The landscape of digital healthcare
2001 was a crucial year for healthcare technology development. It was then that New York-based physicians conducted a landmark remote surgery on a patient in Strasbourg, France. Just to remind you - back in 2001 kids were excited about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone release, Apple introduced Mac OS X and opened the first Apple Store in the US, and Microsoft presented its own game console - Xbox.
Now it feels like it’s been ages, but in fact, it was “only” 20 years ago. Over this time technology has unquestionably given healthcare a new lease of life and made it much more accessible. Back in 2001, the United States registered only 18,2% of office-based physicians with EHR/EMR systems. And this share raised to 86% in 2017!
Percentage of office-based physicians with EMR/EHR systems in the United States (source: Statista)
Now the Global Digital Health market is expected to reach over 500 billion dollars by 2025 and it’s worth mentioning that these predictions were made before the coronavirus crisis. The battle against the effects of the spread of the new disease has significantly accelerated the development of digital healthcare solutions, which couldn’t be omitted by VCs. Their funding into Digital Health companies and healthcare startups came to a record of 3,6 billion dollars in Q1 2020, which is a 79% growth in comparison to the same quarter of 2019.
Building a healthcare software
The process of building a digital healthcare product from scratch doesn’t differ much from developing other digital solutions. At the very beginning of the product design process, it’s crucial to define a target audience and business goals, conduct the competition research, etc. The user-centered approach can not only have a bearing on the product’s success but also on people’s lives.
But to create a successful digital healthcare product it is also crucial to understand the different types of healthcare software. It may sound like a piece of cake, but the variety of different kinds of software can… give you a headache. In this article, we’re pointing out the most important, the most commonly used, and the most prospective types of healthcare software to help you observe a big picture of the industry and facilitate the initial phase of building a digital healthcare product.
Types of healthcare software
In general, we can distinguish a basic classification of healthcare software and in this article, we divided it into:
- the patient-oriented solutions,
- the software developed for the needs of hospital management,
- the diagnostic and research software.
As you can imagine, this is not a strict division, as the patients’ needs will reflect in the products developed for hospitals and physicians. And there is nothing strange in that. After all, the goal of almost every product from this industry is to protect people’s lives and prevent diseases. But this classification will help us better understand the whole idea of creating healthcare software.
The patient-oriented healthcare software
The growth of products developed for patients and regular people is much easier to spot as in this case we are talking, among the others, about the increasing awareness of the need to lead a healthy lifestyle. We can’t also forget about the rise of telemedicine solutions, especially after COVID-19, which almost caused the traditional healthcare breakdown in many countries. Let’s dive into these examples.
Telehealth and telemedicine
First of all, let’s highlight the difference between telehealth and telemedicine, as these terms are not interchangeable and that has created some misunderstandings recently.
Telehealth is a much broader term and focuses, in general, on remote monitoring of the patient’s health (measuring the vital signs, blood pressure, etc.) which of course can be done via remote consultations with a doctor - and that’s where telemedicine enters the stage.
Global Market Insights report predicts the telemedicine market is set to be valued at 175,5 billion dollars by 2026 (in 2019 it was valued at 49 billion dollars!). And another survey conducted by Sage Growth Partner and Black Book Market Research showed that 59% of patients are likely to use telemedicine more often than the traditional consultations after the pandemic.
The numbers mentioned above speak for themselves. But how does it work in real life? Let’s find out on an example of doxy.me, a startup that offers telemedicine solutions for patients, providers, and clinics. One of the essential things about telemedicine software – and this startup proves that – is that the services need to be accessible directly on the web. It doesn’t mean that you can’t develop a mobile app, but you shouldn’t force the patient to download any software.
Telemedicine is a convenient solution for doctors and patients. Routine checks can be performed remotely, which streamlines the whole treatment process significantly. There are also other healthcare solutions that can be included in the broader telemedicine term, and these are for example:
- E-prescribing software - this kind of software has been introduced also in traditional health centers and allows doctors to switch from handwritten notes to online prescriptions. It should be also a core feature of every telemedicine platform. This type of software can be more complex if we add functionalities like leaving feedback about the medicaments or providing doctors access to the patient’s medication history.
