The Opportunities and Obstacles Facing the UK’s Burgeoning HealthTech Sector

In recent years, there has been an increasing use of the ‘tech’ suffix in all manner of industries. Even the passing observer will probably have noted that in the worlds of finance, marketing, property and health, tech start-ups are launching in their droves to help remould the way each sector operates.

Financial technology – FinTech – undoubtedly paved the way; in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis, new online platforms and apps emerged at pace to challenge traditional practices, not to mention the incumbent banks that held a monopoly over the sector. Today, ten years on, consumers and businesses alike use all manner of new digital solutions to complete important transactions and manage their finances.

The same trend has since spread across many other industries. And promisingly, the healthcare sector has started to follow suit. In fact, as we enter 2018 it appears that HealthTech is finally in a position where it can begin having a significant, meaningful impact on people’s day-to-day lives.

On the one hand, new tools are empowering the individual to take better care of their own health. On the other, technological innovations are also enabling healthcare providers – both in the public and private sectors – to offer better, cheaper, efficient and personalised services.

From fitness apps and wearable devices through to online marketplaces and medical diagnosis tools, HealthTech covers a broad range of digital solutions and there are too many examples of brilliant new pieces of technology to name. But importantly, these solutions are not just ways of ridding us of cumbersome, out-dated processes and lengthy paper trails; they also deliver products and services that hitherto have simply not been possible or financially viable. The result is that in the home, on the go or in a hospital, we now have access to superior tools for improving our mental and physical health.

Separating new tech from hot air

However, as with any new technological trend, there are bumps in the road that must be navigated. One such issue is the habit of businesses jumping on the tech bandwagon; out of their desire to be seen as cutting edge and ‘on trend’, some companies will adopt the tech suffix even though, when you review the way they actually manage and deliver their services or products, there is little evidence of any proprietary technology involved.

While not a fatal concern, falsely labelling businesses as being a FinTech, PropTech or HealthTech firm threatens to undermine the truly innovative start-ups operating in these respective industries. It also has the potential to confuse consumers and deter investors, who may develop an erroneous impression of what these terms really mean, in turn prohibiting mass uptake on the new solutions.

As the HealthTech market matures, people will naturally cultivate a greater understanding of the term and what it encompasses. What’s more, over time the companies not offering a unique or well-built tech proposition will likely fade away, leaving a more concentrated collection of talented businesses that will be charged with driving the industry forward.

Start-ups seeking support

Another obstacle standing before the UK’s HealthTech sector is its need for support from multiple external bodies. In order for the current crop of HealthTech start-ups to transition into high-growth SMEs and potentially become multi-national enterprises in the years ahead, they will require help – help from the Government and help from investors.

Positively, amidst tightening budgets for the UK’s public healthcare services, the Government has placed an increasing emphasis on the adoption of new digital solutions. For one, it has already implemented its Five Year Forwarded View, which makes an explicit commitment to creating the conditions necessary for proven innovations to be adopted faster and more systematically through the NHS.

This intent is already having an impact; the Clinical Entrepreneurs Programme run by NHS England recently selected 138 entrepreneurs to design and deliver new technological solutions and innovations. Furthermore, with the Conservative Party looking for ways to lessen the burden on the NHS by providing better preventative and out-of-hospital care, this same willingness to embrace new tech could extend beyond hospitals’ walls and into the broader healthcare and wellbeing space.

The Government does not have to look far. High-growth start-ups are driving innovation across the industry. For example, to improve the accessibility and management of healthcare services, new platforms in the HealthTech space are now offering an online marketplace for people to source healthcare solutions, supported by integrated payment systems to take the pain out of previously disjointed processes. It’s simple and cost-efficient solutions such as these that will drastically improve the UK’s existing healthcare services.

Indeed, alongside the support from Westminster, the HealthTech industry also has reason for optimism as a result of the backing it has, and continues to receive, from investors. As seen with FinTech and, more recently, PropTech, investors are hungry to identify and put money behind promising, innovative new start-ups. Consequently, the UK’s digital health market is expected to grow by nearly £1 billion in 2018 to reach a total of £2.9 billion.

Healthcare prepares to jump into the digital age

There are evidently many reasons for optimism in the HealthTech space. With public and private sector support and a plethora of stimulating talent emerging all the time, 2018 stands to be a breakthrough year as businesses and the wider public begin to embrace new technologies that will make their lives easier and, of course, healthier.

The market still has some distance to travel until it reaches maturity, but the trail blazed by FinTech pioneers over the last decade has already helped to alter people’s mind-sets by opening them up to using tech-based platforms for vital tasks. In the next 12 months and beyond, it will be exciting to see how readily people shift from traditional practices to instead using newer methods for bettering their health or those of others. Yet even if the process takes time, there is no longer any question that the healthcare sector is on the cusp of an irreversible move into the digital age.

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