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[Column] Covid-19 accelerated digital healthcare -- not in Korea yetChoi’s View on Healthcare Innovation
  • By Choi Yoon Sup
  • Published 2020.08.03 16:03
  • Updated 2020.08.04 13:46
  • comments 2

Covid-19 has provided an unprecedented growth opportunity for digital healthcare developers.

While many industries suffered downturns extensively from the prolonged pandemic, digital healthcare’s role instead expanded in the Covid-19 crisis. People’s concerns for health grew, but they had less access to the conventional healthcare system or health management services. Naturally, digital healthcare has drawn more attention as an alternative.

Choi’s View on Healthcare Innovation

According to a report by Rock Health on the investment trends in the first half of 2020 in the U.S., the U.S. digital healthcare sector attracted the largest investment in history in the first six months of this year.

Analysts had predicted that digital healthcare investment would shrink due to heightened worries over an economic downturn and growing market uncertainties since the worsening of the Covid-19 crisis in March. Contrary to the forecast, however, the digital healthcare industry in the U.S. attracted 6 trillion won ($5 billion) worth investment in the first half alone, the largest volume in history.

Telemedicine, in particular, was at the center of attention.

Covid-19 made it difficult to get face-to-face medical care, and manufacturers of devices that monitor patients remotely enjoyed greater recognition. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) eased regulations to boost the telemedicine industry. The CMS’ decision to allow equal reimbursement to face-to-face and remote patient care, in particular, significantly promoted telemedicine.

Opinions are divided as to whether this reimbursement policy will remain unchanged after the end of Covid-19. However, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said expanded access to telemedicine should continue, saying, "I can't imagine going back.”

Software-based healthcare solutions such as digital therapeutics are also receiving much attention.

The mental health of American people is deteriorating because of Covid-19. Nearly 100 million U.S. people suffer from depression or anxiety caused by Covid-19. A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that 13.6 percent of adults showed severe psychological stress, a significant increase compared to 3.9 percent in 2018. Another survey found that U.S. employees' stress is hitting the highest level since the September 11 terrorist attacks or the 2008 financial crisis.

Under such circumstances, digital therapeutics are emerging because they are highly accessible, expandable to the population level, and are serviced on a non-face-to-face basis.

Software programs can help treat or alleviate symptoms of depression, insomnia, stress, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia. Google search trends are showing this. While keyword searches related to face-to-face psychiatric counseling have fallen recently, search for keywords such as remote psychological counseling has surged. In the first half of this year, the volume and number of investments in the non-face-to-face counseling industry have recorded the largest figures in history.

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed regulations on digital therapeutics to improve people’s mental health amid Covid-19. The FDA temporarily allowed digital therapeutics to reach the market without the FDA’s approval to support mental health treatment. Such a decision was possible because digital therapeutics are software programs. The eased rules opened the market to various digital therapeutics products.

Not only the U.S. but the U.K., Germany, and Australia are actively using digital therapeutics in the Covid-19 pandemic. These countries have allowed digital therapeutics costs to be covered by state-supported health insurance.

Easier access to digital therapeutics may be temporary only during the pandemic. Still, advanced countries are accumulating real-world data of clinical experiences of digital therapeutics. In the digital healthcare industry, companies, including makers of digital therapeutics, have to prove lots of things. The collection of real-world data is crucial for clinical use.

Other countries, such as the U.S., may have become more aggressive on the use of digital therapeutics because they had difficulty controlling Covid-19. They might grab an opportunity to use real-world data to identify a specific digital therapeutics’ accuracy, efficacy, safety, and cost-effectiveness. This can make a big difference in the future.

In Korea, the government has announced its strong commitment to nurturing non-face-to-face industries as part of its “New Deal” policy to revive the sagging economy.

However, the goal is still unclear, and the government does not seem to handle the core issue.

Various support measures do not mention how the government will set the reimbursement rate for digital therapeutics. For a developer of innovative healthcare technology to become successful commercially, it has to benefit from reasonable health insurance coverage. Unless the government sets the right reimbursement rate for digital therapeutics, its promise to nurture telemedicine will ring hollow.

Choi Yoon-sup is a convergence bioscience expert, a future healthcare scientist, and an entrepreneur who studies digital healthcare. He is Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Digital Healthcare Partners (DHP, Inc.), a company that nurtures startup firms. — Ed.


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Comments 2
  • harrisonrekyer 2020-08-07 11:13:42

    I can’t believe this is really true I never believe there is cure to this hsv 2 because all the hospital have told me there is no cure to it, few months ago I saw this man email DR.EIGBIREMLEN on internet from a testimony share by someone who he help with his herbal cure I contact his email and ask   삭제

    • harrisonrekyer 2020-08-07 11:12:59

      I can’t believe this is really true I never believe there is cure to this hsv 2 because all the hospital have told me there is no cure to it, few months ago I saw this man email DR.EIGBIREMLEN on internet from a testimony share by someone who he help with his herbal cure I contact his email and ask   삭제

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