The $300bn COVID digital health dividend

This report introduces a new sizing model for digital healthcare that reflects the recent impact of the COVID pandemic on the sector, with the goal of identifying the new opportunities and risks presented to operators and others attempting or considering investment in the market. A key finding is that market development has been accelerated four years ahead of its prior trajectory, meaning that players should significantly reassess the urgency and scale of their strategic application.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Download the additional file to access the database tool accompanying the analytical report

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Why healthcare?

STL Partners has long argued that if telecoms operators want to build new businesses beyond connectivity, they will need 1) clarity on which customer needs to address and 2) long term commitment to investment and innovation to address them. Adding value farther up the value chain requires significant new skills and capabilities, so we believe telecoms operators must be deliberate in their choice of which customers they want to serve, i.e. which verticals, and what they want to do for them. For more detail, see STL Partners’ report How mobile operators can build winning 5G business models.

We believe that healthcare is a vertical that is well suited to telecoms operators’ strategic scope:

  • Healthcare is a consistently growing need in every country in the world
  • It is a big sector that can truly move the needle on telcos’ revenues, accounting for nearly 10% of GDP globally in 2018, up from 8.6% of GDP in 2000 according to WHO data
  • It operates within national economies of scale (even if the technology is global, implementation of that technology requires local knowledge and relationships)
  • The sector has historically been slower than others in its adoption of new technologies, partly due to quality and regulatory demands, factors that telcos are used to dealing with
  • Improving healthcare outcomes is meaningful work that all employees and stakeholders can relate to.

Many telcos also believe that healthcare is a vertical with significant opportunity, as demonstrated by operators’ such as TELUS and Telstra’s big investments into building health IT businesses, and smaller but ongoing efforts from many others. See STL Partners’ report How to crack the healthcare opportunity for profiles of nine telecoms operators’ strategies in the healthcare vertical.

Our research into the telecoms industry’s investment priorities in 2021 shows that the accelerated uptake of digital health solutions throughout the COVID pandemic has only shifted health further up the priority list for operators.

Figure 1: Digital health is among telcos’ top investment priorities in 2021

digital health telecoms priority

Source: STL Partners, Telecoms priorities: Ready for the crunch?

However, few operators have put their full effort into driving the transformation of healthcare delivery and outcomes through digital solutions. From our conversations with operators around the world, we believe this is in large because they are not yet fully convinced that addressing the challenges associated with transforming healthcare – fragmented and complex systems, slow moving public processes, impact on human lives – will pay off. Are they capable of solving these challenges, and is the business opportunity big enough to justify the risk?

Taking a cautious “wait and see” approach to developing a digital health business, launching a couple of trials or PoCs and seeing if they deliver value, or investing in a digital health start-up or two, may have been a viable approach for operators before the COVID pandemic hit, but with the acceleration in digital health adoption this is no longer the case. Now that COVID has forced healthcare providers and patients to embrace new technologies, the proof points and business cases the industry has been demanding have become a lot clearer. As a result, the digital health market is now four years ahead of where it was at the beginning of 2020, so operators seeking to build a business in healthcare should commit now while momentum and appetite for change is strong.

Enter your details below to download the report extract

How is COVID changing healthcare delivery?

The first and most significantly affected area of the digital health landscape throughout 2020 was virtual consultations and telehealth, where almost overnight doctors shifted as many appointments on to phone or video calls as possible. For example, in the UK the proportion of doctor’s visits happening over the phone or video rose from around 13% in late 2019 to 48% at the peak of the pandemic in April-June 2020, while US based virtual consultation provider Teladoc’s total visits tripled between Q219 and Q220, to 2.8mn.

By necessity, regulatory barriers to adoption of virtual consultations were lowered. Other barriers, such as insurers or governments not reimbursing or underpaying doctors for virtual appointments, and organisational and culture barriers among both patients and providers also broke down. The knock on effect has been acceleration across the broader digital health market, in areas such as remote patient monitoring and population level analytics. (See more on the immediate impact of COVID on digital health in STL article How COVID-19 is changing digital health – and what it means for telcos)

The key question is how much of an impact has COVID had, and will it last over the long term? This is what we aim to answer in this report and the accompanying global database tool. Key questions we address in this analysis are:

  • How much has COVID accelerated adoption of digital health applications?
  • What are the cost savings from accelerated uptake of digital health following COVID?
  • Which digital health application areas have been most affected by COVID?
  • Beyond the COVID impact, what is the total potential value of digital health applications for healthcare providers?
  • Which digital health application areas will deliver the biggest cost savings, globally and within specific markets?

To answer these questions we have built a bottom-up forecast model with a focus on the application areas we believe are most relevant to telecoms operators, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Five digital health application areas for telcos

5 digital health application areas

Source: STL Partners

We believe these are most relevant because their high dependence on connectivity, and needs for significant coordination and engagement with a broad range of local stakeholders to succeed, are well aligned with telecoms operators assets. See this STL Partners article for more detail on why these application areas are good entry points for telecoms operators.

NB We chose to omit the Personal health and wellness application area from our bottom-up model. It is a more generic and global application area than the others, dominated by players such as Google/Fitbit and Apple and with little integration thus far into formal healthcare services. While it is nonetheless an area of interest for telecoms operators, especially those that are seeking to build deeper relationships directly with consumers, it is a difficult entry point for telecoms operators seeking to build a healthcare business. This global and consumer focused nature of this application area also means that it is difficult to find reliable local data and quantify its value for healthcare systems.

What are these forecasts for?

Telecoms operators and others should use this forecast analysis to understand the potential value of digital health, including:

  • The size of the digital health opportunity in different markets
  • The market size for new applications across the four areas we modelled (remote patient monitoring, virtual care and telehealth, diagnostics and triage, data and analytics)
  • The relative size of the opportunities across the four application areas in different countries
  • The pace of digital health adoption and market growth in different countries and application areas

In other words, it shows how big the overall digital health market is, how fast it is growing, and which application areas are most valuable and/or growing fastest.

In a follow-up report, we will expand on this analysis to assess how much of this value telecoms operators specifically can capture.

Enter your details below to download the report extract

Digital health companies tool

Digital Health Companies Tool

An interactive tool mapping the digital health ecosystem

What is the digital health companies tool?

Digital health is a rapidly growing sector and one which is attracting new market players. To help our clients keep up to date with this changing landscape, we have created an interactive tool that maps out where different digital health companies are positioned across the patient journey (for more on application areas). Moreover, the tool gives insight into the commercial model, detailing who the end users and payers are.

As operators target the healthcare vertical, this tool will provide a holistic view of the ecosystem and enable them to home in on potential partners. To discuss this further, please feel free to email us directly: darius.singh@stlpartners.com.

How to use the tool

  1. Click an application area in the bubble chart (Virtual Care & Telemedicine, Remote Monitoring, Data & Analytics, Personal Health, Diagnostics & Triage) to see companies under that segment.
  2. Click the organisation name in the table on the right (“List of Digital Health Companies”) to find out more information and see a brief company description.
  3. To remove filters and return to the default setting, unclick selected items (application area and/or organisation name).

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

Digital health diagnostics and triage

Digital health diagnostics and triage

Diagnostics and triage are often the first points in a patient’s journey through the healthcare system. In simple terms, diagnostics is the process of identifying a particular illness using a combination of signs, symptoms, tests etc. Triage, on the other hand, is the process of assessing patient needs/symptoms to direct them to the right specialist/institution, to improve patient health outcomes and reduce costs.

Inefficiencies in these fundamental processes have long created unnecessary costs for healthcare systems and have kept millions of people from getting quality healthcare. Technology promises to bring revolutionary changes to how people get directed to the relevant specialist, get diagnosed and ultimately treated.

To better understand how these gains can be harnessed, we dive into some of the most pressing problems with how diagnostics and triage are currently carried out.

Inefficiencies in diagnostics and triage processes

Inefficiencies in current diagnostics and triage processes are creating huge financial and human costs for healthcare systems:

  • Diagnostic errors 
    • Most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime  
    • Diagnostic errors are more common and costly than treatment mistakes with an estimated $750 billion or 30% of U.S. annual healthcare spending wasted on diagnostic errors and other inefficiencies 
    • The human cost of misdiagnosis is just as significant with an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 patient deaths annually in the US alone
  • Unnecessary tests and treatment 
    • Unnecessary tests and treatment are a big part of why healthcare costs so much 
    • In a study on the efficiency of ICU utilisation at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, researchers found that around half of the patients who received care in the hospital’s resource-strained Intensive Care Unit did not benefit from the treatment 
  • Slow diagnosis limits opportunities for preventative care 
    • The rising costs of diagnostics make it less likely that patients will get early diagnosis and will subsequently avoid developing chronic illnesses.  
    • Globally, more than 70% of deaths can be attributed to chronic illnesses which are significantly more costly to treat. In fact, treatment of chronic conditions accounts for around 75% of U.S. annual healthcare spending.

Diagnostics and Triage

In our forthcoming model of the impact of digital health on healthcare costs, taking into account accelerated uptake in 2020, we forecast that digital health applications in diagnostics and triage could save nearly US$200bn in costs globally by 2030.

How digital health can improve access to diagnostics and triage

Another major issue with how diagnostics and triage are carried out is that, in most traditional settings, patients need to travel to the doctor to get the first appointment, before being redirected to a different specialist/institution. This map developed by Nature Medicine visualises the various travel times to access healthcare services globally. The bottom line is that for many people across the globe, the time to reach a health provider may be too long and too costly.

In addition to the physical barriers to access healthcare facilities, for many people in low- and middle-income countries, there just aren’t enough doctors. In fact, according to the UN, “about 44% of WHO member states have less than one doctor per 1,000 population” and more than half of the global population still doesn’t have access to essential health services.  

On the backdrop of these problems, technological breakthroughs significantly enhance access to and quality of diagnostics and triage services globally. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual health bots, online triage systems and others address some of the critical challenges highlighted above. There are various opportunities for telcos to play part in helping partner companies apply these innovations:

  • Many telcos have already launched virtual care and/or remote monitoring solutions. From either of these starting points, diagnostics & triage is the next logical steps for an operator seeking to build scope and support the wider patient journey.
  • According to STL Partners’ latest modeling, diagnostics & triage is the second largest value bucket globally in adoption of digital health after remote monitoring. Hence, it should be on the radar for telcos in health, especially as all the application areas are likely to merge into a holistic patient journey over the long term.
  • For telcos seeking to expand their digital health propositions to include diagnostics and triage, the key to success will be forging partnerships with leading technology players in this field and supporting them to bring industry leading solutions into local healthcare systems.

Conclusion

Whether it’s through helping doctors better diagnose various conditions through the application of AI, machine learning, visual imaging and others, technology promises to significantly enhance diagnostics as we know it. Online triage systems promise to free up much needed healthcare resources and achieve greater efficiency in how they are allocated.

Overall, new technologies promise to enhance access to healthcare globally by delivering out-of-the-box solutions wherever they are needed. The cost savings that can be achieved through these improvements are truly massive. And while much more innovation and widespread adoption of new technologies is still needed to address the larger problems discussed in this article, there is much hope for a better future ahead.

Author: Ani Keshishyan, Consultant and member of the Digital Health Practice

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Get in touch with our Digital Health Leads

Amy Cameron

Senior Analyst & Digital Health Research Lead

Darius Singh

Senior Consultant & Digital Health Practice Lead

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

Cloud players in health: how can telcos compete?

Cloud players in health: how can telcos compete?

 

In this article we explore what the cloud players are doing in health, and identify where telecoms operators can look to compete or collaborate in the digital health market.

The digital health opportunity has never been better

The healthcare industry presents a vast opportunity, comprising roughly 10% of the world’s GDP. Although it’s an industry that has traditionally lagged behind others in terms of digitalisation, it is now undergoing a transformation. This is being accelerated by the COVID pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of technology in society, particularly in healthcare. Finally, some big regulatory and cultural barriers to digital health adoption have fallen and the healthcare sector is ready to change.

The healthcare opportunity has not gone unnoticed by the cloud players and internet giants. Over the past decade, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google (FAMGA) have gradually been building up their healthcare portfolios through partnerships, acquisitions, investments and internal development. With their huge in-built customer base and vast budget and resources, they are well positioned to succeed in the digital health space.

However, this leads to the question – do FAMGA post a competitive threat to telcos building digital health businesses in their local markets? How can operators hope to achieve success, when they are up against players that have a significantly greater reach and abundance of resources?

In this article we explore what the cloud players and technology giants are doing today in healthcare, then assess the strategic implications for telecoms operators considering or actively developing digital health businesses.

What are FAMGA doing today in healthcare?

Facebook

Facebook has a wealth of diverse users who use its apps regularly and share a great deal of personal information on them. Accordingly, its healthcare offerings look to leverage these unique data sets to detect potential health threats for individuals and encourage them to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Their health play includes:

  • A preventive health tool integrated into the Facebook mobile app, that considers a user’s age and gender and reminds them to get check-ups when required. It also connects them to relevant local medical service providers.
  • A suicide prevention tool, where AI analyses users’ activity on Facebook and detects when they express suicidal tendencies. It then prioritises the severity of the case, and trained staff determine what help to offer the user.

Amazon

For many people Amazon is the first port of call for an online purchase, and AWS is currently the leading provider of cloud computing services. Amazon is looking to leverage this loyal user base, as well as its extensive distribution network to address healthcare pain points in the US. While this includes leveraging its cloud computing and AI capabilities in health, Amazon is equally focused on cutting the fat in the US’ care and prescription drug delivery systems.

  • Amazon joined the online pharmacy business in 2018 with a $753 million acquisition of PillPack, an online pharmacy with licenses to distribute in almost every state. Two years later customers can still order their prescriptions directly through PillPack, but it is now also possible to buy prescription medicine on Amazon’s main website, with free two-day delivery for Prime members. Amazon is integrated with most health insurance plans in the US.
  • Haven was a joint venture launched in 2018 between Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway that aimed to provide low-cost and accessible healthcare solutions for the three companies’ employees. Its ambition to disrupt the healthcare market was ultimately not realised, and It will shut down at the end of February 2021, though the three companies aim to continue collaborating informally.
  • In late 2019 Amazon acquired Health Navigator, which uses analytics and AI to improve patient diagnosis and care. It offers clinical content in the form of APIs, and Amazon plans to integrate it into its Amazon Care offering.
  • Amazon Care launched for Amazon employees in September 2020. It is a virtual and in-person offering, that includes telemedicine via app/chat/video, prescription medication delivery and follow-up visits by a nurse to the employee’s office or home.
  • Amazon has designed software for the voice assistant Alexa that enables it to handle and communicate confidential patient information. It is HIPAA compliant and it has partnered with three hospitals as part of the program.
  • Amazon’s work in the AI space includes a speech recognition service called ‘Amazon Transcribe Medical’ that takes physician’s speech and inputs it directly into medical records in text form. They also have a partnership with University of Texas Health Science Centre, Cardinal Health and Virtusa to use AI in medical research, and a Next Gen Stats partnership with the NFL that is investigating AI/ML to improve player health.

