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COVID-19 healthcare markets are different to those that have gone before

JUL 27, 2020 | Jim Morrish
region: ALL Health & Social Care technology: ALL

It will come as no surprise that the advent of COVID-19 will result in many opportunities for healthcare-related applications, specifically for IoT but also for other digitally transformational solutions. Clearly the exact nature of these applications is only just emerging, as we are at the very beginning of our journey to the ‘new normal’ of living with COVID-19. However, COVID-19 related applications will be different to almost all healthcare applications that have gone before.

Traditionally, healthcare markets for new technologies have split into two clear segments:

  • Consumer markets, characterised by a very large addressable market opportunity (typically comprised of households and individuals, depending on the application) and also lack of any need for clinical-grade reliability. These are applications for the ‘worried well’, who want to monitor their own health but have not been diagnosed with a specific related medical condition that requires formal monitoring by a medical professional. Specific examples include fitness trackers, calorie counters, and connected bathroom scales. Each of these might conceivably by purchased by almost any individual, or household, resulting in a very large market opportunity for non-clinical-grade devices.
  • Clinical grade markets, characterised by a need for reliable, resilient, and robust solutions that must support people in critical (or at least ‘at risk’) situations. Solutions range from connected ambulances to connected sleep apnoea devices. The catch with these kinds of solution is that the addressable markets tend to be very limited in scale. For instance, most countries worldwide have one ambulance per 8,000-25,000 population (depending mostly on GDP per capita) which severely limits the potential market opportunity associated with connected ambulances.

In this regard, traditional healthcare markets have in many ways represented a microcosm of wider markets for digital transformation, encompassing both ‘consumer’ and ‘industrial’ dynamics.

However, COVID-19 represents an entirely new market that combines something approaching the volumes of consumer applications, with the centrally managed and controlled rigour associated with more clinical grade applications. This represents an opportunity for both traditional providers of consumer applications (who might evolve to offer applications that are closer to clinical grade) and for traditional providers of clinical grade applications (who suddenly have opportunities at a scale well beyond their traditional markets). Clearly it also represents an opportunity for a new wave of market entrants that are agile enough to capitalise on the ‘newness’ of COVID-19 -related market opportunities that do not yet have established incumbent providers.

We are in general at the very early stages of our journey to living a ‘new normal’ with ever-present vigilance against COVID-19 infection, and clearly many new digitally enabled applications to support this new normal have yet to be conceived. However, even at this early stage a range of new application concepts have emerged including:

  • Social distancing and contact tracing applications supported by dedicated hardware devices worn by employees in offices, factories, or other locations. This kind of solution has been proven to be far more reliable and efficient than the larger scale mobile phone application approach that various governments have experimented with, supported by Apple and Google. Since such applications would be deployed by employers, and within their premises, many of the privacy issues associated with mobile phone based applications simply go away (or, more accurately, are subsumed into the context of a wider relationship between employer and employee).
  • Sophisticated space management solutions, based on IoT connected CCTV supported by artificial intelligence to monitor peoples’ movements in public spaces (such as railway stations) and support contract tracing using facial recognition.
  • Less sophisticated space management solutions, based on air quality monitoring (to ensure sufficient ventilation) in offices and other closed spaces, or even to monitor the appropriate sanitisation of shared spaces at prescribed intervals.
  • Symptom detection, based on heat-sensing cameras (which can clearly also be combined with more sophisticated tracking of individuals).

Generally, these new COVID-19 solutions combine large-scale monitoring (at the scale of ‘all employees’, or ‘all closed public spaces’) with a need for central monitoring and control and resilient and robust operations. This is a fundamentally new kind of market for connected healthcare solutions.

For those readers interested in the impact of new technology on tackling COVID-19, you may be interested in the blogpost AI gets a mixed scorecard in helping tackle Covid-19