The healthcare sector has been perhaps the slowest of all industries to embrace digitisation — and in fewer countries is this more evident than in Australia, where scripts are still written on paper, for example.

But new research suggests that pharmaceutical executives are getting antsy, saying the most important digital applications for the next five years involve big data and wearable devices that enable mobile health applications, according to researcher Bain.

As part of Bain’s latest Digital Insights Survey, 88 pharma executives were asked about the importance of digital innovation in healthcare.

They rated big data, radio frequency identification, automation and other innovations used in supply-chain tracking and tracing to be the most important digital innovation for their companies in the next five years, followed by predictive analytics second and real-time data and remote monitoring in third.

“Real-time data and remote monitoring will enable new markers of success or failure in clinical trials, reduce required visits to a physician and lower the cost of clinical trials,” says Jason Evers, Bain partner.

And while the study focused on larger pharmaceutical businesses with major operations in the US, the ASX offers investors a wide range of exposure to companies that are already actively involved in the proposed innovations, either as their entire business model or a function of their operations.

Take MedAdvisor (ASX:MDR), which on Monday revealed a new cornerstone investor in US pharma solutions provider HMS. It makes medication management technology, and has produced surveys that have suggested 70 per cent of patients who take regular medication would use online script renewal services as an alternative to visiting the GP for a script renewal.

“Digitisation can radically improve health outcomes,” MedAdvisor’s CEO Robert Read says. “Non-adherence to medication is a known global problem costing health systems around the globe in excess of $630B. Helping patients have more control can also provide a platform to increase health literacy and understanding.”

“Part of the answer is digital. We’ve directly helped millions of patients take medication safely, effectively and on time. We run education campaigns with large pharmaceutical companies which help patients manage side effects, condition specific issues and understand more about their medication.”


Predictive analytics

The healthcare applications for predictive analytics, which utilises a range of statistical, computing and machine learning techniques which analyses historical data to make predictions about future or otherwise unknown events, could transform the sector.

Nearly two-thirds of pharma executives say they expect big data and analytics to have a major impact on the industry in the next five years, which could lead to predictive analytics for diagnosis of disease.

It is in an area that several ASX-listed small caps are already tapping into; MyFiziq (ASX:MYQ) makes body measurement technology that is being used by healthcare and insurance companies to decrease their costs and risks, while Veriluma (ASX:VRI), which recently re-listed on the ASX, is commercialising a white-labelled platform that utilises predictive analytics.

Vlado Bosanac, chief and co-founder of MyFiziq, says his company’s tech has the potential to revolutionise diagnosis of disease in the industry.

“We are an early diagnostic tool, by providing early detection capabilities through the work that we’ve done — we have conducted a systematic review of the literature and identified markers from a wide range of diseases that are currently crippling healthcare insurers and governments around the world. With 40 per cent of populations either pre diabetic or diabetic and 90 per cent of these people not aware of their condition until it is too late…an early detection tool will change the face of this debilitating disease,” he says.

Real-time data and remote monitoring is a service that MedAdvisor is already providing. Patients are able to track their medication usage, while their local pharmacies and GPs are able to observe whether the medication they prescribe is being taken safely.

“Innovation has been slow. MedAdvisor can have a hugely positive impact on the health system because it provides immediate convenience benefits and ultimately huge health benefits,” Read says.