Telehealth in 2021: What will change and will a COVID-19 vaccine stop the sector’s growth?
Health & Biotech
Health & Biotech
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While several ASX sectors have seen growth in 2020 and expect more in 2021, telehealth is arguably a class above any others.
COVID-19 resulted in significant adoption of telehealth solutions, primarily to avoid physical contact with others but also for convenience, and in some instances, due to lockdown restrictions.
While the rise of telehealth was predicted to occur eventually, few would have anticipated it to happen so fast.
“It’s probably bought forward the innovation diffusion curve by about two to five years,” noted Intelicare’s CEO Jason Waller.
“Prior to COVID-19, telehealth was a developing technology sector but was still underutilised,” explained Craig Cooper, the CEO of Cardiovascular monitoring medtech CardieX (ASX:CDX).
“The last year saw a rapid acceleration of devices, software solutions, digital health, and other technologies that have rapidly enabled the telehealth and remote patient monitoring ecosystem.
“The pandemic also spurred record venture capital funding into digital health start-ups.”
Australia’s management of the pandemic and the anticipated roll out of a vaccine does beg the question as to whether or not it will continue in 2021.
Klaus Bartosch, the boss of telehealth booking service 1st Group (ASX:1ST), is one who believes so.
“Consumers love telehealth and this will increasingly become a normal part of service expectation,” he said.
“Healthcare providers that don’t ‘get with the program’ and offer video based telehealth will lose their customers/patients over time to services that do offer it.”
But will a COVID-19 vaccine make people confident enough to return to physical appointments and telehealth redundant in 2021?
Intelicare’s Jason Waller believes a vaccine will see a surge of confidence.
“The vaccine brings with it confidence that we are moving past the pandemic into a growth phase,” he said.
“The trick will be carrying forward the best of what we have learned through lockdown and make those elements part of our everyday business.”
However he warned at this stage it is more likely to buy time rather than eradicate the virus.
Similarly, Marjan Mikel, the CEO of Respiri (ASX:RSH) – which has a telehealth solution for asthma patients – observed a vaccine will help but not completely eradicate the virus.
“An effective vaccine should change the face of this pandemic and how we manage it – ideally moving COVID-19 towards the same healthcare management protocols as the common flu,” he said.
“[It] will have massive flow on affects and allow CV19 normality closer to what ‘normal’ was before the pandemic.”
Alex Radke of HeraMED (ASX:HMD), which offers in-home maternity care, went so far as to declare “we will never return to the ‘old normal'”.
“Telehealth utilisation will likely decrease from its COVID-19 peak, but it won’t go back to pre-COVID levels,” he told Stockhead.
“Consumers will continue to demand telehealth because of how convenient it is, which will in turn force legacy providers to offer it.
“This will open significant doors for startups to provide different options to patients in unique ways.”
Radke did concede that telehealth itself may change, in that providers would create more sustainable models.
“We’ll see a surge of new telehealth entrants, perhaps less focused on the infrastructure layer of telehealth, but more focused on solutions for specific diseases and remote monitoring devices, furthering the transition from the hospital to the home and bringing more convenience to patients with personalised care for them,” he said.
“The future of care is meeting patients where they are and our technology enables that future.”
Mikel does not believe that all of the telehealth providers that have sprung up over 2020 will remain in 2021.
“Those that will have a passion for engaging with patients by using devices and tools that allow them to monitor patients conditions and make evidence based decisions and not just deliver a Zoom call,” he said.
CardieX’s Craig Cooper believes telehealth will become more broader than just remote GP consults in 2021 and the years thereafter.
“We’re at the tip of the iceberg of telehealth and remote patient monitoring – and the next five years will see exponential improvements to health technology on a global scale,” he said.
“Going forward, a complete ecosystem of remote patient management tools should and will include a full spectrum of devices and platforms that make the patient experience as seamless as online shopping is today.
“Like retail, we can apply technology like AI to help aggregate and understand data so that doctors, nurses and patients can have actionable insights – just like a price comparison tool.”
Cooper also believes COVID-19 has shown us the value of health data – particularly from wearables and home health devices.
“Having clinically validated devices that gather real-world data will also accelerate innovation in research and development for new drugs and treatments,” he said.
“Putting clinical grade wearables into patients’ homes will serve to make clinical trials more accessible and to speed enrolment.”
The companies mentioned in this article were Stockhead advertisers at the time of publishing.
This story does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.