When the COVID-19 pandemic hit over a year ago, it shone a spotlight on many areas for improvement in health care industries all over the world. This set in motion several changes, especially in digital health care. What was then a relatively new sector was forced to mature rapidly in the face of the new threat and the mounting urgency that came with it.
In came 2021, and investments in virtual care technologies from both public and private sectors continued to pour in. Experts predict that the global health care revenue would exceed $2.6 trillion by 2025, up by 30% from last year’s figures. Most of this growth is and will be generated by digital technologies such as telehealth and artificial intelligence.
Here are a few examples of emerging tech trends that can enhance patient care amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
One of the biggest trends in health care this year is the growing attention to the safe use of medications. Given that lingering medical conditions are risk factors for the COVID-19 virus, the importance of adherence to medication could not be stressed enough. This is especially true for people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
Telemedicine prescribing will play a big role in filling this growing need. In a report released by ReportLinker, the size of the global online pharmacy market will continue to grow, crossing revenues of over $131 billion by 2025.
This year and the coming years will see pharmacies adopting the more advanced click-and-collect system where patients will purchase their medications online and book a specific time to collect them, instead of just showing up whenever they want.
This development will help ensure that patients continue to gain access to the medications that they need even as the healthcare system is being overwhelmed by the ongoing pandemic. It will also help prevent the gathering of a large number of people to collect their prescriptions, making it easier to implement physical distancing.
The next step in this new paradigm is delivering the medications right at the patient’s doorstep. But whether this will be possible or not will depend on how privacy and safety challenges can be managed.
Patient Records Integration
Sharing and exchanging medical records is crucial in healthcare delivery, now more than ever. Primary care doctors need to send exam notes, test results, medical histories, X-rays, and other images to specialists to get a clearer picture of a patient’s health and provide better care.
However, one of the biggest challenges for physicians and healthcare providers is that they operate independently, and their data is stored in silos. This is true with most versions of electronic health records being used today.
Provinces and territories are responsible for developing their own electronic information schemes. Although they are supported by national funding, there is no national strategy that can bring them all together. The result is a disjointed system that lacks interoperability. This is where patient record integration comes in.
This year, interoperability and integration of electronic health records or EHRs will be getting a lot more attention from the government, as well as providers and vendors. Experts anticipate several upgrades that will not only enable the use of one system with another but also increase their ease of navigation.
Efforts will also be made to standardize EHR systems and integrate features such as IoT, AI, and voice recognition. This does not come at a better time as the market for IoT-enabled healthcare devices is expected to reach almost $135 billion by 2025, more than twice the $50 billion market size last year. On the other hand, the global EHR market size is projected to break the $31 billion mark by 2026, up by 22% from last year’s market size.
The telemedicine sector saw unprecedented growth last year as people were forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to access basic health services without leaving their homes. Even if the vaccination is already in full swing, experts predict that this trend will only increase – a development that they attribute to the expansion of virtual care options and their integration into in-person consultations.
Some of the services that will drive this growth are virtual diagnostics, digital homecare platforms, and patient-recorded outcome or PRO applications. There is also a growing need for telemedicine in substance abuse treatment. Despite the many lives claimed by the COVID-19 virus, the increased number of drug overdose deaths during the pandemic does not go unnoticed.
Another factor that encourages the widespread adoption of telemedicine is the current regulatory flexibilities. While these measures are temporary for now, they have built the foundation for a fundamental change in the healthcare system that will be difficult to undo, even after the threat of the COVID-19 virus passes.
With the demand for telehealth solutions increasing, providers are outgrowing the direct-to-consumer business model and are now seeking contracts with major payers and partnerships with various health systems.
As investments continue to flow in and technology continues to evolve, the hospital-at-home paradigm will only become more ubiquitous. More telehealth startups will emerge. However, this does not signal the demise of hospital-based acute care. Instead, efforts will also be made to make the handover between online and offline care more seamless.
Remote Monitoring Devices
Many people are only hearing about remote patient monitoring now, but it is not a new concept. The COVID-19 pandemic just transformed it from being an option into a necessity. With the implementation of lockdowns in the past year and the lingering unease with the traditional clinical setting, robust disease detection and health monitoring capabilities are needed now more than ever.