Microsoft

Microsoft is a highly trusted technology and cloud computing company that owns the world’s most popular workplace apps, and popularity has continued to grow over the last year with daily users of its Teams platform jumping from 20 million in November 2019 to 115 million in October 2020 as a result of COVID-19. Its healthcare initiatives are primarily focused on supporting the healthcare sector’s transition to cloud computing/cloud based infrastructure and adoption of machine learning and AI. They include:

  • AI for health, which is a five-year, $60 million philanthropic program to help healthcare organisations fight global health challenges and use AI/ML to boost patient health.
  • Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare is their first industry-specific cloud offering. It brings together cloud computing capabilities (including Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365) to ‘enhance patient engagement, empower health team collaboration, and improve clinical and operational data insights’.
  • Microsoft has also partnered with various companies including:
    • Providence – AI to improve electronic health records (EHRs). They are also building a high-tech hospital together.
    • AstraZeneca – AI Factory for health (a healthcare AI accelerator)
    • Novartis – AI innovation lab to accelerate development of new medicines
    • Nuance – building modern healthcare solutions, including speech recognition for clinical use, where AI software listens to physician/patient conversations and converts them to reports
    • Rutgers medical school – app to prevent sudden infant death syndrome

Google

Google has a wealth of experience in handling and searching large data sets and stands out from the other hyperscale cloud providers for its strong analytics and AI capabilities, which it is building on in digital health. It has made many moves in healthcare and has 57 digital health startups in its portfolio (as of January 2020).

  • Google Health is a branch of Google that was started in 2006. It carries out research, develops clinical tools and partners with healthcare organisations to develop solutions. Its work includes using AI/ML to analyse patient data (e.g. detecting heart disease risk, diabetic retinopathy, cancer), which has resulted in a reduction in false positives and negatives compared to doctors.
  • Google partnered with Ascension (a major private healthcare system in the US) in 2019 to move its EHRs to the cloud and create a search tool to improve search capabilities for doctors.
  • Google acquired DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company and research laboratory, in 2014. The DeepMind health team joined Google Health in 2019 to work on developing tools and technology to improve patient care and clinical workflows.
  • EHR voice assistant Suki helps clinicians complete administrative tasks. Google is also working on a voice recognition solution that will listen to physicians and not only transcribe the patient interaction, but also interpret it and produce notes on the most important and relevant parts of the conversation.
  • Google acquired Fitbit in January 2021 for an estimated $2.1Bn, revealing ambitions in the wearables market.

Apple

Apple is one of the most trusted technology companies and enjoys a highly brand loyal userbase. Its work in digital health focusses on enabling both consumers and enterprise users to manage data easily across systems.

  • The Apple Health app is a dashboard that shows users their health metrics, compiled from compatible apps/devices.
  • HealthKit platform is a developer framework that enables sharing of health data between compatible apps and services.
  • is a software framework for apps to let people better understand and manage their medical conditions by tracking their day to day health and medications. This data can then be shared with care teams. Johns Hopkins Medicine, Stanford Medicine, and Emory Healthcare are amongst those using CareKit apps.
  • ResearchKit is a software framework for apps to help researchers gather data by making it easier to enrol participants for studies (e.g. by recruiting through CareKit or HealthKit users) and gather regular data.
  • The Apple smart watches have increasingly advanced healthcare capabilities including:
    • Sensors capable of measuring a user’s blood oxygen levels. Users will be able to enter a study on asthma and heart failure, and the role of blood oxygen and heart rate metrics in detecting respiratory illnesses.
    • Heart rate sensors to detect unusually low or high heart rates, and an ECG tool that can identify arterial fibrillation
    • Sensors that can detect when someone’s taken a hard fall and likely injured themselves
    • Sleep tracking
    • Medical ID, so first responders in medical emergencies can access critical patient information such as allergies or emergency contacts

Where can telecoms operators compete?

Cloud players in healthcare

Areas where it’s not worth competing

  • Amazon, Microsoft and Google are the leading players in the cloud computing market, and previous attempts by telcos to compete in core cloud have not proven successful. Instead, telcos could look to deliver edge cloud services to healthcare providers to alleviate the data privacy and sovereignty concerns of the industry.
  • Personal health records are another area where attempting to compete may be difficult, as Apple already have a significant hold of the personal health market. Even the cloud companies have struggled in this digital health area, with Microsoft and Google’s offerings (HealthVault and Google Health) having both failed – although Google’s acquisition of FitBit shows renewed ambitions.

Areas where telcos could compete

  • When it comes to remote care delivery, FAMGA have good ties to organisations in the US but may lack local partners in other countries, therefore telcos with regional relationships and expertise can have an advantage in telehealth and remote care services.
  • Public distrust of large technology companies and their use of consumer data is growing (particularly for Facebook and Google), while telcos are generally quite well trusted. Telcos could therefore leverage this brand to have more success in working with EMR/EHRs and supporting healthcare providers in their transformation of legacy systems. They will also be better placed to deal with regional-specific forms of patient data and hospital information systems (HIS), whereas the cloud players (who have a more global offering) will likely not have the regional knowledge or bespoke offerings by geography.

Areas where telcos could collaborate

  • In some of these areas, telcos could collaborate to implement FAMGA’s tech at a national level. Areas where this could be successful include SaaS, AI, personal health records, HER/EMRs, telehealth and potentially on-premise edge computing.
  • EMR/EHRs are an attractive area for this because while the cloud and internet players can produce solutions to optimise sharing of patient information across the US, this won’t directly translate to other countries which will have different needs. Telcos will be able to leverage their national or regional relationships and know-how.
  • Telehealth is also a good area to collaborate in, as telcos can provide the relationships with consumers, healthcare providers and solutions providers in countries where FAMGA do not already have them.

Telcos could leverage the strong AI capabilities of cloud players like Google to deliver AI-based analytics, diagnostics, and triage services to healthcare providers – an opportunity area which STL Partners forecasts will grow significantly over the next few years.

Author: Miran Gilmore, Consultant and member of the Digital Health Practice

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Get in touch with our Digital Health Leads

Amy Cameron

Senior Analyst & Digital Health Research Lead

Darius Singh

Senior Consultant & Digital Health Practice Lead

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

15 Digital Health companies to watch in 2021

15 Digital Health companies to watch in 2021

 

In this article, we highlight 15 digital health companies (grouped by application area) who we think are companies to watch in 2021.

Who’s who in the digital health world

At the beginning of last year digital health was already a burgeoning industry, but the COVID-19 pandemic has cemented its importance within healthcare and society. Overnight, entire procedures migrated online to reduce social contact and transmission rates. Telemedicine has unsurprisingly profited from this healthcare paradigm shift, as patients seek care that can be delivered virtually within the confines of their homes (see our article “How COVID-19 is changing digital health – and what it means for telcos”).

While the pandemic has directed heightened attention (and investment) to digital health companies operating in telemedicine in particular, there are interesting things happening across all five application areas STL has identified as most relevant to telecoms operators (see our article “What is digital health? 5 application areas telcos should focus on”):

  • Personal health management and wellness
  • Diagnostics and triage
  • Virtual care and telehealth
  • Remote monitoring
  • Data and analytics

In this article, we highlight 15 digital health companies (grouped by application area) who we think are companies to watch in 2021. They either have a unique value proposition or represent an opportunity for collaboration with a telecoms operator.

Our 15 digital health companies to watch

  1. Oura ring
  2. Vantage Health
  3. Mendelian
  4. Galileo Health
  5. Doctor On Demand
  6. Butterfly
  7. MedWand
  8. Peppy
  9. Maven Clinic
  10. Phlo
  11. PocDoc
  12. CareSimple
  13. Tunstall
  14. MyWay Digital Health
  15. Bleepa

1. Oura ring

Application area: Personal health management & wellness

End user: Consumer

Payer: Consumer

Website: www.ouraring.com

Founded: 2013

The Oura ring is a piece of wearable tech which uses sensor technology to track health vitals. It sends these data points to a mobile app through Bluetooth and allows the user to see metrics such as readiness for the day, quality of sleep and daily calories burnt.

While the Oura ring was created primarily to help the user build good habits, it is currently in the spotlight for its ability to detect the onset of COVID-19. While there are alternative smart rings, the Oura ring is best placed for this capability given its advanced sensors which measure temperature changes as small as 0.1°C. It is clearly meeting the immediate COVID-19 needs given that the NBA has bought more than 2,000 rings for players and staff in the hope to keep the pandemic at bay.

The Oura ring is priced between $299-$399, which means it is more expensive than most Apple watches (apart from the series 6 which starts at $399). While there are some key differences between an Oura ring and an Apple watch (e.g. Oura ring’s ability to measure body temperature), there are also overlapping functionalities (e.g. the tracking of sleep, the measuring of heartrate, and the flagging of irregular heart rhythm). Due to these similarities – not to mention Apple’s strong brand – Oura’s price point would need to come down for mass market adoption.

2. Vantage Health

Application area: Diagnostics & triage

End user: Clinician

Payer: Healthcare organisation

Website: www.vantage.health

Founded: 2004

Vantage Health is a digital health company transforming the outpatient referral process through its AI platform, Rego. This empowers clinicians to use healthcare resources more efficiently: rather than directing patients to hospitals by default, they can suggest alternate care services (e.g. community services) based on local guidelines.

As hospitals have limited resources and capacity, it is important to refer only those when most necessary and thus avoid patient bottlenecks (long queues and high waiting times). This is particularly important amid COVID-19 due to the transmission risk associated with crowds. Through Rego, Vantage Health can alleviate some of the pressure and strain that hospitals face.

3. Mendelian

Application area: Diagnostics & triage / Data & analytics

End user: Clinician

Payer: Healthcare organisation

Website: www.mendelian.co

Founded: 2015

Mendelian is an AI-enabled diagnostics platform that is centred around rare diseases. It is designed to be used by clinicians and enables them to better serve their patients through early diagnosis. The MendelScan algorithm captures disease features from EHRs across a patient population, against which patients are matched for diagnostic criteria of rare diseases. Clinicians can combine their medical expertise with insights from the MendelScan, thus improving the accuracy of care and advice they provide.

Rare diseases are often misdiagnosed, resulting in unnecessary referrals and doctor visits, an interval of numerous years before correct diagnosis and excess cost on healthcare systems. By facilitating early diagnosis of rare diseases, Mendelian can save time and money for a healthcare system that is already over-stretched.

4. Galileo Health

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Patient

Payer: Patient, employer

Website: www.galileohealth.com

Founded: 2018

Galileo Health is a healthcare app through which virtual primary care is delivered. Members have 24/7 mobile access to Galileo Health’s team of medical experts, who can diagnose conditions, prescribe drugs and refer to specialists. All these functionalities happen within the app, making it user-friendly and convenient.

Telecoms operators seeking to launch a virtual primary care service can accelerate their go-to-market through partnerships with digital health companies like Galileo Health, as TELUS has done with Babylon Health and Telefónica with Teladoc. In this type of partnership, each party brings complementary skills to the table: Galileo Health has the software, healthcare knowledge and team of doctors; a telecoms operator adds reputational strength (being a trusted brand within countries and often with ties to authorities / regulators) and customer reach. With a blueprint and lessons from TELUS’ collaboration with Babylon Health now available, we can expect to see more partnerships of this kind in the future.

5. Doctor On Demand

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Patient

Payer: Patient, employer, insurer

Website: www.doctorondemand.com

Founded: 2012

Doctor On Demand is a digital health company providing telemedicine services that give patients access to virtual care. The company has an app in which virtual visits take place, and a team of licensed physicians (known as “Doctor On Demand Professionals”) which handles the care services. Doctor On Demand’s healthcare offering is broad: they cover traditional primary care such as rashes and colds, but also provide psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. The comprehensiveness of their services explains their slogan: Total Virtual Care.

Similar to Galileo Health, Doctor On Demand can accelerate the go-to-market of telecoms operators seeking to launch a virtual primary care service. There is, however, a differentiating factor between these healthcare companies: breadth of offering. Doctor On Demand may be an attractive digital health company to telecoms operators as it would allow them to quickly diversify their care services – they could do POCs with one service line (e.g. traditional primary care), and if this proves successful, add other Doctor On Demand service lines to their offering.

6. Butterfly

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Clinician

Payer: Healthcare organisation

Website: www.butterflynetwork.com

Founded: 2011

Butterfly is a handheld portable ultrasound machine which utilises ground-breaking chip technology. With just this machine and a smart phone, doctors can perform ultrasound scans. Butterfly has five imaging modes and comes with 20 presets of common body scans for abdomen, bladder and lungs.

Butterfly has a unique value proposition given its proprietary technology: it is the first whole-body imager that is portable, affordable (£1,699 for the machine plus a yearly membership fee of £360) and can be deployed at scale. This type of machine is well suited to bringing medical imaging to rural communities. Moreover, as images can be shared and sent for review, Butterfly overcomes the lack of specialists in remote areas. While Butterfly is a game-changer in low-resource settings, it is also being used in clinical environments – earlier this year it was made available to Canadian healthcare practitioners and health systems.

7. MedWand

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Patient, clinician

Payer: Patient, healthcare organisation

Website: www.medwand.com/whymedwand.html

Founded: 2014

MedWand is a medical device which enables patients to perform physical exams, expanding the range of consultations that can take place virtually. With MedWand, patients can carry out exams on themselves that GPs would typically perform, such as listening to lungs, measuring blood oxygen levels and inspecting skin.

Patients use the MedWand while on a call with a clinician so that they can be accordingly guided, thereby ensuring accuracy of results. The clinician can then analyse the results in real-time, provide feedback and create a care plan. All this happens within the MedWand platform, which is compatible with EMR systems and acts as the intermediary space between patients and telemedicine providers.

8. Peppy

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Patient/consumer

Payer: Employer

Website: www.peppy.health

Founded: 2018

Peppy is an app that supports employee healthcare and wellbeing. Within the app, employees can choose the stream of service they require (Healthy Mind, Menopause, Parenthood, Fertility), and then they can speak to an array of advisers and practitioners. Communication channels within Peppy are both text- and video-based and provide access to resources and toolkits.