- Appointment scheduling - it simply allows patients to schedule a medical consultation in a few simple steps. It improves the user experience significantly and is a must-have feature for every telemedicine platform. But it can also run as independent software, for example as a CRM for booking appointments. An excellent example of such software is Docplanner which operates in 12 different countries like e.g. Spain, Argentina, Poland, Turkey. It allows not only to schedule appointments but also to share feedback about doctors and process payments.
An example of Docplanner platform operating in Peru under the name Doctoralia
- Reminder apps - this kind of feature, which also can be developed as independent software, simply reminds patients about the medicaments they need to take or scheduled appointments. The most popular way of doing this is by sending text messages, e-mails, or push notifications in mobile apps.
An appointment scheduling system within Telemedi.co
Health and lifestyle apps (mHealth)
This kind of software is created not for patients, but for regular users who aim at leading a healthier life. There is a bunch of different types of apps that help people manage their diet and nutrition, daily activities, fitness training, and others. They are all represented by one term - mHealth (which stands for mobile health). The mHealth market value is also growing incredibly. In 2018, only in the United States, it was valued at 12.4 billion dollars, and as the Grand View Research shows is projected to reach 236 billion dollars by 2026.
Technology is present in sports, as the clubs and athletes make use of it not only to improve and track results but also to take care of sportsman’s health, as it’s often exploited to the limits. But let’s focus on regular users. According to Accenture research, 75% of users admitted that technology helps them manage their healthy lifestyles. The users also pointed out the growing importance of wearable technologies which help them keep track of their daily activities.
mHealth Economics 2017 study showed that the most popular healthcare mobile apps are those for Diabetes management and the ones that help control weight to fight obesity. The research also pointed out the burgeoning influence of mental health apps, which often serve as an alternative to therapy for people struggling with depression and other mental problems. But how does it work actually?
Let’s take Clarigent Health as an example. It’s a US startup that developed the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-based app, which helps to detect early symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders. Its goal is to prevent people, especially teenagers, from committing suicides. What’s interesting - the technology they implemented is based on linguistics, so the app analyzes the sentences but is also able to detect pace and inflection of speech, disorders of which are characteristic of some mental illnesses.
Healthcare software for hospital management
Technology improved the patients’ experience as well as hospital management and physicians’ daily work. We all remember times when the patient’s personal data and medication history were printed and kept in the storeroom. Now almost everything is digitalized and stored in the cloud. Let’s dive into some details and talk about the specific software that accelerates this digital transformation in medical facilities.
Electronic Health Record software (EHR/EMR)
That’s the basic and most popular type of software dedicated to hospitals and clinics. It can be considered as a CRM for healthcare providers. EHR stores patients’ personal data, medication history - it’s a digital medical chart.
The most commonly used EHR software is the Electronic Medical Record (EMR). It also includes a patient’s personal data, but from a single institution. It gathers information about the medication history, treatments, and diagnosis performed by a particular doctor. What’s the difference between them? While EMR is a software created for a single provider, EHR is more accessible, and different medical facilities can track and analyze patient’s recovery history, to improve the treatment process.
But as I’ve mentioned above, some solutions are used by both medical centers and patients. EHR software is one of them. The Accenture study, which I’ve already quoted above, points out that 44% of the survey participants have accessed the EHR software with the main goal of consulting their lab work and blood test results.
The most popular EHR software in the world is Epic, which provides all of the basic EHR features, but includes also telemedicine, appointment scheduling, e-prescription, and billing services.
Hospital management software
In this case, we are talking about all kinds of software that help to streamline the day-to-day operations, meaning also all the administration or billing functionalities. This kind of software is often integrated with EHR software and allows managing patient data, but also process payments and insurance information.
Its main goal is to simply automate all the administrative operations within the institution. Besides, this software is widely used for managing doctor’s schedules or surgeries. It should also handle managing the laboratories or pharmacies that are attached to the hospital or clinic.
Lastly, there is medical equipment management software. It simply helps to automate the maintenance of the medical equipment via cloud-based solutions. Its main feature is monitoring the apparatus work, which can reduce the downtime significantly. In some cases, this kind of software can also generate the estimated repair cost.
