020, Amazon announced two interesting health innovations Alexa Care Hub and Halo. With Alexa Care Hub, family caregivers can key an eye on their aging loved ones by creating customized alerts and simplifying the “drop-in” feature. Halo is their new health and wellness band that can measure your body composition, analyze the emotions in your voice, and track your sleep and physical activity.

Google, on the other hand, launched an Android app (Google Health Studies) that connects people to clinical studies. When you join the app, you can answer questions and begin contributing your health data, ultimately helping researchers access more diverse populations. Recently, Google announced their new artificial intelligence tools that will enable healthcare providers to more easily search medical documentation and increase their productivity.

Melissa DeCapua, DNP

Melissa DeCapua, DNP

Writer

Dr. Melissa DeCapua is a nurse practitioner working at Microsoft on organizational behavior and culture change. She began her career in psychiatry and fine arts, and these skills fuel her passion for user experience (UX): building programs, conducting qualitative research, and designing services. By night, she continues to advocate for nurses through lobbying efforts, blogging, and volunteering. For more about Melissa, check out her website and follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.