COVID-19 has shone a light on the importance of employee mental health. Moving forward, even when the pandemic has become a thing of the past, employers will have to cater to holistic wellbeing. Peppy as a digital health company is set to benefit from these changing attitudes.

9. Maven Clinic

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Patient/consumer

Payer: Patient/consumer, employer, insurer

Website: www.mavenclinic.com

Founded: 2014

Maven is a digital health company providing telemedicine services that revolves around care for women and families. Members of Maven are assigned dedicated Care Advocates, can book on-demand appointments (video-based), and receive personalised educational content. These multiple touchpoints mean that members feel supported whatever their concern (e.g. parent planning, egg freezing, adoption, childcare support).

By offering Maven, employers ensure that employees have the right support system in place for all paths to parenthood. This attracts and empowers female and LGBTQ+ employees. Maven enables employee benefits to reflect the diversity of the workforce.

This type of digital health company can be an important partner for telcos operating in countries with hybrid or privately funded healthcare systems. As large employers, they can trial and develop these solutions for their own employee base before exploring new business opportunities.

10. Phlo

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Patient

Payer: Healthcare organisation

Website: www.wearephlo.com

Founded: 2015

Phlo is a digital pharmacy which enables prescription drugs to be ordered online and delivered direct to homes. This eliminates the hassle that often accompanies visits to physical pharmacies: long queues and stock shortages. Through Phlo, patients can order and receive their medication on the same day. The app makes the patient experience seamless as everything happens in one place, from requesting GP approval for medication, to choosing the delivery address and tracking the order in real-time (real-time tracking is currently only live in London but Phlo is planning to expand this feature to other major UK cities).

In April 2020 distance selling pharmacies accounted for just 3.2% of total prescriptions in the UK. But considering the impact of COVID-19 and the fact that traditional community pharmacies are pivoting their services to reduce pressure on GPs, we can expect this number to rise.

11. PocDoc

Application area: Virtual care & telemedicine

End user: Consumer

Payer: Consumer, employer

Website: www.mypocdoc.co.uk

Founded: 2016

PocDoc (Vital Signs Solutions is the parent company) is a digital health company and healthcare provider that combines rapid testing with a digital platform via the PocDoc app. While PocDoc can be used to test for COVID-19, its primary focus is on blood tests for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In light of the pandemic, PocDoc is offering workplace screenings for COVID-19. The company’s team of Healthcare Professionals brings everything required to operate the screening under guidelines, with a 10-minute turn around for results. As employees gradually return to the workplace in line with government guidance, companies like PocDoc may play a key role in maintaining safety and ensuring that the workplace stays open.

12. CareSimple

Application area: Remote monitoring

End user: patient, healthcare organisation

Payer: insurer (private healthcare), healthcare organisation (public healthcare)

Website: www.caresimple.com

Founded: 2009

CareSimple is a remote patient monitoring (RPM) solution provider, which enables healthcare organisations to quickly implement RPM programs. CareSimple handles all the steps from registration of a patient to enablement of RPM: they send 4G-enabled medical devices (blood pressure monitor, body weight scale, blood glucose monitor) to the patient and supply the healthcare organisation with a clinical portal through which services are delivered. While the healthcare organisation handles the services, it is also able to leverage CareSimple’s network of service providers.

The fact that CareSimple has its own network of service providers means that they offer a complete solution. They are therefore a viable partner for telecoms operators seeking to enter the digital health market as they facilitate quick deployment of RPM programs: telecom operators would not need to invest in hardware, software or service providers. An example partnership is in Sweden, where Telia has developed a remote monitoring ecosystem, called IBD home, using the CareSimple platform.  Another opportunity for telecoms operators is to be the connectivity provider of the 4G-enabled medical devices.

13. Tunstall

Application area: Remote monitoring

End user: Patient/consumer, healthcare organisation, long term care

Payer: Patient/consumer, healthcare organisation, long term care

Website: www.tunstall.co.uk

Founded: 1957

Tunstall is a solution provider which supports those requiring care and health intervention to live independently in their chosen home setting. The offering is broad in scope and can be applied in numerous circumstances, from assisted living in retirement homes to chronic disease support and complex care management. Tunstall’s connected care solution is delivered through medical devices such as wearable fall detectors, bed occupancy sensors and a Smart Hub unit. In addition to this at-home med-tech, Tunstall provides a platform through which virtual care can be delivered and a fully outsourced service model where trained teams manage end-to-end care delivery.

Given Tunstall’s provision of an end-to-end solution, they are an attractive partner for telcos seeking to offer digital health services. Telcos would be able to leverage Tunstall’s diverse solution portfolio in line with their strategy: Connected Care, Connected Health, Connected Services. We are already seeing partnerships, for example in Spain where Telefónica and Tunstall have partnered to deliver an RPM solution.

14. MyWay Digital Health

Application area: Remote monitoring / Data & analytics

End user: Patient, clinician

Payer: Healthcare organisation

Website: www.mywaydigitalhealth.co.uk

Founded: 2017

MyWay Digital Health supports patients living with diabetes and clinicians treating diabetes. With respect to patients, MyWay Digital Health provides a platform which facilitates self-management: this includes the provision of care planning and goal setting, communication channels with clinicians and a wealth of educational resources.

For clinicians, MyWay Digital Health has developed a platform which integrates data across healthcare organisations and home-recorded data. The platform therefore provides a complete diabetes electronic health record and analytics platform. This empowers clinicians to make data-driven decisions and to deliver personalised patient management.

15. Bleepa

Application area: Data & analytics

End user: Healthcare organisation

Payer: Healthcare organisation

Website: www.fbkmed.com/bleepa-certified-imaging

Founded: 2019

Bleepa is a communications platform designed for medical staff in hospital settings. It combines secure, instant messaging with the ability to share clinical grade medical images (e.g. x-rays). This means that medical staff dispersed throughout a hospital location can review images, discuss points and come to collective decisions in an expedited manner. With any communications platform – particularly one that deals with sensitive healthcare data – there is always the question of privacy. As Bleepa is healthcare software, the hospital has responsibility for the data and its management.

Bleepa is available on the NHSx Clinical Communication Tools Framework. Amid COVID-19 and the pressure that hospitals are facing, communication tools that save time for medical staff, in turn speeding up care for patients, are critical.

So what for the telecoms industry?

The 15 Digital Health companies we have outlined above present players in the telecoms industry, who are looking to play in the digital health space, potential partnership opportunities to help the transformation and growth of their healthcare customers.

However, before engaging with any potential partners, telcos not only need to identify and prioritise which application areas they want to pursue but must also clearly define what role in the ecosystem they wish to play.

digital health companies - partnership framework
framework to identify how telcos show partner with digital health companies

Once this has been defined, operators and technology vendors alike must identify the strategic partners that help them to fill the gaps in their capabilities and push forwards their ambitions in digital health – whether that be delivering end-to-end solutions to healthcare customers or providing a key layer in the value chain as part of a wider solution.

Author: Anthony Boyd, Consultant and member of the Digital Health Practice

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Get in touch with our Digital Health Leads

Amy Cameron

Senior Analyst & Digital Health Research Lead

Darius Singh

Senior Consultant & Digital Health Practice Lead

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

What is digital health worth to telcos? Modelling the Japanese market

​What is digital health worth to telcos? Modelling the Japanese market

There’s a variety of business models available to operators to play in the healthcare market – but what is each one worth? Looking at the Japanese market for two key digital health use cases, delivered over a private 5G/MEC platform, we forecast the potential value for telcos across three different business models.

Introduction

STL Partners has previously written about how new technologies like 5G and edge computing could impact the healthcare industry by enabling a suite of new, transformative use cases. In this article we dive into the revenue opportunity associated with these technologies when combined to create a 5G plus MEC private mobility solution.

We model the opportunity based on two use cases in the Japanese market (indicative of a large and affluent market with high healthcare spend/capita) to show how value is spread across the ecosystem and the proportion of this value, across different business models, that telcos could derive.  

We discuss the opportunity in more detail in our upcoming report, sponsored by Dell Technologies, titled “Combining private 5G & edge computing: the revenue opportunity”. This includes:  

  • a full technological stack for the proposition 
  • the benefits of a 5G plus MEC private mobility solution 
  • the revenue opportunity in other verticals – retail and architecture, construction, and engineering (ACE) 

A $0.5 billion wallet: The total opportunity 

In this forecast, we estimated the total spend associated with delivering in-hospital patient monitoring and virtual desktop infrastructure services via an on-premise 5G plus MEC private mobility solutionIn Japan, we estimate a total annual wallet, across our two use cases, of $474 million by 2025 (see  Figure 1). We have calculated this from the bottom up, looking at the cost per user to deliver the solutions across each of the value chain segments (e.g. application, devices, managed services, connectivity). We then scale up based on forecasted addressable market and total number of users.  

Figure 1A $0.5 billion market 

Source: STL Partners

Note that the $474m therefore represents only a subsegment of spend within these two use cases as, although the 5G/MEC platform brings significant benefits in terms of performance, reliability, and security, these use cases could be delivered over existing connectivity solutions (such as 4G, private LTE, WiFi). In our forecast, we have therefore assumed that by 2025 c. 5-15% of hospitals in Japan will have adopted an on-premise 5G/MEC solution to deliver one of our two use cases. This is evidenced by a survey conducted to IT professionals in the Japanese formal healthcare system1 

As shown in Figure 1, there is significant acceleration in growth from 2022 onwards. This reflects the 5G and edge computing deployment landscape – as the technologies develop through 2021, standards are set, and scaled and proven deployments increase, adoption of use cases delivered over 5G/MEC solutions will grow.  

It also reflects the relatively high healthcare spend per capita and growth of the Japanese market. In 2017, Japan’s healthcare spend per capita was >$4000 – putting it in the top 20 countries in terms of spend worldwide, and second only to the Australian market in Asia Pacific. The consistently high spend, as well as sustained growth through 2020, mean adoption of leading digital health solutions will be high. 

Distribution across the value chain 

However, the share of the $0.5 billion wallet is not distributed evenly across the value chain (see Figure 2). We estimate that the largest share is held within the application and solutions layer of the ecosystem – this includes the application, the end device, and a slice of ongoing professional services revenues.

What is evident from Figure 2 is that only a small portion of value is captured in the connectivity layer. We estimate that, in the case of in-hospital patient monitoring and virtual desktop infrastructure, connectivity revenues (e.g. from the device to telco infrastructure) account for c. 3-5% of share of wallet. We therefore estimate that telcos who invest in edge computing infrastructure for delivery of new services could increase share of wallet from <5% to c. 25-35%. This is by deriving revenues from edge cloud hosting and connectivity (data ingress and egress) from telco edge real estate. We explore this in more detail in the section below.

Figure 2: value is not distributed equally across the value chain

Source: STL Partners

[1] More detail on the methodology can be found in the full report “Combining private 5G & edge computing: the revenue opportunity

A c. 125% revenue increase: Telcos should consider playing further up the value chain  

At STL Partners, we have categorised three broad business models for playing in the healthcare marke(see our Overview of the digital health opportunity for telcos). They span from the telco providing solely the connectivity piece of the solution (network as a service), through to the telco delivering and managing highly customised end-to-end solutions (solutions and applications). Telcos must carefully consider the appropriate business model strategy to enter the market as, although significantly more investment is required to play in the applications layer, the majority of value is held there.

For the purpose of this modelling exercise, we have defined three specific business models for delivering a 5G plus MEC private mobility solution2, using the same framework outlined above: 

  • Model A: the telco provides only the connectivity and the edge computing infrastructure (including the edge platform) to run the application 
  • Model B: Model A plus upfront professional services for systems integration 
  • Model C: Model B plus the telco delivers (potentially through resale partnerships) the application, device, and a level of ongoing professional/managed services)

Revenues vary significantly across these models and so telcos should think carefully about where they want to play (see Figure 3). There is a c. 125% increase in revenues between model A and model C. Therefore, although networks as a service/connectivity is a natural playing field for operators, these solutions cannot work without the other elements, and if telcos don’t provide them then other players, such as the hyperscalers/internet giants, will fill that needIf telcos want to play successfully within model C, they should act now5G and MEC technology is advancing and telcos should start to build the strategies, partnerships, expertise etc. to position themselves as credible providers in the space. 

Figure 3: Telco revenues derived across the three viable models (2025)

Source: STL Partners analysis

2 For more information on these business models, please read the full report “Combining private 5G & edge computing: the revenue opportunity

Through the on premise 5G & MEC platform, the telco can derive revenues from private mobility services. In Figure 4 we estimate the total addressable revenues for a telco (across our three business models and our two use cases) by year, including revenues derived from private mobility specifically.  

In the model, we assume that only 50% of customers who implement one of the two key use cases using on-premise 5G & MEC also purchase a private mobility solution. This is based on a survey to IT professionals in the Japanese healthcare market.

Figure 4: Forecasted telco revenues by year across the three business models

Source: STL Partners analysis

What will digital health be worth to you? 

In this article, we have highlighted a significant opportunity for the telecoms industry to drive enterprise revenue growth. However, we have only looked at two key digital health use cases and the associated revenues for delivering the service via a 5G/MEC platformNot only would the addressable revenues increase significantly for those use cases if other connectivity solutions were considered, but there are a number of other viable digital health use cases that the telecoms industry could and should have a role in. We continue to cover the realistic use cases for digital health in our use cases article series:  

Furthermore, we have used the Japanese market to forecast the opportunity and highlight the pockets of value across business models. The Japanese market is affluent with a high healthcare spend per capita – how might the opportunity vary in a developing or more privately managed healthcare system?  

We believe that telcos should begin to answer these questions now, building vertical specific strategies and portfolios, defining the viable business models for their market, and identifying the core partnerships they need to play successfully within the healthcare industry 

If you’re interested to learn more about this article, or the underlying research sponsored by Dell Technologies (access the full report here)do please get in touch using the information below.  

STL Partners is continuously researching the opportunity for telecoms in digital health, including the viable strategies for success and the scale of the opportunity. Details on our upcoming healthcare research can be found below: 

Assessing the post-COVID digital health market value 

During the pandemic, nearly every country has embraced digital health solutions to manage increasing pressures on healthcare systems 

This has created a digital health boom and a resurgence in interest in this vertical among telcos 

In this report STL aims to assess: 

  • the change in size and nature of the digital health opportunity, 
  • how much, how fast and in which market segments will we see change (e.g. virtual care, remote monitoring, diagnostics & triage, data & analytics)  

The model will include: 

  • country level analysis of the digital health market in the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, India and China 
  • a generic global tool assessing the potential value of different digital health segments, depending on healthcare market structure, level of maturity, etc. 

