The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of healthcare, encouraging numerous innovative startups to step up and address previously unmet challenges, analyst Benedikt Blomeyer told EURACTIV in an interview, stressing the huge potential of digital applications in health.
“Over 20% of startups [in healthcare] actually emerged in the first few months of the pandemic. That’s not conceivable in any other economic sector,” said Blomeyer, director for EU policy at the Allied for Startups, a global network of startup associations.
Blomeyer estimated that the European healthcare market will grow further remarkably.
“We see numbers showing that the telehealth and digital therapeutics market is going to quadruple, or quintuple, the next five years,” he said, adding that with the pandemic behind us, there is an enormous push and potential to make the most of digital health.
“In digital health, we have space which is not occupied by anyone now and there are new innovations coming. Big Pharma knows the testing processes, startups bring ambitious innovation and venture capitalists have capital,” he said, painting a likely picture of how digital healthcare will develop.
Blomeyer cited a number of examples of start-ups that emerged during the pandemic, such as a digital company for pregnancy issues [Velmio], which developed a COVID-19 tracing app for users in Estonia and Australia.
The analyst stressed, though, that more needs to be done in the legislation field to take advantage of digital health’s untapped potential.
“In Germany, the digital Health Care Act came into effect last year. It enables reimbursement for telemedicine, prescription of digital apps by doctors and it also provides targeted funding for health innovation. We need frameworks to facilitate reimbursement, digital solutions, and provide a pathway to validate these digital therapeutics”, he stressed.
When it comes to reimbursements, e-prescriptions, or electronic health records, he added, we are still dealing with national silos and a lack of interoperability across borders.
“One way where we think we could see an improvement is for the EU to make an effort to pull together the potential we have here,” he said, emphasising that a step in the right direction would be a common EU framework for the reimbursement of digital solutions by the public systems.
“Often, we’re talking about member states’ competency versus EU competency. The fact that you do not have competence in some of these areas today doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. You could always put forward a list of best practices or share a repertoire of do’s and don’ts in a given field, and this could incentivise members to want more and do better,” he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]