Digital health is the intersection of healthcare and technology, and involves the innovative use of tech for better patient care, by Barry McCall.
Ireland is well placed to take a significant share of the $100 billion global digital health market. The Ibec ‘Where Digital Health Thrives’ campaign is aimed at capitalising on Ireland’s existing strengths to help the country realise its potential to become a global hub in this emerging area.
“Digital health is the intersection of healthcare and technology, and involves the innovative use of technology to deliver better patient care,” explains Jim O’Donoghue, chair of Ibec’s Digital Health Working Group and president of S3 Connected Health. “The goal is to translate the benefits that technology has brought to other industries and bring them to healthcare, resulting in improved outcomes for patients and the providers of healthcare.”
He says the utilisation of digital technology will allow healthcare to become more personalised, proactive and preventative. “It’s also about delivering in the most convenient and efficient manner for both the patient and the clinician. It will be more efficient and more affordable for health systems as well where costs are increasing due to the growing prevalence of chronic diseases and the ageing population among other factors.”
One area where technology has come into its own of late is telehealth.“An obvious example at the moment is the use of video consultations and remote monitoring for diabetes, heart failure, COPD and other chronic conditions so that patients don’t have to come to hospital,” says O’Donoghue. “People are using tools on their mobile phones and other devices to monitor themselves. The data is sent to their doctor, who can see if the patient is in trouble and if they require medical intervention.”
He also points to the increasing number of wearable and implantable devices being produced by the medtech and technology sectors.
“Patients are monitoring glucose levels continuously with a patch on their arm and these solutions are moving on to deliver the treatment as well. Pharmaceutical companies are developing automated drug-delivery devices for a range of conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.”
Applications are not limited to medication.
“There have been a lot of innovations in mental health,” says O’Donoghue. “You can have things like cognitive behavioural therapy delivered digitally on a phone or other device with support from a clinician or nurse. That enables health systems to deliver a certain level of treatment almost straight away to offer some relief and then back it up later with in-person treatment.”
Three different Ibec associations, the Irish Medtech Association, Technology Ireland and BioPharmaChem Ireland have come together to develop and deliver the campaign. These three bodies represent the digital health ecosystem here Ireland.
“There are 100 biopharma companies in Ireland, including all of the world’s top 10,” says O’Donoghue. “There are 450 medtech companies, including nine of the top 10. In the technology sector we have 900 companies here, and all of the top 10. That unique ecosystem can make us a global digital health powerhouse.”
Ireland also boasts a thriving digital health sector with nearly 200 companies already delivering solutions in areas such as telehealth, data, analytics and cyber security, health information technology, connected medtech and mobile health.
“We want to build on that to enable Ireland to become a global location of choice where companies come to develop and commercialise digital health products,” says O’Donoghue.
“Ireland is already recognised as a good place for innovating. We have the talent pool in terms of clinicians and technologists and data scientists and so on. And we have a number of world-class centres of research excellence which bring together industry and the research community. We are also very good at attracting foreign direct investment.”
He believes the current crop of digital health companies has excellent growth prospects.
“They are in a very good position to scale. They are out-selling internationally almost from day one because they have to. The small size of our domestic market means we are very attuned to the needs of international health systems, much more so perhaps than companies in Germany or the UK which have large domestic health systems to focus on.”
Looking to the future for the Ibec campaign, he says the focus will be on fostering collaboration.
“Digital health is very much about collaboration between companies and the research community. Different skills and capabilities are required for end to end product or service development. We are holding regular master classes for companies to help them build connections and understand the opportunities open to them. We are also delivering training in partnership with the Connected Health Skillnet, which was established by Ibec to support skills development in this area.”