The diagnostic and research software
The third category of healthcare software is the one that enables doctors to diagnose better, faster, and more precisely. In this aspect, the development of technology is perhaps the most noticeable, especially in the field of robotic surgery.
Medical Database software
Medical Database software is a very similar solution to EHR software. It also gathers the patient’s personal data, information about the medication, and medical history. But the main difference between this solution and EHS is that Medical Databases focus more on diseases.
It means that there are different databases for each disease, for example, asthma or coronary artery disease. So doctors can search through different cases of patients suffering from this disease, watch how they reacted to a specific medication, and adapt the treatment based on the data gathered from thousands of people.
Imaging and visualization software
The introduction of medical tools like CT scans or MRI revolutionized the way treatments are provided and saved millions of lives. But there is always room for improvement and lots of startups are looking for new solutions. Viz.ai created software that uses artificial intelligence to spot suspicious ICH (Intracerebral hemorrhage) strokes in the non-contrast CT images. A mobile app provides doctors with alters within 30 seconds after spotting a stroke. It helps to save a lot of time which may be crucial for a patient’s life.
If talking about companies that are trying to improve the quality of medical imaging, we can’t omit HeartFlow, another US startup that invented an app helping to plan heart surgeries. It creates models based on each patient’s diagnosis and enables doctors to plan multiple treatment strategies before the operation even starts.
At the beginning of this article, we wrote about revolutionary remote surgery performed in 2001. Since then the technology has improved significantly and robotic surgery is now used more often as it provides more accuracy and precision. The most popular solution on the market now is the da Vinci robotic surgical system. It allows performing operations that doctors usually did not want to undertake due to the high risk of complications. Intuitive, the owner of da Vinci systems, claims that by the end of 2017 the robots were used in 5 million cases by 43 thousand trained surgeons.
The remote surgeries are within our grasp. The robotic surgery market is expected to be valued at $7 billion by 2025 and the latest 5G technology can accelerate its development and improve its accessibility throughout the world.
Medical Diagnosis and IoT software
Medical Diagnosis software helps to avoid the risk of giving the wrong diagnosis by sharing anonymized patient’s data and collecting information about their diseases, treatment, and recovery. It’s a kind of database that enables information exchange and is accessible to different medical specialists. It means that, for example, a cardiologist can make a diagnosis based on information provided by thousands of similar cases. What’s more, the software simplifies the exchange of information between doctors from different fields.
Here we should also mention solutions that are not strictly Medical Diagnostics software but were developed to improve diagnostics. They often leverage AI, Machine Learning, and Big Data to collect information about different cases to speed up the diagnostic process and make it more precise. Such IoT solutions like StethoMe can be helpful for patients that tend to Google their symptoms first. This software detects abnormalities in the respiratory system and helps to distinguish a regular cold from more serious diseases. The solution was created not only for patients but for doctors too. As the company claims, StethoMe is 29% more accurate than the specialist’s ear when examining patients.
Medical research and training software
Other beneficiaries of healthcare technology development are medical research platforms. This software serves primarily for educating the medical staff. It can be also created with the purpose of collecting medical publications, reviews, and journals. The other application of this kind of technology is allowing institutions to share information about different patient cases for medical research purposes.
Medical training software solutions are also worth noting, and the role of Augmented and Virtual Reality is essential here. The global AR and VR healthcare market was valued at $567 million in 2016. VR apps are especially helpful for surgery training, as until recently, the most popular way of learning for surgeons was to practice on a cadaver. VR solutions enable taking as many tries as physicians want, which is impossible if working on a real body. It also democratizes the way of learning and makes training more accessible as the number of cadavers is very limited. The excellent examples of such solutions are Osso VR and ImmersiveTouch.
The future of healthcare software
The digital healthcare market not only will but also has to grow. The 2020 COVID pandemic was some kind of warning for governments that they need to invest in technology, simply to adjust healthcare services to the conditions of the modern world. And the reports about growing investments in healthcare technology in Q1 2020 prove that at least private-sector noticed this need and opportunity.
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