What will the digital health ecosystem look like post-COVID?

COVID-19 has turned the world on its head and healthcare systems have had to respond rapidly to match the sudden changes created by lockdown. Digital health had already been building a presence before the pandemic, but the tools it offers have been essential to counter the disruption caused by the coronavirus, reports Richard Staines.

COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon but when, and if, this crisis subsides the healthcare systems that are left behind will have changed radically.

While the pandemic has been a global tragedy it has also forced health systems to rethink the way they operate in order to minimise risks to both patients and healthcare staff. 

With face-to-face contact posing a risk of virus transmission, the emphasis has been on remote appointments where possible, backed systems that triage patients remotely to manage the pressure on the system.

All healthcare related sectors have attracted investment since the start of the pandemic and digital health has seen a surge in money coming in as the demand for these products increases.

With no end in sight to the pandemic either, investors are confident that this demand will be maintained.

According to a new report from Mercom Capital, Telehealth attracted $1.7 billion in investment in the first half of the year, followed by analytics, which got $826 billion. mHealth apps got $794 billion, followed by clinical decision support tools ($545 million) and healthcare booking ($326 million).


The delivery of health services remotely, telehealth has taken off during the pandemic. It was already becoming established before coronavirus took hold, but the technology has become commonplace as health clinics seek to keep patients and healthcare staff safe.

One of the reasons why the technology has become successful is that it has the support of patients.

As reported by pharmaphorum, a study by Accenture found that most patients who switched to virtual tools like video calls, online chat and apps would continue using the technology to talk to their doctors once the crisis abates.

The survey of 2,700 cancer, heart disease and immunology patients from around the world found that nine out of 10 using remote services felt their quality of care was as good or better than with conventional services.

But according to one analysis it’s not altogether clear whether telehealth will remain popular in healthcare systems once the pandemic is over.

The analysis by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation said that telehealth spending had bucked an overall downward trend on healthcare spend in the US.

But the analysis noted that the reimbursement policies currently propping up the spend on telehealth have sunset dates.

Without the support of the federal government’s funding measures it’s entirely possible that the trend towards telehealth will reverse.

But patient demand could be enough to ensure that telehealth retains its popularity as the decade matures and the COVID threat recedes.

Mobile health

Smartphones are increasingly becoming part of peoples’ lives and the pressures of COVID-19 have meant that mobile apps have played an increasing role in healthcare.

Apps have been used with varying degrees of success to help countries in their efforts to control the disease.

South Korea was one country that embraced track and trace technology, using a highly sophisticated tracking system that monitored each person’s movements and alerted them if they had come into contact with an infected person.

A similar tracking and tracing scheme in the UK has not been nearly as effective, partly because this version of the app is not nearly as intrusive due to concerns over privacy.

Another use of phones has been to monitor patients’ overall wellbeing during the pandemic when visits to clinics and doctors’ surgeries are considered impractical or unsafe

Tools such as Careology in the UK allow doctors to monitor COVID-19 patients’ vital signs remotely and alert them to a deterioration.

This technology, which is already available on iOS, sets a precedent for use of similar apps once the pandemic is over for patients with other conditions.

Digital therapeutics

Digital therapeutics (DTx) – apps or programs that are backed by clinical data to show their safety and efficacy – have been flourishing since the start of the pandemic.

The technology was already gaining traction in a range of conditions, although mental health is the area where most of the benefits have been seen.

The sector was already forecast to grow before the start of the pandemic but DTx now look even more appealing, given they can produce an effect similar to a drug but at lower cost.

There has already been huge investment in pharma and biotech since the pandemic began and DTx have seen an upswing in their fortunes.

Juniper Research had already suggested that the DTx market could exceed $32 billion by 2024 and the signs are that COVID-19 has been a catalyst for research and investment into this technology.

Many of the DTx products on the market for mental health are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), reducing the need for risky face-to-face meetings with mental health professionals.

There have been some substantial deals too: Biofourmis Health attracted $100 million from investment giant Softbank in September to build its DTx portfolio as the company pivoted away from its roots in remote monitoring.

And as Forbes noted in an influential article in May, the costs of developing DTx are substantially lower than for a conventional drug.

While nothing can be taken for granted in these uncertain times, the trends suggest that DTx, like other digital health products, could play an influential role in healthcare systems after the worst of the pandemic has passed.

About the author

richard staines

Richard Staines is senior reporter at pharmaphorum. He has been a journalist since the 1990s and has written for websites, newspapers and magazines. He has always had an interest in health, and has been focusing on the pharma industry since 2010, interviewing industry leaders and covering stories on topics including regulation, mergers and acquisitions, and the latest clinical developments.

Don’t miss your complimentary subscription to Deep Dive and our newsletter

Sign up



Your name

Your e-mail

Name receiver

E-mail address receiver

Your message