There are several technologies available today that enable doctors and health care teams to monitor the condition of patients remotely. This includes a combination of wearable sensors and at-home devices.
Some of the most commonly used are devices and mobile apps that measure and upload blood glucose readings so doctors can access them even if the patient is at home. There are also wearables that automatically record and transmit heart rate, sleep patterns, tremors, and other key information.
Older people and those suffering from dementia can also benefit from home monitoring devices that can identify sudden changes in the activities and alert medical professionals in case of falls and other emergencies. The market for these at-home devices is expected to be two times bigger in the next five years.
AI in Predictive Modeling
If the pandemic taught us anything at all, it is that we must strengthen our health care system and make it more proactive. In line with this, technologies like AI can be leveraged to enhance a wide range of health care functions, from clinical trials for the discovery of new drugs to the early diagnosis of complex illnesses.
And with the proliferation of adjacent technologies such as the cloud, AI could be used more efficiently as a predictive tool that can generate important insights. With some improvements, this could even include the prediction of future pandemics.
It is widely reported that BlueDot, an AI company, first saw the COVID-19 outbreak coming. However, it took teams of humans which also spotted the same threat later in the day to elicit the desired response from the health community.
For now, AI is a tool that can easily detect potential risks but lack the credibility or insight to give a fuller picture. But with better technology and larger datasets in the coming years, AI has the potential to anticipate a pandemic and help mitigate its impact.
The SR&ED Program: Advancing the Virtual Care Industry
The interest in telemedicine is growing throughout the globe, but nowhere is it more apparent than in Canada. In a recent study that monitored the relative search volumes (RSV) for telehealth-related terms, Canada came out on top, ahead of even the US, which has a much larger population. This points to an increased demand for and a need to scale up telehealth capabilities in the country.
Similar to other emerging technologies, research and experimental development activities are needed to stimulate innovation in virtual care. This does not come cheap. Fortunately, Canada has a long list of innovation grants and incentive programs that can bridge the gap for small businesses interested in pursuing R&D. At the top of this list is the federal tax incentive program known as the Scientific Research and Experimental Development or SR&ED.
The SR&ED program targets small businesses in Canada, providing SR&ED tax incentives to those engaged in research and development R&D activities with potential for innovation. SR&ED refunds comes in three forms:
1. An income tax deduction
2. An investment tax credit or ITC to reduce the income tax payable
3. A refund for unused ITC, in certain cases
With over 20,000 approved claims and more than $3 billion in tax incentives granted every year, the SR&ED program is the largest federal program of its kind. It is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency or CRA.
What Canadian Virtual Care Tech Companies Can Get from the SR&ED Program
The SR&ED program is open to all Canadian companies with eligible SR&ED projects:
• Canadian controlled private corporations or CCPCs that are eligible to apply for a SR&ED claim qualify for SR&ED funding can get up to 35% refundable SR&ED tax credit for eligible costs of $3 million. A non-refundable ITC of 15% is granted for qualifying expenditures over $3 million. CCPCs that also meet the CRA criteria for qualifying corporations can get an additional 15% ITC for eligible SR&ED costs over $3 million, 40% of which can be refunded.
• Other corporations can earn a non-refundable ITC at a basic rate of 15%.
• Proprietorships, trusts, and members of a partnership can also apply.
What Projects are Eligible for the SR&ED Program?
Before a project can be considered for the SR&ED program, it must answer five basic questions:
1. Was there scientific and technological uncertainty that needed to be resolved?
2. Was a hypothesis formulated to reduce or eliminate the uncertainty?
3. Was a systematic investigation adopted to implement the hypothesis?
4. Did the project lead to or have the potential for scientific and technological advancements?
5. Were records of the testing and the results kept?
If the answer to the above questions is “yes,” there is a great chance that the project is eligible to apply for an SR&ED claim. for SR&ED funding.
The SR&ED program is generous and broad-based – all Canadian businesses, especially those in the virtual care sector, can submit an SR&ED claim.
However, there are administrative policies, provincial and federal legislations, and technical amendments that could impact the availability of the program. To maximize your chances of submitting a successful claim, let our funding specialists here at EVAMAX help you.