Updated: Jun 16
With the launch of many digital health solutions, the role of the first line in healthcare shifts from caregiving to careguiding in the coming years
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I love ‘change’. I study and talk about it every day. And there is a lot to be analysed and said. Technological progress is growing exponentially. Humans' behaviour adapts accordingly and makes macro-societal trends arise at a faster pace than ever before. And that is exactly what I bring to the table: the changes in innovations, behaviours and trends, and what these changes mean for the future of your (health) business.
It took a landline and a dishwasher 50 years, but it only took Social media or a Tablet 6 years. I’m talking about the number of years to reach an adoption of 50% of households (link). In health & self-care, we saw a similar uptake for several health-related solutions. Health & Wellness apps quickly became one of the most popular categories in app stores, and in less than 5years, about 30% of the population was walking around with fitness trackers.
Meanwhile, technological progress grew exponentially as well. Just think about how you would have spent a couple of months in total Covid lockdown if the year had been 1999 or even 2009. Now think of such a lockdown in the metaverse of 2029. It’s flabbergasting to see how quickly the world has changed and will change.
We see technological progress in health & self-care also picking up speed. The hundred thousand so-called health & wellness apps from 2014 have turned into (or made way for) valuable digital health solutions or even digital therapeutics. Apps were initially regarded as laughable by the healthcare industry but are about to upset them very soon. Yes, indeed, upset… Because we can expect to be inundated with more digital innovations, more like never before.
The past two years added to this acceleration. It felt like the long-awaited opportunity to change the healthcare system and created an urgency to invest more in digital health solutions. The breakthrough of Telehealth was not only an exciting step into a more decentralised healthcare system (see trend report), but it is also the poster child of this urgent need for digital.
This acceleration was also noticeable in the investments made in HealthTech. 2021 was actually the biggest year for investment in digital health. More deals were closed, and the average deal size was more significant than ever before. The latter indicates that companies grew and matured, needing more money to take the following steps successfully. HealthTech now accounts for 92 unicorns, three times as many as a couple of years ago. Relatively speaking, there are more unicorns in healthcare than in most industries. And that number doesn’t even consider the companies that made an exit or went public.
Many digital health companies can potentially impact the healthcare system's near future heavily. It’s unclear to me whether we fully understand the potential consequences or impact of this incoming tsunami of change. In some of the next newsletters, I’ll write about a couple of predictions for how this tsunami of mature digital health solutions might heavily alter healthcare tomorrow—one tsunami sparking other waves of change.
Here are the related “The digital tsunami predictions” that I expect to share in the coming weeks:
1. The first line tsunami: From caregivers to careguiders
2. The corporate health tsunami
3. The biomarker tsunami
4. The platform tsunami
These newsletters are potential scenarios in a world expected to have an increasing amount of digital health solutions at disposal. These scenarios are some of my assumptions about the contextual changes we see happening now. I’m not a fortune teller, nor do I want to be. I want to invite others to think and discuss this so that we all can prepare for the future as we see fit. In itself, that’s also what I try to achieve with my keynotes, trend reports and newsletters anyhow: describing contextual changes in potential scenarios to help you shape the future of your (health) business.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it:
1. The first line tsunami.
Digital health solutions might cover different healthcare grounds, but I can see prevention, diagnosis, and recommendations to be among the most popular use cases. Many such solutions might easily be welcomed in a specialist setting (think the diagnostic support for radiologists, for example). On the other hand, I doubt whether it will be that easy for the first line. In the first line, healthcare practitioners typically deal with a wide variety of health cases. That’s why it is unclear how general practitioners, pharmacists and even sick funds will deal with a massive influx of digital health solutions. Nor is it clear to them, I believe. However, it will be theoretically impossible to know, understand, or deal with the upgrades and evolutions of these diverse digital health solutions daily.
Remember when Google democratised health information? It made the uneducated but self-informed patient (often) wrongly assume to be suffering from the most severe diseases—much to the annoyance of any first-line doctor or pharmacist. Now imagine what the democratisation of diagnosis and (AI-driven) health recommendations will cause. This time around, first-line HCPs will not be able to calm or convince them because they have more knowledge and experience. Because that won’t be the case this time around. The chances are that they will be unfamiliar with the (recent developments of) digital health solutions. It will no longer suffice to ignore or downplay it. These solutions might have more credibility than those health-related websites in the early Google days, regardless of whether they are certified or reimbursed.
It's easy to imagine how some of the current tasks of GPs, pharmacists and sick funds could become redundant in such a reality. This might perhaps even be welcomed in the overloaded healthcare setting today. However, I feel the real challenge lies in the fact that the overall role of the first line is up for grabs. Providing information, conducting diagnoses, referring to specialists, or even managing all health-related patient information might soon become less necessary. Or at least, first-line HCPs won’t have the monopoly on that role anymore. Patients will be empowered by solutions they trust enough (or more?).
It would not be surprising if this technological progress might be the first ‘burning platform’ in healthcare. In fact, I am anticipating the future role of the first line to shift because of this tsunami radically. The first line in healthcare will have to guide patients or health consumers much more than today. And it won’t be just about guiding them in the maze of the healthcare system. This time around, patients will need to be guided in the digital health ecosystem that will even go beyond the (local) (reimbursement) system. The complexity will be far more significant. These new careguiders will navigate people through the digital health scene, regardless of whether it will be for information, prevention, diagnosis, recommendations or digital treatments, and whether it is part of the local healthcare ecosystem. These technical solutions will soon enough become the daily norm. They will be managed by patients and only sometimes still be recommended, explained or used by healthcare professionals.
I might portray it somewhat exaggerated here. It won’t happen overnight either. But it is already starting to happen. The battle for the first line is picking up speed. It is apparent in the similar digital efforts by Sick Funds, Pharmacist and doctor associations. They all seem to be claiming the same space in the first line with similar initiatives. It is also visible in how patients or health consumers deal with their health today. I wrote in previous newsletters about one of the most critical trends in healthcare which I called Personal Science. Like the health & self-care apps from 2014, this trend might seem laughable now but will soon upset us.
This role of careguiding is a new wave of change sparked by the upcoming tsunami of digital health solutions. And I feel like now is the time to tackle this first burning platform in healthcare. Who wants to take on this new ‘careguider’ role? And what part do they want to take on? In any case, it will be only for those who are ready to change… today.
The battle for the first line is on.
Keynote speaker on the future of health business