You can access the recording and the slides from our free webinar, providing key highlights from the upcoming research, by following the link here 

What is digital health worth to telcos? 

This report will build on the framework used in this article and the post-COVID digital health market sizing to understand what portion of the impact telcos could derive 

  • further breakdown the digital health opportunity by IT layer, between connectivity, enabling platforms, and applications 
  • explore different strategies telcos can adopt to address the opportunities at each layer and across various digital health market segments 
  • assess those strategies depending on telcos’ capabilities and assets, as well as their national healthcare regulatory and competitive landscape 
  • highlight the indicative value derived by operators across the different strategies and market segments

Author: Darius Singh is a senior consultant at STL Partners and leads our Digital Health Practice

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

How smart hospitals can improve healthcare

How smart hospitals can improve healthcare

With growing pressures on healthcare, and governments around the world facing rising healthcare costs, smart hospitals hold the potential to drive greater efficiency, improve quality of care and provide access for more people than ever before. This article looks at a number of use cases and at what telcos are doing in this space.

The pressures on the healthcare sector are considerable, and with the growing and ageing global population, these pressures are projected to grow. The WHO estimates that there will be a shortfall of 18m healthcare workers within the next ten years and, with countries spending on average >10% of their GDP on healthcare, governments worldwide are looking for ways to keep costs from spiralling out of control, without compromising on the quality of care.  

As part of increasingly integrated healthcare networks, from connected ambulances to remote care in the home, digital hospitals are emerging as ‘critical hubs’, holding the potential to drive greater efficiency, improve quality of care and provide access for more people than ever before (IBM digital hospital evolution white paper).  

What is a smart hospital?

Smart hospitals look to leverage technology and data to improve processes in every part of running a hospital, including managing physical assets, sharing information, supporting staff and patients as well as delivering care. Smart hospitals have the potential to unlock insights that were not available beforehand. This is the result of greater focus on data, particularly around the spheres of collection, integration and reaching insights, for example through using AI/ML, and easy and convenient access to the data.

Smart hospitals

Smart hospital use cases: creating a digital hospital

  • Asset tracking
  • In-hospital patient monitoring
  • Patient flow optimisation
  • Optimising hospitals environment for healing

Asset tracking  

Studies have shown that at least one in three nurses ‘spend an hour or more per shift searching for medical equipment to use with their patients’, and many hospitals report equipment utilisation rates of lower than 50%. In practice, this means that hospitals have excess equipment, resulting in both more upfront costs and increased maintenance costs. A Fierce Health IT study found that introducing real-time tracking of equipment resulted in an 11% reduction in time spent searching for devices. One telco that is making headway here is Telstra, with their Track and Monitor proof of concept. 

In-hospital patient monitoring 

In this use case, described in further detail in our article ‘Digital Health at the Edge’, patients’ vitals are tracked digitally on a system that nurses can access on mobile. This enables nurses to track more patients at once and get detailed alerts wherever they are if an issue arises with a patient. Thoughtwire have developed a systems that helps predict when patients are about to deteriorate, thus enabling preventative action, and alerts and orchestrates workflows between nurses, doctors and code teams. This would result in hospitals saving more lives, decreasing costly ICU stays and reducing the rate of readmission. 

Patient flow optimisation  

Smart hospitals can support the optimisation of a patient journey through a hospital, starting from in the home. Using an app, the patient would be able to check while still at home, saving time and hospital resources. The app could then send the patient a reminder when it’s getting close to the time of their appointment, as well have other functionalities, for example alerting them if their doctor/nurse is running late. On arrival, the patient can register themselves and receive their patient ID tag, after which the app can direct the patient through the hospital, while also alerting staff of the patient’s arrival. Throughout their stay/treatment programme, patients and staff can see the treatment steps and where the patient currently is in the process. Furthermore, with this digitised information on the patient journey, the hospital can learn which parts are not working well (e.g. taking too long) and change and improve processes to address those pain points.

What are examples of private LTE use cases?

Given the above benefits of private cellular networks for enterprises, the industries that are the earliest adopters are manufacturing, mining, ports and airports. Many of these sectors are characterised by being in remote locations, using wireless devices increasingly for mission critical processes and have a need to keep data secure (on-site).

STL Partners has been tracking publicly announced trials and deployments of private cellular networks. Across these four industries, there are similar use cases that are being explored, as seen in the table below. One example are automated guided vehicles, which are being used in manufacturing to transport raw materials, parts and products quickly throughout the production process. Another use case is augmented reality to aid maintenance workers during equipment inspections and repairs. The benefits of this include being able to make maintenance workers more productive, by reducing the need to wait for experts to provide assistance on-site and ensure the maintenance/repair task is done at a higher level of quality.

Optimising hospitals environment for healing

One factor that affects the healing process and speed is stress and discomfort. Smart Hospitals can improve patient care and comfort by creating a healing environment, for example through optimising buildings in areas ranging from lighting, temperature, colour schemes and others, to ensure the patient feels as comfortable as possible. In this way, the ideal conditions for patient recovery can be provided, resulting in better patient outcomes and shorter stays. STK and Yonsei University are developing a system where patients can control features such as lighting and bed position with their voice.

These are by no means an exhaustive list of improvements in a digital hospital. Others include wayfinding, nurse call, and AR/VR technology, which could be used for smart education in the hospital (for both patients and clinicians), among other uses.

What are telcos doing?

To support the needs of a more connected smart hospital, telcos could make their mark by providing connectivity, whether through 5G, or other connectivity solutions. For telcos with more ambition in healthcare, we see additional opportunities within the concept of smart healthcare and the digital hospital. For example, telcos could offer services around data management platforms and the enablement of vertical applications, such as Telstra’s Track and Monitor example given above.

BT in Birmingham, UK

The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust – the largest trust in the UK – is trialling an always connected Remote Diagnostic Station to “transform the way the Trust delivers care to patients”. The station, developed by BT, “enables clinicians to work with multi-disciplinary teams and give remote clinical support using digital stethoscopes and ECGs to review and provide diagnoses for patients – away from their locations – in real-time and over a converged 4G/5G and WiFi network”. The station includes a high definition camera, which can be worn by clinicians that are accompanying the patient, enabling a clear bedside view of patients.

Helsinki Hospital’s 5G video robots

HUS Helsinki University Hospital, Finland’s largest provider of healthcare services, has teamed up with Elisa to set up the Sustainable Future Accelerator, to launch services for “a more sustainable society”. Together, they have deployed a Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) to share anonymised location data about on-site movements to help manage proximity-tracing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of their most recent trial project, they are introducing ‘5G enabled ‘video robots’’, which will enable doctors and nurses to interact with coronavirus (Covid-19) patients remotely’, with the objective to reduce their exposure to the virus. These robots connect the medical staff and the patients via video feed, and the staff can ‘drive’ the robot using a tablet computer, from anywhere inside the hospital. A prototype using the hospital’s Wi-Fi network has already be deployed and is expected to be upgraded to 5G in the coming weeks.

KT & Samsung medical centre to build 5G smart hospital

KT and Samsung are collaborating to develop a 5G smart hospital, starting with a 5G-powered medical service. For the pilot project, KT built a 5G network at the Samsung Medical Centre, creating service environments in operating and proton therapy rooms, and conducted a test operation. Based on the outcome of the project, KT and Samsung plan to continue to develop smart patient care and 5G-powered innovative medical practices to improve the operational efficiency of the hospital.

One use case this has enabled is 5G-driven pathological analysis. During surgery, tissues are taken from the patient and treated for analysis, before being sent to pathologists in an adjacent room – a process that used to take 20 minutes, thus making it difficult for pathologists to conduct on-site analyses. Fast and uninterrupted access to pathological data obtained during surgery is critical in determining the conditions of patients, is now provided through a 5G network with ultra-high speed and ultra-low latency, allowing the Pathology Department to gain access to materials, each containing about 4G of data, ensuring better medical services.

C3 (Command, Control and Communications) Smart Hospital System, Singapore

At the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore, a smart hospital that has been ten years in the making, the C3 Smart Hospital System operators like an airport control tower, displaying bed resources in a patient flow concept from admission to discharge, tracking the live location of every patient. This visualisation of patient flow means patient care can be optimised, and bottlenecks can be addressed. The hospital-wide control means that responses can be coordinated across departments. The system provides real-time visibility on patient flow, staff deployment & inventory. There now is the ambition to take it nation-wide, introducing the system across the hospitals in Singapore’s public healthcare system.

China’s BOE Hefei Digital Hospital

Chinese display maker BOE partnered with American medical group Dignity Health to build the BOE Hefei Digital Hospital. The core of this hospital system lies in the converged network, ‘which acts as the central spine for the building management system, hospital operational procedures and all aspects of patient care via IoT’ (WSP). Data and systems, from medical records to lighting systems will be linked with the converged network, thus allowing for monitoring by a single operations manager. Since the converged network allows services to interact, the potential for energy and cost-savings in this bed is high. For example, the building services are linked to the check-in system, so that heating, lighting and air conditioning can be turned on automatically when the patient arrives.

Author: Giulia Bollen Gandolfo is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in how to deliver B2B Services

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

Digital health: Where is the biggest opportunity for telcos?

Digital health: Where is the biggest opportunity for telcos?

During the pandemic, nearly every country has embraced digital health solutions to help tackle rising pressure on healthcare systems and the need to maintain social distancing – but will the boom last? And where will digital health deliver the most value? In this webinar we discuss the initial findings from our post-COVID digital health model, which assesses adoption of digital health across five key application areas and sizes the opportunity in the UK market.

In this webinar we discuss:

  • The 5 key application areas that telcos should consider
  • Digital health ecosystem and key players across the value chain
  • Our modelling and analysis of the UK digital health market

Watch a preview of the webinar

You’ll need to submit your name and email to access the webinar

Our presenters

 

Photo of Yesmean Luk

Amy Cameron, Senior Analyst & Digital Health Research Lead, STL Partners

Miran Gilmore, Consultant, STL Partners

Phil Laidler

Darius Singh, Senior Consultant & Digital Health Practice Lead, STL Partners

Telehealth in emerging markets: Babyl closes the gap in Rwandan healthcare inequality

Telehealth in emerging markets: Babyl closes the gap in Rwandan healthcare inequality

This article has been written in collaboration with the GSMA Mobile for Development (M4D) Central Insights Unit, an initiative supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the GSMA and its members. Country level data on the Rwandan market, as well as information on the Rwandan healthcare system and population dynamics, has been provided by the GSMA through their market case studies and analysis. More information here.

COVID-19 has accelerated demand for telehealth solutions globally. Applications such as phone or video consultations and remote patient monitoring enable basic healthcare services to continue without the risk of virus transmission. In some markets, this has swayed policy changes e.g. in South Korea where there has been a temporary easing of telehealth restrictions amid the pandemic.

What does this mean for MNOs?

Changing needs and attitudes present mobile network operators (MNOs) with an opportunity to play a more prominent role in digital health. During the pandemic, MNOs have broadly supported government contact-tracing efforts, but some are taking advantage of the changing climate to refine and expand their telehealth propositions. You can read more about global MNO responses to COVID-19, and their changing strategies, here.

But MNOs must consider factors such as economic development, population size and spread, and even political agendas that play a significant role in shaping regional telehealth solutions and the nuanced requirements that they will need to address.

What are the big challenges for emerging markets, and how can telehealth help?

The ideal for all markets is a healthcare system that is:
1. High-quality
2. Cost-effective
3. Accessible to all

Developing markets face particular challenges with cost and accessibility, and often have large proportions of the population lacking access to physical and even digital infrastructure that is crucial for basic healthcare.

A number of telehealth providers are looking to overcome these barriers and provide solutions that could improve overall healthcare quality amongst typically underserved communities, for example in Thailand, Indonesia and Mexico.

Case study: Babylon in Rwanda

One particularly interesting example is the partnership between digital health service provider Babylon Health (“Babyl” in Rwanda) and the government of Rwanda, to offer telehealth consultations to their urban and rural populations, solving fundamental challenges around inequality to healthcare provisioning.

This is part of a broader effort to make the country a global leader in digital health and overcome basic barriers to healthcare access. The Rwandan government leveraged digital health solutions in response to COVID-19, with contact tracing, symptom surveillance, robot-monitoring and data visualisation. The market is becoming increasingly open to innovation and has been hugely receptive to Babyl’s solution.

Why is Rwanda a receptive market for telehealth?

There are some core challenges facing basic healthcare in Rwanda:

• Doctor patient ratio: Rwanda have around 1.3 doctors to every 10,000 people, compared to a global average of 15.1 (World Health Statistics 2019), putting a big strain on human resources
• Population distribution: though their population (12.3 million) is densely packed, 64% live in rural areas, without access to physical healthcare infrastructure or a stable internet connection – the latter is a particular challenge for telehealth solutions

Overview of the Rwandan healthcare system

But there are also big efforts to overcome these challenges, and healthcare is a priority for the government:

• Health insurance: Rwanda has a healthcare insurance system ensuring reasonable healthcare services that covers 90% of the population
• Smart Rwanda: the government has outlined an initiative to create a “Smart Rwanda”, driving support from investors and development partners – however, digital health is generally lagging behind in this space, and many efforts have been not-for-profit (e.g. Babyl)
• NGO funding and support: there are a number of NGOs working with the Rwandan government to support its Health Management Information System, including WHO, UNCEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

How are Babylon addressing Rwanda’s challenges?

A big challenge for even telehealth solutions in Rwanda is the lack of access to digital infrastructure. In addition, GNI per capita is relatively low at $1,959, compared to a global average of $15,745 (World Bank, 2018) – much of the population live below the poverty line, therefore digital solutions have to be affordable, and realistic.

However, feature phones are seeing increased use, and digital literacy is improving. Key to Babyl’s success is the fact that patients can access its telehealth services via text or voice – they do not require multimedia or internet plans, making it accessible to farther reaches of the population.

Since its launch in 2016, over 1.2 million consultations have happened via Babyl in Rwanda, with over 30% of the adult population (>2million users) being registered. Patients can have consultations with a doctor or nurse, as well as prescriptions, lab requests and referrals from their mobile phone within minutes. This boosts efficiency and frees up strain on healthcare providers.

