Roberto Ascione on the future of digital health
In today’s interview, we talk with ROBERTO ASCIONE, serial entrepreneur & digital health pioneer on how the industry transformed in the past 20 years and how the next 20 years will change healthcare how we know it. Roberto is CEO at HEALTHWARE GROUP one of the largest healthcare consultancies helping life sciences companies, healthcare stakeholders and start-ups navigate the transformation in healthcare, from strategy to technology.
You’ve helped companies transform their healthcare businesses for more than 20 years. What has changed in the industry since you began?
The world was still analog (as in, paper only!) when I first combined healthcare with software over two decades ago, and since then, medicine has been hugely transformed through technology in a series of advances that show no signs of slowing.
Two of the biggest changes catapulting things forward have been the widespread adoption of the internet and the global implementation of electronic medical records. The resulting marketing and digital health possibilities have become limitless. Delivering on those possibilities in ways that empower both patients and physicians is in our company’s DNA and continues to drive our work.
What do you think will happen in the next 20 years?
First and foremost, we believe that digital therapeutics will truly be an entirely new wave of medicine that will be the key force behind the transformation of healthcare. Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality will be enmeshed within this transformation, as will wearables and even gaming therapies. We also expect digital triaging by clinics and digital-only product promotion will become growing trends, as articulated in my book Future Health, which will soon be published by Wiley in its second edition.
What remaining challenges must Europe overcome to make this vision a reality?
The current global scenario is very diverse with respect to the ability of individual countries and their healthcare systems to adopt and regulate the new technological solutions that will mark the future of medicine.
I believe that a strong collaboration between innovators and the different players of the European healthcare system is essential to tackling the implementation of any innovation together. The path to innovation is simple but not always straightforward since there are several factors that can hinder the introduction, adoption, and regulation of new digital health solutions.
I am thinking, for example, of what is occurring with digital therapies for which there is currently no single European framework for implementation and reimbursement. This shows that more discussion is needed at various levels to foster greater awareness, understanding, and adoption of various digital health solutions, which is important to ensure that all European citizens have better access to care, especially as it relates to digital therapies, telemedicine platforms, and health apps.
COVID-19 has accelerated many trends towards more digital healthcare. How do companies prepare for and adapt to this new normal?
Well, it goes without saying that the pandemic has resulted in the rapid adoption of digital technologies across all industries, but most notably in healthcare, and there have been several important shifts for pharma, biotech, and medical device companies. Telehealth was already accelerating, but 2020 was a psychological and systemic tipping point that led to it being exponentially driven by COVID-19 and several historic barriers that discouraged remote consultation and focused on in-person diagnoses were swept aside.
For example, Telehealth adoption will continue to accelerate in 2021 as it becomes the norm, but in the process of driving new self-service approaches to medicine and participation-based reimbursement models, life sciences companies need to rethink their customer engagement paradigms and pharma should update the role of the rep from being sales-focused to more of a concierge service model that delivers and facilitates 24/7 access to the meaningful content physicians require. Most importantly, companies will need to continually rethink what works and not be afraid to experiment with solutions they’ve never tried before.
Digital is not just a nice-to-have for pharma companies – it’s a necessity for ensuring that patients have the best possible outcomes in modern healthcare systems. With digital tools and techniques being able to improve almost every aspect of a pharma company’s business, from R&D to sales, there’s no excuse for not implementing digital transformation at every level – and that’s not even counting new opportunities for life science firms to produce digital products that can complement or even replace traditional medicines.
Will technology alone make healthcare more human?
Even with all the advances we’ve seen in technology, we don’t see a future of “techno-medicine,” but we do believe healthcare will be more humanized, thanks to the technologies that will continue to permeate and underpin medical practices. Will technology alone make healthcare more human though? Simply put, no, because it requires human adoption and adaptation to work. This is where our expert services as an integrated global digital health organization of communicators, connectors, and builders of future health shine … we connect technology and humans in ways that make both more effective and amplify each other.
If you had 500.000 Euros to invest in, what healthcare trend(s) would you put your money on?
As baby boomers age and feel more comfortable utilizing tools like remote monitoring, telehealth, and disease management platforms, living independently will become critical to this group and digital health tools will be key in supporting them in their increasingly common endeavor to age in place. As a result, the adoption and growth of digital tools is expected to explode, which is evident in the amount of investment already occurring in this category. We also have close links with the digital health start-up ecosystem and believe in investing into early-stage digital companies that are scaling globally, as well as large-scale pharma companies that are furthering digital therapeutics.
Mental health has also been catapulted to the forefront by the pandemic, with mental wellbeing now being a priority area of focus for individuals, companies, and healthcare providers. In response to what is both a crisis and an opportunity, new digital mental health therapies and devices are being developed at a pace previously unseen.