COVID-19 and the Role of HealthTech Startups in the Second Half of 2020

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By Balint Bene, CEO and Founder of bene : studio

HealthTech has proven to be an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. Contact-tracing apps, 3D-printed personal protective equipment (PPE), remote medical consultations, and training on infectious symptoms with VR are just a few ways HealthTech is contributing to society right now. 

In fact, the UN has announced that it will be boosting HealthTech production to better cope with the pandemic. At the same time, venture-backed HealthTech deals have jumped by 76 percent from Q1 in 2019, reaching $8.2 billion – the highest quarterly total on record.

Amid the industry’s rapid growth and adoption, specific verticals are being developed to better cater to the most vulnerable demographics – including the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions. However, as quarantine measures are lifted and businesses begin reopening, HealthTech can offer  support in other areas, focusing on the long-term impacts of the pandemic. 

Catering to new audiences

Tracking and measuring COVID-19 is a strategic part of worldwide efforts to stall the spread of the virus. This is producing vast amounts of data which researchers are studying to gain important insights into the behavior of disease and who it affects the most. The excess mortality rate is the number of deaths above what is expected in non-crisis conditions. However, there are concerns that many of the reported COVID-19 statistics are underestimated, making it difficult to calculate the  excess mortality rate accurately.

Nonetheless, COVID-19 has already had an undeniable effect on population demographics. Casualties tend to be higher in countries where there is a larger ageing population, and on average, more men have contracted the virus. Meanwhile, some countries have experienced a drop in annual life expectancy, and others have witnessed an increase in postponed fertility plans. 

The fluctuation has meant HealthTech companies need to pivot and refocus on new audiences to offer the most value. For example, in the US, 71 percent of COVID-19 deaths are among people aged 65 and over. In response, American HealthTech companies with products or services connected to the care of elderly people may face a dramatic decrease in demand as the age group contracts.

On the other hand, people aged between 0-44 years old make up only 4.16 percent of COVID-19 deaths. This cohort is typically more tech-savvy and gravitates towards HealthTech solutions faster. For example, Teladoc – a platform for virtual doctor appointments – saw visits boom in March and April, with more than 60 percent of traffic coming from first-time users. Moreover, the fastest growth was between 18 to 30 year-olds and males.

Admittedly, representative data may only be available to HealthTeach companies after the pandemic subsides. In the short-term then, HealthTech will be most successful by focusing on emerging trends and popularity within new user groups. Particularly in the second half of 2020, when businesses restart and public spaces become filled once again, there is likely to be a peak in health-consciousness among the groups returning to work. Already, one survey found that 65 percent of Generation Z and Baby Boomers alike were uneasy about going back to their jobs. 

Preparing for post-COVID-19

During lockdown, people have inevitably grown accustomed to HealthTech solutions – especially remote medical support and wearable devices to transmit data. Equally, because people have either spent time at home with their family or have had heightened fears for their families’ wellbeing, there may be a bigger need for preventative wellness services and family-focused healthcare services after COVID-19. 

For example, Birdie is a HealthTech company that integrates digital products into people’s homes to help care for older generations. Things like connected sensors identify if someone falls and alert the appropriate services automatically. Elsewhere, TapGenes analyzes users’ health history to detect the risk of hereditary illnesses. The genealogy tool takes into consideration major life events and medical records, and offers advice on how to lead a healthier life.

Among young generations, research shows that mental health is expected to be a long-term issue following COVID-19. In particular, persons dealing with addiction and domestic abuse in lockdown will be most in need of medical care. HealthTech is a scalable, and often cheaper, alternative for those who require on-demand services, at any time. For example, 7Cups is an app offering continuous therapy and monitoring from licensed professionals. The app allows for anonymous counseling sessions and provides young people with self-help guides.

With all the ways HealthTech can benefit people in the pandemic, governments, insurers, and employers are all likely to remain pro-HealthTech for the foreseeable future. This positive stance will create greater opportunities to accelerate digitization programs in the form of grants, greater access to resources, and reduced bureaucratic measures. Non-health players are set to get involved too; Microsoft has plans to launch a new booking tool for hospitals and doctors, while Apple and Google have partnered with medical device-maker Dexcom to develop diabetes technology. No doubt, other corporate businesses will follow suit and enter the HealthTech sphere. 

Reflecting and progressing

COVID-19 has built an awareness of health in a new light. Quarantine phases have taught people the importance of self-care, the fragility of at-risk groups, and to reconsider life plans. As we enter the second half of 2020, the time will be a litmus test as to whether HealthTech can spread into new verticals and stay relevant amid demographic shifts. Based on HealthTech’s performance so far, this should not be an issue so long as the industry can continually adapt to behaviors. It’s worth remembering too, that there still remains the threat of the next wave of the virus, among which people will have a mixed lifestyle – one where they avoid big risks but are not in full lockdown.

If HealthTech can continue supplying solutions that both combat the spread of the virus and ease general fears around individual wellbeing – all while learning from the first half of the year and applying those takeaways to the latter half – it will secure its integral position in the new normal.

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