However, there are still opportunities for Rwanda to refine and expand its digital health proposition, namely through encouraging digital health start-ups to work more closely with MNOs to scale solutions and continuing to prioritise applications/services that will help overcome workforce shortages.

The future of telehealth in emerging markets

The Babyl Health example illustrates the applicability of telehealth solutions to overcoming some of the core challenges that face emerging markets.
However, more developed markets are also benefiting from investing in telehealth, and also face challenges with meeting the 3 core goals for healthcare outlined above. With COVID-19 putting additional strain on the sector, many are turning to telehealth.

Babylon alone has partnered to offer a number of solutions, for example offering virtual GP consultations and easing the strain on A&E departments for the UK’s national health service (NHS), as well as offering a range of virtual services with TELUS Health across regional markets. You can hear more about TELUS and Babylon’s partnership, including potential partnership models, here.

Telehealth is a space to watch, addressing key challenges in developed and developing markets, and making big promises for one of the most resource-strained industries. COVID-19 has only accelerated demand and presented MNOs with an ideal platform to bolster their digital health play.

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

MedIoTek Health Systems Q and A: the state of digital health

MedIoTek Health Systems Q&A: the state of digital health

Introduction

Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, all industries, including healthcare, have had to embrace a move to digital to overcome the barriers created by the virus. We have seen a spike in digital health but the question is now how much of this change in behaviour will be temporary versus long-lasting, what emerging technologies and applications will drive this digital transformation, and whether there is a role for telecoms operators in this new landscape?

We interviewed Sharmila Devadoss, Founder and Managing Director at MedIoTek Health Systems and its platform VinCense – an Indian cloud-based patient monitoring platform, to understand her take on the digital health landscape, the role of new applications like remote patient monitoring, and how the telco could play a bigger part in the ecosystem. Below are some of the highlights from the discussion.

Q&A

What’s your view of the digital health market and what do you think are the key emerging application areas?

Change is constant and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the most disruptive one in recent times. This seismic shift has seen hospitals being built in 100 days to meet the surge in demand and we are witnessing the adoption of telemedicine soar to heights never seen before – in the US we saw growth of 50 to 175 times overnight. According to McKinsey, $250 billion of America’s health care spend is likely to become “virtualized”.

We are about to witness an exponential improvement in healthcare delivery. Healthcare companies, large and small, are coming up with radical technological innovations. For example, GE Healthcare’s Edison platform is designed to help achieve greater efficiency, improve patient outcomes, and increase access to care – all based on AI.

It’s about driving the continuum of care – care from birth to death for all global citizens. This would be a dream come true for public health leaders and the right digital health ecosystem can definitely help achieve this going forward. We believe the time for digital health is here and now. Some of the key application areas emerging are:

  • Telemedicine
  • Virtual care (Remote Health Monitoring, Remote NCD Screening and Management)
  • Precision Medicine

STL Partners covers these areas in detail in our recent article “What is digital health? 5 application areas telcos should focus on

How far along is the digital health market in achieving these objectives, and do you think that the impact of COVID-19 will be long lasting?

Currently, it is quite a fragmented market and digital health workflows lack standardisation. Interoperability, privacy and security are the major barriers to widespread adoption. To enable widespread adoption, key stakeholders need to collaborate and bring about the standardisation.

The ecosystem has to develop quickly to bring about the transformation in healthcare delivery and management. This is driven not only by COVID-19, but also by a surge in population and need to expand healthcare access, the shortage of healthcare professionals, and rapid advancements in telecommunication technology.

Considering that the pandemic is expected to continue for another 3 to 4 years, there is no alternative to virtual care. Patients are wary of going to hospitals and this is another key driver. Data driven healthcare delivery models make efficient virtual healthcare delivery feasible. In addition, it brings with it the advantage of lowered costs. So, we believe exponential growth is possible over the next 4 to 5 years in several parts of the world. The health-economy linkage will drive the adoption, as lives and livelihoods need to be saved.

Where does VinCense and patient monitoring fit into this changing landscape?

The VinCense platform is based on mobility, IoT, and analytics. It’s built around India’s first approved clinical grade wearable that tracks pulse rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate and skin temperature, and is well placed as an early mover in the wireless health monitoring space.

Our key differentiator is that our platform is capable of both automated continual monitoring and spot checks. It delivers live actionable data, through a sophisticated alerting mechanism with risk analytics to enable early intervention, leading to reduced risks and complications, thereby improving clinical outcomes.

Considering VinCense is the convergence of three transformative megatrends in IoT, cloud and big data, and its capability in delivering preventive and curative care virtually, we believe that we are well-poised to play a pivotal role in the digital health market.

We believe the key pain points that remote patient monitoring could address are shortage of frontline medical staff and physicians, elevated risk for healthcare professionals dealing with COVID-19 patients and, of course, shortage of health infrastructure. Non acute care delivery and the management of chronic/non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in particular would benefit.

How have you worked with the healthcare industry to implement patient monitoring use cases?

In the case of India, the main customer base is hospitals and they are the payers. There is some home care play in which customers pay out of pocket, but the main opportunity for us is in B2B/B2B2X. In the case of the US, sweeping changes last April have facilitated coverage for telehealth under Medicaid and Medicare.

But, some of the key challenges working with hospitals are low levels of tech savviness, need for collaboration among stakeholders, lack of standards, and low levels of adoption of electronic health records (EHRs).

What will be the role of emerging technologies like 5G and edge cloud in driving digital health?

We intend to create a hybrid monitoring solution using 5G and AI/ML to provide advanced analytics using the edge. These technologies will have a multi-dimensional impact:

  1. Enable transformational new age healthcare delivery models driving healthcare for all (e.g. standardised workflows for various market segments, such as occupational health, public health, community health).
  2. Augment self-management of lifestyle diseases delivering improved access, convenience, and efficiency (e.g. connected devices platforms powered by AI can help individuals manage chronic diseases like diabetes, COPD and so on more effectively).
  3. Digital therapeutics will get a boost from VR platforms through virtual delivery of evidence-based behavioural treatments (e.g. treatment of burdensome diseases like schizophrenia, psychosis and other mental disorders, as well as chronic diseases).
  4. Hybrid remote monitoring, providing live, actionable data using multiple interfaces such as Wi-Fi, BLE, and OCC can lead to improved acute and sub-acute care (e.g. for patients in ICU and step down areas can be remotely monitored and the right combination of real time data and AI/ML algorithms will lead to improved patient outcomes).

STL Partners covers the role of 5G and edge computing in our recent articles “Digital health at the edge”, and “10 5G healthcare use cases transforming digital health

Who will be key partners for you in implementing these solutions?

The focus should be to build a strong ecosystem of stakeholders – from clinicians and practitioners, semiconductor companies, system integrators, telcos, medical device manufacturers, to health tech companies specialising in mobility, IoT, AI/ML, blockchain. Collaboration among the stakeholders will be the sure-fire way to sell into the healthcare industry.

Is there a role for the telecoms operator beyond providing network connectivity?

Telecoms operators could provide hybrid remote health monitoring as a value-added service [on top of the network] for all households and particularly, senior citizens. Providing virtual preventive care could be pivotal.

Tie ups with, and helping to coordinate across, emergency services, insurance companies and local hospitals could be an added value proposition for the telco, too. Telcos that take the lead in forming formidable alliances with the right partners in spaces of healthcare delivery, insurance, pharmaceutical, diagnostics, telemedicine, health tech etc. will be able to capture a sizeable share in this blue ocean opportunity.

By combining connectivity and existing customer assets and coordinating across complex local and regional healthcare ecosystems, customised hyperlocal virtual healthcare for customers could become the norm – leading to health and wellbeing for all in the comfort and safety of their homes at affordable costs.

A special thanks to Sharmila Devadoss for this interview:

Sharmila Devadoss. Founder and Managing Director, MedIoTek Health Systems & VinCense

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharmila-devadoss-b706a1/

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

Identifying opportunities for growth in digital health

Case study overview

STL Partners helps our clients to identify, define and prioritise strategic opportunities to grow their revenues. We work collaboratively with key stakeholders to formulate new growth ideas and evaluate them based on our clients’ core objectives and capabilities. This approach brought together key decision makers within the organisation and created alignment.​t.

See how we supported a Tier 1 operator to:

  • Assess key trends in the healthcare market and in digital health;
  • Evaluate key lessons from other operators’ healthcare strategies;
  • Identify and prioritise strategic initiatives and develop a roadmap for growth.

Consulting services overview

Get in touch to find out how we can help you:

  • Analyse market trends and dynamics
  • Conduct market sizing and forecasting
  • Prioritise initiatives for new growth

STL Partners’ deep insight and knowledge of the market support used in shaping our healthcare strategy, and their approach drove collaboration across our team. Overall, STL over-delivered.

Manager, Strategy & Participations 
Tier-1 operator

Assessing key trends in digital health

STL Partners researched the wider trends in society and in the healthcare market, particularly focusing on the role of technology and the increased adoption of digital health solutions. Our analysis explored:

  • How the delivery of healthcare services is changing and the key factors driving that change;
  • Key technology trends that are transforming the healthcare market;
  • Different types of players in the global digital health ecosystem and the roles they play.
Example deliverables
Example deliverables

Evaluating key lessons from other operators

​STL Partners produced nine different operator healthcare case studies using both primary and secondary research.

This included an in-depth analysis of two operators who have both made significant long-term commitments: TELUS Health and Telstra Health. Each case study evaluated the strategy, key challenges they faced, implementation approach, and level of success they achieved.

Our client leveraged these lessons when developing their own healthcare strategy.

Identifying and prioritising strategic initiatives

STL Partners led a three-day highly strategy formulation and alignment workshop at the client’s offices with key stakeholders within the organisation. This included:

  • Presenting an overview of the key current trends in digital health and key learnings from other operators’ experiences;
  • Conducting a SWOT analysis to identify the client’s strengths and weaknesses as context for evaluating strategic approaches;
  • Identifying and defining a wide range of potential initiatives;
  • Prioritising initiatives based on market attractiveness and the client’s ability to implement solutions;
  • Defining a roadmap, success metrics and next steps based on the agreed prioritised initiatives.
Example deliverables

What is digital health? 5 Application areas telcos should focus on

What is digital health? 5 Application areas telcos should focus on

What is digital health and where is the opportunity for telcos?

Healthcare is a huge industry and the adoption of new technologies such as IoT and AI will transform every part of it, from how new prescription drugs are researched and tested to enabling patients to manage their own health more effectively. Within this vast market, to help define the digital health opportunity, we have identified the five key areas in digital health telcos can make the biggest impact – through support with more flexible and powerful connectivity services, or further up the value chain:

  1. Personal health management and wellness
  2. Diagnostics and triage
  3. Virtual care and telehealth
  4. Remote monitoring
  5. Data and analytics

In this article we detail the 5 application areas, highlighting real examples of digital health use cases and the potential role of the telco. We cover more on the opportunity for telcos in digital health, and how to address that opportunity, in our recent articles “The digital health opportunity for telcos” and “Four strategies for telcos in healthcare”.

While many digital health application providers start by playing in one of these five segments, as the digital health market matures we are beginning to see more integration across the five areas as companies seek to address the full patient journey. For example, in August 2020 US-based virtual consultations provider Teladoc announced plans to acquire chronic care management provider Livongo.

 

5 main application areas in digital health

Figure 1: Five digital health application areas for telcos

Personal health management & wellness

  • Fitness trackers, e.g. Fitbit, Apple Watch
  • Assisted living sensors, e.g. wearables for elderly to track location, detect falls and raise alarms
  • Personal health records, e.g. Apple health kit
  • Prescription management apps, e.g. prescription reminders & tracking to improve adherence
  • Maternity & family apps, e.g. tracking baby growth, immunisations, medications, etc.
  • Health management apps, e.g. smoking cessation, weight management, etc.

These solutions are not linked into formal healthcare delivery and primarily work on a B2C business model approach. While some doctors might recommend use of fitness trackers or health management apps to their patients in order to encourage healthier lifestyles, today the data from these services is very rarely pulled into healthcare providers’ EMR/EHR systems.

The consumer focus of these solutions means that telcos will likely find it challenging to compete with the agility and investment capabilities of global consumer brands such as Fitbit and Apple that are leading in this segment.

However, assisted living is one particular area where we believe telcos could play a stronger role, either as a channel for digital health companies seeking to reach new customers, or supporting digital health companies with enablement tools, such as high quality location tracking, in-built or fallback connectivity. See our report Coordination the care of the elderly for more detail on applications and telco business models.

Diagnostics and triage

The aim of these applications is to improve access and availability of medical information, in order to direct patients to the best healthcare resource in the first instance, in turn reducing the burden particularly on primary care providers.

  • Phone / website information tools, e.g. NHS 111 in the UK
  • AI-enabled diagnostic software, e.g. Babylon Health symptom checker, apps to assess skin abberations/dermatological issues
  • At home testing kits, e.g. for COVID or sexually transmitted infections
  • Referrals to specialists

This area is unlikely to be a strategic priority for telcos pursuing digital health opportunities, as these applications do not require particularly robust connectivity or other enablement tools telcos are well positioned to provide, and on their own are unlikely to deliver much value.

However, telcos aiming to build a presence in the digital health market should plan how to incorporate diagnostics and triage into their broader application mix, since they form a crucial step in the patient journey – and potentially will act as the link between consumer focused wellness solutions and formal healthcare services.

Virtual care & telehealth

The goal of these applications is to overcome time and geography barriers in delivering healthcare services, mainly for primary care. An area of growing interest within this field is the use of telehealth technologies to support education among healthcare professionals.

  • Phone / video consultations
  • Asynchronous care, i.e. sending in symptoms and receiving feedback or treatment at a later time
  • Online appointment bookings
  • Online / digital prescription services
  • Use of augmented reality and/or virtual reality (AR/VR) for educational and/or treatment purposes, e.g.
    • VR distraction therapy to treat anxiety or provide interactivity to immobile/elderly people
    • AR/VR for training medical staff on new skills or providing support during rare procedures
    • AR/VR and haptics to support remote surgery teams (where remote surgeons are consulting/supporting a local team that is actually performing the surgery in near real-time)
  • Connected ambulance
  • Low cost diagnostic devices that plug into smartphones, e.g. ultrasound devices like Butterfly

This is where many telcos entering the digital health market have chosen to focus in terms of applications, in particular on video consultations owing to their dependence on high quality connectivity, broad relevance across the healthcare market from GPs to hospitals and specialist services such as physio. We believe that video consultations are more likely to provide the foundations of a digital health business for operators in developing markets, where access to care is more difficult than in developed markets, and where operators benefit from relatively stronger brand power and reach across their national footprints.

