Healthcare Tech Trends For 2018 Part 3

5 Min Read

Netflix. Dollar Shave Club. Warby Parker. Airbnb. Amazon.

All these names are traumatic memories for the jobless execs of Blockbuster and Toys R Us, and ominous omnipresent threats to the top brass at Gillette, Specsavers, Hilton, and every single large retail chain.

Yup. Digital direct-to-consumer upstart start-ups are upsetting the apple cart of big industry.

Their chief weapons are high quality products, millennial-friendly branding, and super-convenient customer service. And now, they’re gunning for the healthcare industry too.

In this blog, I’ll cover the main areas of innovation in 2018 for consumer-facing healthcare and spotlight the startups leading the charge.

Direct-To-Consumer

Various startups are shooting past healthcare providers to hand patients control of their care, while facing a unique problem which the likes of Amazon and Netflix haven’t had to contend with. For healthcare is not only a complex and regulated industry, it is also a highly political one.

Netflix might have political dramas, but it doesn’t have dramatic politics.

For example, in the UK, the NHS is a giant political football and equal access healthcare free at the point of use is one of our most treasured national institutions.

In America, any attempt to steer towards universal healthcare meets with charges of communism and death panels. Startups are having to circumnavigate this fevered atmosphere like hedgehogs on Valentine’s Day: with great care.

Take back control

Consumers in 2018 are taking control of their own health, far beyond the heart-rate apps and vitamin shakes of 2017. They are actively seeking out digital knowledge and communities. Health Unlocked is one social network tapping in to this trend by building communities for different health issues so members can share credible research, tips and custom support. These consumers are no longer limited by the postcode lottery for the care they can access, nor will they depend on their doctors to fully inform them. They are taking back control.

This is all very heart-warming, but intriguingly Health Unlocked are also very open about their business model and monetisation strategy - which fits neatly with the other 2018 consumer trend for transparency. Health Unlocked trumpets that it makes its money by providing the healthcare industry with such uses as insights generation, recruitment for experimental trials, and advertising. And its members think that’s fair enough.

Convenience Is King

So consumers are taking charge, and when consumers take charge they want convenience above all things. From taxis to food to razors, it is convenience that consumers are actually happy to pay for - and there is nothing convenient about a GP surgery. Yet, I would hazard a guess that the same millennials marching for the NHS to remain free at the point of use, also think nothing of spending money on private healthcare apps. Because convenience.

There’s a range of these apps, but the most popular use case right now lies within blood testing. Startups such as Thriva have spotted an opportunity to offer a cheap service well beyond the NHS’s capabilities and tick the Box of Convenience by offering comprehensive blood tests really quickly, without appointments or time taken off work.

Thriva uses standard labs and blood tests, it’s the convenience they’re selling.

But, as more and more providers of discrete healthcare services spring up, they will inevitably become commodified. They can’t compete with the NHS on price, so extreme personalisation and strong branding are likely to become their moat. Thriva is doing particularly well at the latter here, focusing on a cheeky voice and viral publicity stunts, see their fatbergs and “nothing wrong with a little prick“ campaign.

Thriva offer extra advice and care beyond the blood results, but for extreme personalisation, there is already a predicted unicorn-in-the-making in Babylon Health. They offer a digital healthcare app using a mixture of artificial intelligence (AI) and video and text consultations with doctors and specialists. They’ve got brilliant credentials, advisors who are the founders of Deepmind, and trials with the NHS to offer an alternative to the flawed 111 system. (Is that privatisation? Who cares, ArTiFiCiAl InTeLlIgEnCe Is CoOl.)

Their long term vision is nothing less than putting “an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth.” Aneurin Bevan would be proud.

They’re not having it all their own way, Medopad is on its way to raising $120million in one of the biggest ever British Series A rounds in any industry. Like Babylon, they’re into remote patient tracking, advanced data analytics, and work with the NHS. They just secured $28million from a Chinese investment fund, interesting news for any post-Brexit startup deals.

Prevention is better than the cure

“Prevention” is now the hot topic in healthcare as nations start to invest heavily in the massive fiscal task of keeping aging populations healthy by not letting them get sick in the first place - the cost of failure here will run into the trillions of trillions. Scary. Death panel scary.

All the startups above are meeting this need, but there are some specialised startups out there too, and IoT is the natural home for them.

Meet the smart wireless pill bottle: AdhereTech. Their tiny little bottle is filled with sensors which compare the usage of the medicine with the prescription, and then it alerts the user to any mistakes such as missed doses.

“Adherence” is the technical word for patients taking the right drugs at the right time, and as one can imagine, accidental drug misuse costs billions a year and heaps up future health complications.

Teeny tiny bottles. Big Massive Drones.

If we make like Tom Hardy and dream a little bigger darling, then we look to drones: Zipline. This Californian company was like “what if we fly blood by drone” and California’s laws went “nah bro”, so they went somewhere with fewer regulations, poor roads, and a government really supportive of startups: Rwanda. Rwanda is often rated as East Africa’s best place to do business (it takes 6 hours to set up a business) so Zipline made a beeline.

massive blood drones

They’ve expanded to Tanzania and are definitely a company to keep tabs on.

The decision is to build a startup in Africa is also an intriguing one. I myself can count to double digits the number of startup founders I know in their twenties who have left the UK to start businesses in Africa - even with no historical ties to the area. I suspect more and more healthcare tech businesses will get their start in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda. The minimal infrastructure legacy and regulations coupled with go-getting, startup-hungry denizens makes for fertile breeding ground to build up products before returning to the UK to deal with the regulation.

So, the hot trends for 2018 in healthcare tech are consumer control, convenience and prevention. Plenty of fertile ground for startups and digital transformation projects there, can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!

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