That said, newly emerging fields such as the use of AR/VR in healthcare workflows are highly connectivity dependent and therefore may be valuable entry points for operators in more advanced healthcare markets.

Data & analytics

The aim of these applications is to gather data from across the healthcare system in order to improve access, and inform healthcare policy and delivery best practices

  • Personal / universal health records, e.g. a system to make patient records from all health organisations available in a single place to patients, and to healthcare providers with patient consent (see our article where we explore how blockchain is an enabling technology for universal health records)
  • Population level health analytics (e.g. understanding prescription trends at a national level, best practice in treatment of chronic diseases, tracking of delivery of population level services such as cancer screening)
  • Workflow management tools, e.g.
    • improving processes in hospital or across multiple healthcare organisations, such as Google Streams
    • using AI and analytics to optimise workflow, for example to prioritise patient visit schedules for mobile clinicians/nurses

Many telcos see supporting the development of some form of healthcare data exchange is an attractive long term prospect, since they perceive this approach to be more closely linked to their existing business model than developing one or a few digital health applications.

While we agree that telcos are well positioned to play a coordination role in healthcare, given their existing skills, reach across government, enterprise and consumers, and their national presence, it is a not an easy or a quick win. The experience of TELUS and Telstra, who are playing this role to varying degrees, demonstrates that this should be a long term ambition, that requires deep knowledge and relationships across the healthcare industry to execute.

Remote monitoring

We define remote monitoring as digital health applications where the data collected from sensors and cameras feed into EMRs/EHRs, and trigger specific notifications or actions for healthcare providers, e.g. alerting clinicians and doctors of a patient’s deteriorating health before they require an emergency hospital visit.

  • Drug adherence, e.g. devices and apps to track medication schedules, reminders, potentially included as sensors inside pills in the future
  • Chronic disease management, e.g. sensors / apps to monitor key vital signs or use of health questionnaires to support patients with diabetes, COPD, heart failure, etc.
  • Palliative care / high risk post-surgery care, e.g. daily questionnaires and vitals monitoring to assess recovery or risk levels
  • In-hospital monitoring, e.g. connected sensors on in-patients so nurses can monitor a larger number of patients at once, with alerts for ones requiring urgent attention

In our research on the potential impact of 5G on the healthcare sector, based on surveys with healthcare professionals to understand efficiency and improved health outcomes they believe different digital health use cases could deliver, remote monitoring came out as by far the most valuable application area. However, the key challenge in remote monitoring is proving the business case, since implementation costs are still relatively high, and proving a negative (i.e. that a patient avoided a hospital visit) is difficult in practice.

Growth across the application areas: The impact of COVID

The modelling above, which estimated the potential impact of 5G-enabled digital health use cases, was conducted in 2019. The caveat of this is that the base assumptions and growth rate do not account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though we touch on the qualitative impact of COVID in our recent article “How COVID is changing digital health…”, we will be exploring the quantitative impact across these five application areas, including whether the digital health boom will be long lasting or begin to plateau and decrease, in our upcoming research “Assessing the post-COVID digital health market value”. If you would like more information on accessing this research, or the coverage of the model, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Amy Cameron is a Senior Analyst at STL Partners, specialising in new opportunities for telcos in the enterprise market, including the healthcare vertical.

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

5 blockchain healthcare use cases

5 blockchain healthcare use cases in digital health

In this article, we outline five key use cases for blockchain in the development of digital health:

  1. Supply chain transparency
  2. Patient-centric electronic health records
  3. Smart contracts for insurance and supply chain settlements
  4. Medical staff credential verification
  5. IoT security for remote monitoring

Blockchain is a powerful technology for enabling secure data sharing and access between multiple parties. This is a major challenge in digital health, where the privacy and security of medical data is paramount, but where improving the quality of care cannot happen without more coordination in management of patient data across the healthcare system and the ability to apply analytics to population level medical data. In short, blockchain can help digital health by making it easier to share data securely, with patient consent, across very fragmented healthcare systems.

Before diving into the use cases, it’s important to be clear on what blockchain is for and what business benefits it is delivering to enterprises today.

What is blockchain for?

One of the biggest challenges around blockchain is distinguishing between the real blockchain-based applications and the hype. This is hard to do because there are still only a few large-scale, real-world implementations of blockchain beyond Bitcoin.

Blockchain’s most revolutionary proposition, delivered through a carefully balanced mix of very advanced cryptography and in-built incentives (in the form of Bitcoin or other crypto-tokens), is that it removes the need for a centrally controlling authority and instead distributes power across all participants within the blockchain ecosystem. So in theory it can remove the need for a third-party to manage transactions between two entities that don’t know or trust each other digitally, securely and impartially. This works pretty well in the Bitcoin ecosystem, but is still being proven in more traditional business environments.

One of the key benefits of a decentralised system is that end-users – especially consumers, but enterprises, too – would have much more transparency and control over how their data is used. So one of the long term goals of disruptive blockchain-enabled companies is to decentralise the data economy, reclaiming power from Google, Facebook, Amazon and other companies that centralise large datasets for competitive benefit, and instead putting control over how personal and proprietary data is used into the hands of individuals and organisations.

On top of giving end-users more visibility and control over their data, blockchain’s inbuilt payment mechanisms could also enable them to sell it in exchange for crypto-tokens. To make all of this work efficiently and autonomously, AI is applied on top of the blockchain tracking ledger to curate valuable data sets and match sellers with buyers. (See Fetch.ai as an example of a start-up working on a system like this.)

This idea remains more theoretical than reality and could take a decade or more to materialise, if ever. However, over the last few years blockchain has been plugging away at its early growing pains – including bad user interfaces, scalability issues, and the need for greater privacy to protect enterprise IP – and has been proven to solve real but far more specific issues around data reliability and accessibility.

What does blockchain do well?

• Tracking / registry: Recording information and data in an immutable and transparent way, whereby no party has asymmetric power over the data
• Data access / transfer: Easing transfer of data between multiple parties, to create a common source of “truth”
• Identity / authentication: Managing identities and permissions for authentication or verification, including the ability to verify identity attributes without divulging sensitive information
• Settlements: Revenue settlement by recording movement of goods/revenues or use of services/assets
• Transactions: Enabling (real-time) payments and transactions
• Token exchange: Virtual currency/tokens with intrinsic value traded between multiple parties. Virtual currencies can also be pegged to fiat currencies, with equivalent values held in escrow accounts.

What business benefits do these capabilities deliver?

• Security: Blockchain is verified through a consensus system and stored across many nodes, making DDoS cyberattacks and tampering with records extremely difficult
• Cost efficiency: Middlemen who take a cut of transactions can be removed because consensus mechanisms create trust through transparency
• Traceability: An immutable record of all transactions can reduce fraud and protect against liability
• Business process speed: Automated smart contracts can reduce time of transactions because the process no longer requires manual oversight
• Token value: Digital assets can hold virtual and real-world value, such as when a virtual token is used for a loyalty points programme
• Confidentiality: Collaboration between organisations can occur without sharing sensitive information, e.g. individual medical records
• Neutral and equal: No one company or individual owns the blockchain, encouraging trustworthiness and longevity of the system, e.g. if one of the founding parties leaves, the system will continue to work without them

Given the huge challenge healthcare systems are facing around digitising and sharing medical records, and tracking prescription drug and other medical goods in the supply chain and delivery, it is no surprise that many are trying to improve processes in healthcare by applying blockchain technology.

Meanwhile, adopting many blockchain solutions for healthcare no longer requires deep first-hand expertise with the technology, since most blockchain-based solutions are now offered like any other software-as-a-service.

5 blockchain healthcare use cases in digital health

1. Supply chain transparency

A major challenge across the healthcare sector, as in many others, is ensuring the provenance of medical goods to confirm their authenticity. Using a blockchain-based system to track items from the manufacturing point and at each stage through the supply chain enables customers to have full visibility and transparency of the goods they are buying.

This is a top priority for the industry, especially in developing markets where counterfeit prescription medicines cause tens of thousands of deaths annually. It is increasingly important for medical devices, too, which are proliferating quickly with the adoption of more remote health monitoring, and therefore also attracting the interest of bad actors.

MediLedger is a leading example of a blockchain protocol that enables companies across the prescription drug supply chain to verify the authenticity of medicines, as well as expiry dates and other important information.

Key benefits of blockchain (paired with AI):

  • Customer confidence: Ability for the customer to track each package’s end-to-end provenance, with integration with manufacturers, wholesale, shipping, etc.
  • Compliance: Medical device manufacturers and pharmaceuticals face high reporting burdens to ensure patient safety, so aggregating supply chain data into one system helps streamline compliance – For example, FarmaTrust’s blockchain based system provides automated law enforcement notifications when they spot an issue
  • Supply chain optimisation: Once all the data is in one place, companies apply AI to better predict demand and optimise supply accordingly

Figure 1: FarmaTrust’s track and trace app for healthcare supply chains

Source: FarmaTrust

Outside of financial markets, supply chain management and transparency is one of the most advanced use cases for blockchain, for example including the high profile partnership between IBM and Walmart to ensure food safety in the supply chain. As the technology and ROI has already been proven, we expect this to be the most significant short-term impact of blockchain on the healthcare industry.

2. Patient-centric electronic health records

Healthcare systems in every country and region are struggling with the problem of data siloes, meaning that patients and their healthcare providers have an incomplete view of medical histories. In 2016, Johns Hopkins University published research showing that the third leading cause of death in the US was medical errors resulting from poorly coordinated care, such as planned actions not completed as intended or errors of omission in patient records.

Figure 2: Johns Hopkins research on medical errors as a proportion of annual deaths in the US, 2016

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, BMJ, https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2139

One potential solution to this problem is creating a blockchain-based system for medical records that can be linked into existing electronic medical record software and act as an overarching, single view of a patient’s record. It is crucial to emphasize that actual patient data does not go on the blockchain, but that each new record appended to the blockchain, whether a physician’s note, a prescription or a lab result, is translated into a unique hash function – a small string of letters and numbers. Every hash function is unique, and can only be decoded if the person who owns the data – in this case, the patient – gives their consent.

In this scenario, every time there is an amendment to a patient record, and every time the patient consents to share part of their medical record, it is logged on the blockchain as a transaction. Medicalchain is a leading example of a company working with healthcare providers to implement blockchain enabled EMRs.

The key benefits of blockchain-enabled EMRs are:

A comprehensive single source of truth of a patient’s medical records, creating a better experience for patients and healthcare providers

They enable patients to see every time their medical records are updated and to give explicit consent every time they are shared with healthcare providers or others. Patients can also choose to share their medical records (or part of their medical records) with researchers and set time limits on how long any third party can have access to their medical information.

Medical insurers can receive immediate, validated confirmation of healthcare services directly from patients, without the time and cost of an intermediary

Beyond creating blockchain-based medical records, Medicalchain is also developing a platform upon which others can build digital health solutions, including a virtual consultation service and a medical data exchange, where patients can choose to sell their anonymised medical data, in exchange for Medtokens, to support digital health application development, e.g. population level analytics solutions.

The emergence of much more complete, digitised and shareable patient health records will have a profound impact on the healthcare market by fuelling more advanced analytics. For example, personalised medicine is a promising field, but its development is severely hindered by lack of enough high quality data. Access to more reliable and widespread population level data would enable much more powerful segmentation and analysis of targeted medicine outcomes.

Alongside its supply chain solution, FarmaTrust has developed a solution to support gene and cell therapy treatments, while many research programmes are also exploring how to combine AI and blockchain to drive forward personalised medicine (see here and here).

3. Smart contracts for insurance and supply chain settlements

Companies such as Chronicled and Curisium provide blockchain-based systems where various players in the healthcare sector, such as pharmaceutical companies, medical device OEMs, wholesalers, insurers and healthcare providers, can authenticate their identities as organisations, log contract details, and track transaction of goods and services, and payment settlement details for those goods and services. This type of environment goes a step beyond supply chain management to also enable trading partners and insurance providers in the healthcare sector to operate based on fully digital and in some cases automated contract terms.

By having shared digital contracts between manufacturers, distributers and healthcare organisations logged on a blockchain ledger, rather than each player having their own version of contracts, they can significantly reduce disputes over payment chargeback claims for prescription medicines and other goods. According to Chronicled, because pricing structures often change, there are over one million chargeback claims made between these players every year, more than 5% of which are disputed, requiring lengthy manual resolution.

Similarly, shared smart contracts can be used to manage medical insurance contracts for patients, where Curisium states that 10% of claims are disputed. Like in other use cases, once this data is digitised and easily accessible, insurance providers can use more advanced analytics to optimise health outcomes and costs.

4. Medical staff credential verification

Similar to tracking the provenance of a medical good, blockchain technology can be used to track the experience of medical professionals, where trusted medical institutions and healthcare organisations can log the credentials of their staff, in turn helping to streamline the hiring process for healthcare organisations. US based ProCredEx has developed such a medical credential verification system using the R3 Corda blockchain protocol.

The key benefits of the blockchain system are:

  • Faster credentialing for healthcare organisations during the hiring process
  • An opportunity for medical institutions, insurers, and healthcare providers to monetise their existing credentials data on past and existing staff
  • Transparency and reassurance for partners, e.g. organisations sub-contracting locum tenens, or in emerging virtual health delivery models to inform patients on medical staff experience

5. IoT security for remote monitoring

One of the biggest trends in digital health is the adoption of remote monitoring solutions, where all kinds of sensors measuring patients’ vital signs are being used to help give healthcare practitioners more visibility into patients’ health, enabling more proactive and preventative care. We’ve previously covered many promising remote monitoring use cases in our articles on 5G and edge computing in digital health.

However, security is a huge issue in health IoT, both in terms of ensuring that patient data is private and secure and that it is not tampered with to create false information. In some cases, where a connected device may be depended on in emergency situations, e.g. alerting an elderly person’s carer that they have suffered a fall or a heart attack, it is also crucial that the supporting systems are very resilient to DDoS or other attacks disrupting service.

How blockchain systems could help secure remote monitoring IoT devices:

Blockchain cryptography ensures that only permitted parties can gain access to personal data, which is stored on the blockchain as a unique hash function (any change in the source data will create a different hash function, and a user must have a specific set of cryptographic keys to decode the hash function into the source data)

Once patient data is recorded on the blockchain ledger (as a hash function) then it is nearly impossible to tamper with since it would require gaining access to all stored copies

The decentralised nature of blockchain means that IoT devices can interact directly with each other, without going through a centralised server (as most IoT connections do today), making it very difficult to launch DDoS and man in the middle attacks. See STL Partners report Moving beyond the lab: How to make blockchain pay for more detail on this use case.

Figure 3: How blockchain can improve IoT security

Source: STL Partners

While blockchain could enhance IoT security in healthcare, these use cases are still in the early stages of development and it is not yet clear whether blockchain will be the best tool to use. For digital health companies exploring how to ensure the security of remote monitoring devices, it is worth exploring blockchain, but only as part of a much more comprehensive end-to-end security strategy.

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

10 5G Healthcare use cases

10 5G Healthcare use cases transforming digital health

In this article we outline 10 5G healthcare use cases which, as healthcare providers look to the future of their digital strategies, will support the long-term transformation of the industry and the move towards digital health. Though individually some of these use cases can be delivered without 5G, once 5G standards are set and coverage is broad enough, 5G will act as a catalyst for adoption at scale by improving end user experience and decreasing existing barriers with current connectivity solutions.

In our recent article exploring how COVID-19 is changing digital health, we wrote about the explosion in telehealth use cases as healthcare providers, insurers, and governments look to meet the unprecedented demand and strain on medical services. Almost overnight, healthcare systems had to transform to manage both the acute needs of COVID-19 patients, while also managing the regular needs of existing patients.

Now, in the wake of the pandemic, healthcare providers need to assess which parts of their rapid digital transformation to continue to build and scale, as the onus shifts from acute care back to the management of chronic diseases and the backlog of patients who have gone without the treatments they require.

How 5G’s capabilities will impact healthcare

10 5G healthcare use cases

5G enabled remote healthcare

  1. Remote patient monitoring
  2. Connected ambulance
  3. HD virtual consultations
  4. Video-enabled prescription management

Augmented reality/virtual reality healthcare use cases

  1. AR/VR assistance for the blind
  2. Distraction and rehabilitation therapy
  3. Remote expert for collaboration in surgery
  4. AR/VR training and education

5G-enabled on-site use cases

  1. Real-time, high-throughput computational processing
  2. Video analytics for behavioural recognition

5G-enabled remote healthcare

1. Connected ambulance

Some suggest that “connected ambulances” could help emergency services meet increasingly stringent targets and overall improve patient outcomes. A connected ambulance and its crew act as a means to collect and transfer information on the patient, either through wearables, sensors, or streaming of HD video/body cameras, back to hospital A&E departments while the patient is being transported. This way hospital staff have a better understanding of a patient before they arrive.

In some situations, specialists can be engaged to help guide paramedics through certain procedures or diagnostic assessments without the need to travel to the hospital, creating efficiencies across the emergency services.

Unlike other use cases, connected ambulances cannot be implemented without 5G’s capabilities. This is due to the:

  • Lower latency 5G can bring – data and video must be sent in real-time to the hospital/clinicians as in emergency situations, split second decisions can have significant impact.
  • High bandwidth of 5G will enabled video to be streamed live from emergency respondent body cams in the field without loss of quality or buffering
  • Increased reliability and security of 5G
  • Emergency services could also have their own private “slice” of the network due to 5G’s network slicing

2. High definition (HD) virtual consultations

Two-way HD video is used between the patient and a primary/secondary care professional to conduct, initial screening assessments, routine check-ups (which do not require physical procedures), therapy/rehabilitation sessions, and increasingly visual diagnoses (e.g. identifying dermatological conditions and symptoms). By conducting these appointments over the air, patients do not need to travel to see healthcare professionals and vice versa, reducing the burden on the patient and decreasing the cost of each appointment.

5G will enable two way HD virtual consultations to happen at scale when compared to other connectivity solutions through the promise of:

  • Mobility versus in-home connectivity solutions such as Wi-Fi.
  • Higher bandwidth versus existing cellular connectivity bringing the necessary consistent quality of service in the field.
  • Increased reliability and security of 5G

3. Remote patient monitoring

Remote patient monitoring is seen as a key driver for more efficient and proactive delivery of healthcare services and chronic disease management. By using sensors, wearables and e-health devices, patient attributes can be collected and analysed without the need for patients to travel to primary care facilities and have a face to face appointment with a medical professional.

5G will enable remote patient monitoring to happen at scale when compared to other connectivity solutions through the promise of:

  • Greater reliability and security of the service
  • Increased capacity for number of connected devices per square kilometre
  • Mobility versus in-home connectivity solutions such as Wi-Fi

4. Video-enabled medication adherence

Adherence to prescription regimes is a key challenge in the healthcare industry, especially with some elderly or mentally ill patients forgetting if and when they have taken their prescription medication. 5G can help tackle this problem through the use of video-enabled medication adherence, connecting qualified pharmacists and carers directly to the patient via video to ensure the correct precipitation and dosage is taken at the right time. An example of this use case in PAMAN, a video-enabled “Medihub” currently in engaged in a proof of concept in a UK 5G testbed.

5G will enable video-enabled medication adherence at scale through:

  • Increased bandwidth enabling video to be streamed at high quality in real time
  • Ease of installation of SIM based technology versus other solutions (e.g. Bluetooth/Wi-Fi).
  • Increased reliability and security of 5G versus 4G

Augmented reality & virtual reality use cases in healthcare

5. Augmented reality and virtual reality assistance for the blind

Those with low, impaired, or even no vision can often be hindered in doing tasks that able-bodied individuals may take for granted, such as crossing the road, reading a website, entering a building etc. Using a 5G-enabled AR/VR headset or set of video streaming glasses, visually impaired individuals can be connected in real time to a live advisor who can guide the patient through certain activities in their daily life. Aira is a company looking to deliver such a service to its customer base.

5G will enable AR/VR assistance for the blind to occur at scale through:

  • Higher bandwidth enabling higher quality video to be streamed to the guide.
  • Low latency means the video can be streamed in real time to the guide which, in situations like crossing the road, would be significant. Furthermore, lag and jitter while using AR/VR headsets can cause the user to feel sea sick, and so low latency is essential for user experience.
  • 5G’s mobility – though Wi-Fi meets the performance requirements, many of the activities for AR/VR assistance will happen on the move.

6. Distraction and rehabilitative therapy

Augmented reality and virtual reality can be used within a hospital or clinical setting to improve the experience of patients. An example of this is using AR/VR for distraction and rehabilitative therapy. In the case of distraction therapy, a child that is about the receive an injection can wear the headset (which through 5G could stream cloud based videos/applications of the child’s choosing in real time) to be transported to a new environment and distracted from the potential fear of receiving the jab. In the case of rehabilitative therapy, the headset could be used, for example, on an amputee to virtually overlay relaxation of the lost limb in order to relieve phantom limb pain.

This use case will require 5G’s capabilities because:

  • Low latency and high bandwidth enable cloud-based streaming of applications and videos – this means information does not need to be downloaded and held on the device (reducing cost and bulkiness of the headset). It also provides the user with increased choice of application.
  • Low latency also improves user experience by reducing lag and jitter, which can make patients feel nauseated (latency should be below ~20ms to reduce sea sickness for VR applications).

7. Remote expert for collaboration in surgery

In the context of 5G, a use case that is often mentioned for healthcare is “telesurgery”, where a specialist can perform an operation from a remote location. Though this use case would clearly require 5G’s capabilities, we believe it is over hyped and, at least for the foreseeable future, unrealistic for mainstream use (few doctors would be willing to perform surgery on someone using a remote controlled robotic device that they had not set up and checked in person).

A more realistic short-term opportunity is using a 5G-enabled AR/VR headset to allow a specialist to watch in on a surgery taking place in real time, guiding the in-person surgeon and commenting on what they see based on their own experience. This could also be extended to include haptics such that for example the in-person surgeon could receive vibratory cues for where and when to move from the remote guide, or the guide receives haptic information on the texture patients body in order to better assess the situation.

This use case will require 5G’s capabilities to be delivered:

  • Low latency across a wide area – to enable real time communications and video streaming between the surgeons
  • Reduce jitter to reduce nausea as well as for consistent haptic response
  • High bandwidth to send extremely high definition video as would be required for remote surgery
  • Reliability and security – drop in QoS could lead to loss of life

8. Augmented reality & virtual reality for training and education

Especially now in the wake of COVID-19, organisations across all verticals (including healthcare), are searching for new virtual ways to train and educate new staff and students. Using an AR/VR headset, either in the hospital, classroom, or even at home, could enable medical students and trainee specialists to perform practice procedures in a virtual environment (on virtual/non-real patients) and even collaborate on these virtual procedures in real time.

This use case will require 5G’s capabilities for:

  • Low latency –to enable real time communications and video streaming between participants in the class
  • Reduce jitter to reduce nausea of users
  • High bandwidth to send extremely high definition video as would be required for the level of detail in a surgical process
  • Reliability to provide a consistent quality of service, otherwise adoption for the use case would be prohibitively low.

5G-enabled on-site use cases

9. Real time high-throughput computational processing

In healthcare, there are many high-resolution images and files which may require high-throughput computational processing for diagnostics and design. With 5G, for example, after receiving an MRI or CT-scan, images can be sent in real time to where they need to be analysed to provide a diagnosis. Furthermore, there is an increasing use of in-silico high-throughput screening for more effective drug design in the pharmaceuticals industry. 5G can enable sending and analysis of molecular models and structures to the cloud to leverage the higher compute/graphic processing power and cheaper resource compared to a local high-end desktop. Workspot, Netgain, and Fordway are organisations leveraging Virtual Desktop Infrastructure to enable low latency, cloud-based computation in healthcare and life science.

  • High bandwidth to send high resolution files in real time without buffering/delay
  • Mobility versus fixed connectivity means machinery and equipment does not need to be tethered to a specific location
  • Low latency for using cloud based processing means images/models can be rendered and iterated in real time

10. Video analytics for behavioural recognition

In hospitals, care homes, psychiatric centres etc. video analytics can be used in the hallways to identify patients who are behaving out of the ordinary, have had an incident such as falling, or are becoming a danger to themselves or others. Hosting the analytics on device using smart cameras can lead to prohibitively expensive hardware and so the analytics should happen in the cloud (or more likely using an edge compute to maintain data localisation and security).

5G can be used to enable this use case owing to:

  • Increase in bandwidth allowing high definition video to be sent for processing and analytics
  • Low latency enabling analytics to occur in real time and improving patient outcomes
  • Security and reliability protecting patient data (e.g. through 5G slicing)
  • Increased flexibility of the solution vs fixed connectivity – easier to add/remove cameras as SIM based-solution

 

This is the second installement in a series looking at healthcare use cases for emerging technology. We have previously looked at edge computing healthcare use cases and will be exploring IoT, AI, and blockchain healthcare use cases in our upcoming articles. For more information on the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry, read our report quantfying the benefit of 5G use cases for free.

If you’re working within the healthcare sector and you would like to understand if/how you might benefit from our insight, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Digital health is a key practice area for us and we would be keen to work with those exploring and pursuing the opportunities within the sector.​

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

Telco health strategies: Learning from TELUS and Babylon’s telehealth partnership

Telco health strategies: Learning from TELUS and Babylon’s telehealth partnership

With the right strategy and appetite for a long term commitment, healthcare can be a very promising growth vertical for telcos. In this webinar, Amy Cameron will outline telcos’ right to play, potential business models and focus areas for telcos in health.

In the context of COVID-19, telehealth is clearly a key opportunity in healthcare. To understand what it really takes to succeed in this market, we are joined by David Thomas, Managing Principal of Global Health Strategy at TELUS, and Mairi Johnson, Head of Corporate Development at Babylon Health.

With them we discussed:
– How do they work together?
– What are the potential partnership models between telcos and digital health players?
– What are the pre-requisites for telcos to build successful partnerships in health?
– And open to your questions

Webinar preview: Digital health – a new priority for telcos due to COVID?

You’ll need to submit your name and email to access the recording

See our other forthcoming webinars or catch up on any you’ve missed

Presenters & Panellists

Amy Cameron

Amy Cameron

Senior Analyst

STL Partners

Mairi Johnson

Mairi Johnson

Head of Corporate Development

Babylon Health

David Thomas

David Thomas

Managing Principal of Global Health Strategy

Telus

Recent health research to complement the webinar

May 2020

Digital health in South Korea: five examples of digital health beyond telemedicine

South Korea has widespread 5G coverage & high demand for 5G services. There is growing investment in digital health from its leading telecoms operators.

Read more

how covid is changing digital health and what it means for telcos

June 2020

How COVID-19 is changing digital health – and what it means for telcos

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rapid increase in adoption of telehealth solutions globally. What does this mean for telcos investing in digital health?

 

Read more

How telcos can coordinate care of the elderly healthcare

April 2020

Coordinating the care of the elderly

Telcos are well placed to enable the healthcare sector to meet the rising demand for secure and reliable in-home monitoring and treatment for the elderly.

 

Read more

How COVID-19 is changing digital health – and what it means for telcos

How COVID-19 is changing digital health – and what it means for telcos

It is no secret that adoption of telehealth of all kinds has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, as healthcare systems shifted to telephone and virtual care almost overnight wherever possible in order to lower the virus transmission rate.  

In many countries, this has been enabled by temporary changes to regulations around usage and reimbursement for specific medical services. For example, in early March, the US passed policy to reimburse virtual consultations at the same price as in-person consultations for Medicare beneficiaries, covering around 60 million people. Similar regulation was implemented in Australia and South Korea. 

The key applications of telehealth that can enable patients to receive care from home are: 

  • Phone consultations: often used in urgent care, for example when people call health helplines in the middle of the night or in emergency situations. Although this has its limitations, it is the most accessible form of telehealth. 
  • Video consultations: More versatile than phone consultations, as it enables clinicians to pick up on non-verbal cues and conduct some level of physical exam, but limited by the quality of patient’s device and their familiarity with technology. 
  • Diagnostics and triage: This includes contact tracing apps, AI-enabled diagnostic apps such as Ada Health and Babylon, which can make recommendations on next actions for patients, and clinician-to-clinician patient triage and referral based on patient records.  
  • Remote monitoring using wearables and other medical devices: Applied primarily to patients with chronic conditions, but also valuable for inpatient virtual care during the COVID-19 crisis, and outpatient care following a hospital stay for surgery or other treatment. These solutions can be delivered or prescribed by healthcare providers, or used directly by consumers. In the latter case, integration with EMR/EHRs is less likely and the value is therefore more limited. 

Register for our telehealth webinar with TELUS and Babylon

As an example of the growth, Teladoc, a leading virtual care company in the US, reported that virtual visits on its system nearly doubled in Q1 2020 compared with the previous year. Given that the US only really began to escalate its response to COVID-19 in late February, we would expect even stronger growth for the Q2 starting in April 2020. 

Teladoc virtual care visits were up 92% y-o-y in Q120

Source: Teladoc 

However, as illustrated in the graphic below, published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, this is only the first phase of adapting our healthcare systems to cope with COVID-19. Following the initial shift to stay-at-home care wherever possible (Phase 1), hospitals have reorganised operations to also enable virtual inpatient care (Phase 2). In the next phase, whenever social distancing measures are relaxed, demand for virtual consultations is expected to fall, but there is likely to be a surge in demand from patients that have deferred treatment during peak COVID-19 (Phase 3) 

Three phases of virtual care in response to COVID-19 

Source: Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, https://academic.oup.com/jamia/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jamia/ocaa067/5822868  

To ensure that the digital health solutions COVID-19 has launched into mainstream use are sustainable over the long term, and really can reduce dependence on face-to-face care, they need to make healthcare easier for doctors and clinicians to deliver and easier for patients to access use.   

As an example, although electronic medical/health records (EMRs/EHRs) have made it easier to track patient records, they have also required doctors and clinicians to spend hours logging patient information on IT systems after hours (see this interview with Carbon Health). To sustain the recent growth, digital health solution providers today need to think ahead about how to eliminate this type of friction, for instance by ensuring their solution has the ability to share patient data across systems and with patients themselvescan integrate with systems for population level data analysis, is accessible on existing consumer devices (e.g. smartphone, TV, smart speaker), etc.  

The rise in investment flocking to this industry off the back of COVID-19 should fuel exactly the type of competition and innovation needed to develop telehealth solutions that improve both providers and patients’ experiences.  

Key post-COVID-19 risks & opportunities  

  • Lack of enough clear proof of the value of various telehealth solutions, both in financial and health outcome terms, has been a key barrier to adoption and faster regulatory reform. With the surge in telehealth, the industry will be able to better understand when different solutions work well and when they don’t, providing the industry with critical information on how to tailor solutions more effectively to meet the needs of providers and patients. This is a key element to ensuring that adoption gains during COVID-19 are not lost once the risks of face-to-face medicine subside. 
  • Managing the “care debt” from deferred medical treatment or surgery during the peak of COVID-19 – especially with many hospitals reporting significant decreases in emergency visits, suggesting that many are postponing treatment, which could result in greater complications or health risks down the line 
    • Adoption of remote monitoring tools for outpatient management and better inpatient care, which can enable staff to effectively monitor many more patients at a time, could help to meet this surge more effectively 
    • Implementation of proactive care, using patient-facing diagnostic apps to understand which patients are deferring treatment, and triaging them to prioritise care once the COVID-19 peak is past 
  • Rapid licensing and deployment of digital health software doesn’t start with data protection by design, so there is often a lack of clarity around how private telehealth companies are using patient data. This does not necessarily mean patients’ health data, but browsing patterns on the internet before and after visiting a health service site, location data, etc. 
    • Often consumer-facing services are not held to the same standard as physician’s services, so in some markets, data stored in a personal health record but sourced from an EMR could potentially be used for marketing purposes1 
    • Studies indicate that current measures for de-identifying user data on physical activity measured with accelerometers in fitness wearables may not be robust enough – in a 2018 study by the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, 80% of children and 95% of adults were accurately reidentified using machine learning tools. 
    • To ensure that digital health solutions are sustainable and don’t face the same type of backlash the tech market as a whole has experienced over the last two years, regulations need to be clear and digital health companies need to be transparent about how they are using and securing patient and customer data. 

What does this mean for telcos investing in digital health? 

In a recent survey of telcos, vendors and other industry players, digital health came out as the vertical where respondents expected telcos to increase investment the most over the coming months. Even when broken down to the regional level, where there were significant differences in the perceived outlook for other verticals, there was a unanimously positive outlook for healthcare. 

In every region telcos expect to increase investment in digital health solutions

expected telco investments in different verticals post covid-19

Source: STL Partners survey on impact of COVID-19 on telco investments and priorities, 202 respondents, May 2020.

STL has long argued that healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos – it is highly localised, starting from a comparatively low base in digitisation, and demand for healthcare is steadily rising. In short, it is a big and sustainable market, looking for local digitisation partners who will also be around for the long haul. 

To successfully support their local healthcare systems’ transformation in the wake of COVID-19, telcos need to ensure that the solutions they help bring to the market meet both the immediate and long term needs of healthcare providers and patients. Some key considerations include: 

  • Ensure a high standard of data security for all solutions, whether developed internally or delivered with a partner 
  • Do not build your own solution if there is already a good one available in your own or another market. Instead, partner with digital health players to learn from their experience, and in turn help them widen their reach. A telco’s USPs are its existing brand awareness among consumers and enterprises and relationships in the public sector, not knowledge of how to solve healthcare challenges. 
  • If it’s not already done, have a clear roadmap of how data from your (or your partner’s) digital health solution will integrate with the wider healthcare system.
  • Focus on solutions that are in line with the current level of healthcare digitisation. For example, if hospitals and GPs don’t have good EMR/EHRs, then there will be limited benefit to remote patient monitoring solutions since there will be nowhere to integrate and analyse the data. 
  • While you may offer solutions free or at a discount during the current crisis, have a clear view of who will pay for it over the long term (and how it will save them money or improve quality of care, or both)So far, the vast majority of telco initiatives rely on a B2B(2C/ 2Patient) business model, since few consumers are willing to pay out of pocket for healthcare. However, in some cases, such as in developing markets where public healthcare services are limited, or in elderly care where families are searching for cost effective and reliable ways to enable elderly parents to live independently, there may be growing scope for B2C business models. See STL Partners report Coordinating the care of the elderly for more detail. 

What are telcos doing already? 

In the vast majority of cases, telcos key health-related role during the COVID-19 crisis has been in support governments with population location data to support contact tracing programmes. However, some telcos have also launched or ramped up other services to support deliver of remote care and help manage strained healthcare resources. A couple of examples are:  

  • In Australia, Telstra is supporting ICUs in 191 hospitals to manage demand and availability for beds, protective equipment, respirators and dialysis machines through the Critical Health Resource Information System (CHRIS). The system was first developed in partnership with Ambulance Victoria, which has been using elements of the system in Victoria for several years. Telstra’s dedicated healthcare unit, Telstra Health, has also ramped up support for health agencies in going digital, for example by tracking all communications with care home residents and families through a single system called Message Manager. 
  • In the US, besides multiple efforts through the emergency response network FirstNet, AT&T has also partnered with virtual care company VitalTech to offer 60 days of free telehealth services to business customers such as hospitals. 
  • Dialog Axiata, the leading telecoms operator in Sri Lanka, has partnered with local telehealth company MyDoctor and Samsung to enable 16 hospitals to begin diagnosing and treating non-communicable disease patients remotely. Doctors are using Samsung tablets, loaded with MyDoctor’s app and powered by Dialog’s 4G network.  
  • In the Philippines, Globe Telecom has launched a chatbot that checks the health status of its 8,000 employees on a daily basis. 
  • When COVID-19 broke out, Hong Kong Telecom moved ahead the launch of its new virtual consultation app Dr Go, which is currently available to all PCCW and HKT employees in Hong Kong 

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more

Digital health in South Korea: five examples of digital health beyond telemedicine

Digital health in South Korea: five examples of digital health beyond telemedicine

Why South Korea?

Telco strategies in healthcare are increasingly tied to 5G. The promised performance increases around bandwidth and latency, coupled with increases in reliability and security, are set to revolutionise the healthcare industry and will help enable other technologies, such as AI and IoT, to enter the digital health space. You can read more on the impact of 5G on digital health here.

In South Korea, 5G coverage is already relatively widespread, with approximately 80% population coverage, and demand for 5G services from consumers is higher than in most other countries. South Korea is therefore, on the face of it, a strong market for the telco to push into the digital health space.

In the past year, the country’s two leading telecoms operators, SKT and KT Corp, have formed partnerships to offer advanced digital healthcare solutions that aim to improve the experience of patients and healthcare providers. In this article, we outline some of the initial strides SKT and KT Corp have made in digital health, and the different roles the telcos have adopted. 

Why healthcare?

When he assumed office in 2017, President Moon Jae-In identified digital health as a key growth area for South Korea, promising increased investments, as well as an evaluation of existing restrictive regulations, to enable more innovation in the space. In the past few years, the country’s leading telecoms operators have announced plans to play in digital healthcare, forming partnerships with enterprises, universities and hospitals.

Several non-Korean telcos are developing solutions in telemedicine as part of their healthcare offerings. For example, TELUS Health have partnered with Babylon, an app for patient triage and virtual consultations with clinicians, to enable patients in Canada to consult with a doctor for non-emergency conditions. HKT have also recently followed this trend, releasing a similar app for doctor consultations in Hong Kong called DrGo.

Despite a temporary relaxation in policy due to Covid-19, South Korean law traditionally prohibits telemedicine. Therefore, as we lay out below, neither SKT nor KT Corp have yet followed suit of the telcos above and launched initial forays into virtual consultations in South Korea. However, before Covid-19, this law had not been reviewed or discussed for several years, and there were already domestic companies investing in solutions abroad. With the Moon administration’s interest in innovation around digital health, the success of other digital healthcare solutions domestically, and the current easing of traditional restrictions, the Korean telemedicine space is one to watch.

5 examples of digital health

SKT, Ariacare Korea and Happy Connect

In April 2020, SKT announced a partnership with Ariacare Korea (a provider of home and nursing care services for elderly people who have difficulty living alone due to health issues) and Happy Connect (a social enterprise looking to support those who are socially disadvantaged). The partners aim to provide SKT’s AI Care to some of Ariacare Korea’s customers, helping them to use devices such as NUGU – SKT’s AI speaker.

In April last year, a handful of senior citizens in Seoul were also provided with NUGU as part of a senior welfare programme, funded by SKT and the Seongdong Ward office. The programme aimed to combat the growing loneliness felt by this subsection of the country’s ageing population, and enable users to carry out simple tasks independently, such as controlling lights and thermostats which can be connected to the device.

As part of each partnership, SKT monitors the data generated by the NUGU devices in order to enhance its personalised services and recognise abnormalities. For example, should a user say “Aria, Help!”, the speaker will instantly report this.

SKT and Yonsei University

SKT also plans to feature the NUGU device in patient rooms at their 5G-powered hospital, which is being developed in partnership with Yonsei University Health System. This will allow patients to control features such as lighting and bed position with their voice, and to call for assistance. The partners signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2019, and plan to use 5G connectivity to enable features such as 3D mapping technologies and facial recognition systems to monitor patients and visitors.

SKT and Macrogen

Beyond this, SKT is working in partnership with a precision medical biotechnology company, Macrogen, to build a system that can process, manage and analyse vast amounts of data securely. SKT will provide connectivity, as well as compression storage technology, allowing hospitals and research institutions to store data efficiently and cost-effectively: the technology could help save operations costs by up to 90%, and by enabling use of machine-learning capabilities, could shorten data analysis time to a tenth.

This case study is especially relevant to the Korean government’s digital healthcare agenda as, in 2018, they announced plans to build a bio database for medical big data by collecting the data of 10 million patients to offer personalised diagnostics and treatment plans. Though South Korea has strict data regulations, the government is working towards a deregulation of the local data market, which could support further opportunities and capabilities for the SKT-Macrogen partnership.

SKT Invites Healthcare

On March 14th, SKT announced the launch of its own digital healthcare arm, Invites Healthcare, in partnership with Newlake Alliance Management, a private equity firm. Korean Healthcare company SCL Healthcare is also set to join the partnership. This signals a move by SKT to further drive innovation in its healthcare business and develop a more extensive range of partners within healthcare to expand its solutions.

So far, Invites Healthcare has revealed plans to develop an ICT-based chronic disease management service to help those suffering with chronic illnesses to monitor their conditions. As part of this, Invites Healthcare will take over SKT’s Coach-coach Diabetes application. It also intends to launch Smart MRO, a maintenance, repair and operation business to improve operational efficiency and control of medical supplies in hospitals. The company is seeking partnerships and opportunities in foreign markets as well as in South Korea.

KT Corp and Samsung Medical Centre

In addition to SKT and Yonsei University’s plans for a 5G-powered hospital, KT Corp announced a partnership for a 5G-powered (RAN-based) medical centre in September 2019, with the Samsung Medical Centre (SMC) complex in Seoul. They intend to use AR and VR for real-time education, as well as digital pathological analysis. This will make use of the high bandwidth and low latency offered by 5G to enable a high-quality AR and VR experience and allow high volumes of sensitive data to be transmitted quickly and reliably between parties for analysis.

SMC is one of the ‘big five’ hospitals in South Korea, which serve around 5% of the country’s outpatients. South Korea has a National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) where citizens contribute to mandatory health insurance which covers 97% of the total population (approx. 50 million people). Though non-profit, Korean hospitals compete to attract patients, with a high concentration of hospitals located in the capital, Seoul. SMC’s 5G hospital project is not complete, but it could give them a competitive edge once deployed, with potential to attract a higher number of patients and extend this system to other SMC branches.

Projects to watch

The initiatives mentioned are still ongoing and make big promises around what telcos can offer the healthcare industry, for example, through 5G connectivity and connected devices. It will be interesting to monitor the impact that these projects have on South Korean healthcare, and how solutions may develop, especially with the current temporary permission of telemedicine during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Author: Reah Jamnadass, Consultant

Digital health insights pack

This 24-page document will provide you with a summary of insights from our healthcare research and consulting work:

  • Key trends in the healthcare industry
  • The role for telecoms: applications and business models
  • Strategies for success: where to start
  • How STL Partners can support you

Request the free digital health insights pack by clicking on button below:

Read more about digital health

Webinar

Telcos in health webinar

In this session Amy Cameron and Yesmean Luk looked at the opportunities for telcos in health. As a growing industry, with a national focus and significant digitisation challenges, healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos seeking to build new revenues beyond core communications services.

Read more

Research

5G’s healthcare impact

This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.

Read more

Research

TELUS Health: Innovation leader case study

Healthcare is an attractive vertical for telcos to address with digital solutions. Although many telcos have made attempts to capture this opportunity, TELUS stands out as an example of the value of a long-term commitment to healthcare. In this case study, we examine TELUS’ strategy in health, evidence of its success, and draw out lessons for other telcos

Read more