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With healthcare thrust into digitisation by the COVID-19 pandemic, digital health is now being heralded as the next trillion-dollar global industry.

Healthcare has been one of the last industries to digitise, lagging retail, travel, banking and many others. This changed virtually overnight. Faced with shutdowns, doctors turned to digital communication and analytics to deliver care. Patients adapted to remote and computer-assisted diagnosis and treatment. Many see opportunities in this transformation. Healthcare app startups, hospitals, insurers and pharmacies as well as tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Google are rushing in to grow the digital health industry worldwide.

McKinsey estimates that global digital health revenues, including telemedicine, online pharmacies and other areas, will rise from $350 billion last year to $600 billion in 2024, The Economist reports. Investors are enthusiastic. According to CB Insights, digital health firms garnered $8.4 billion in equity funding in the third quarter, more than doubling from a year ago. AmWell, a telemedicine provider, raised $742 million in an IPO. On December 2, Hong Kong saw its second-biggest IPO this year when digital pharmacy JD Health, part of China’s jd.com, brought in $3.5 billion.

Consumer demand for digital healthcare technology and services is equally robust. France’s Doctolib said its video consultations in Europe have skyrocketed this year, from 1,000 to 100,000 a day. Chinese online healthcare portal, Ping An Good Doctor, is expanding further in Southeast Asia as part of its joint venture with Singaporean ride-hailing giant Grab. Ahead of the pandemic, it had already started smartphone-based telehealth services in Indonesia. There is a shortage of doctors in the region, making it fertile ground for online healthcare firms.

Healthcare technology, including sensors and other devices as well as cloud computing and data analytics, are increasingly common tools for healthcare providers. This is especially true of devices that monitor chronic health conditions such as diabetes. In a survey of American doctors, Stanford University found that nearly half use such devices. In June the Mayo Clinic partnered with Medically Home, a technology-enabled “virtual hospital” startup, to provide in-home care.

There has also been a major surge in telemedicine this year. A study of about 16 million patients in the U.S., reported in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine, found that their use of telemedicine increased 30-fold between January and June. Similarly, a survey from Gartner showed an uptick in the use of healthcare apps by American consumers.

In order for digital health to flourish, issues around digital medical records, interoperability and privacy need to be addressed. Worldwide, regulators are pushing for healthcare providers to share information. Calls for an electronic standard for medical records are coming from the EU. In India, the government launched a plan for a digital health identity with interoperability. China’s Yidu Cloud, a medical big data platform, has what Lee Kai-fu of Sinovation Ventures says could be the world’s biggest health data set. Aneesh Chopra, a former White House technology chief, believes that the combination of such efforts heralds “a new era” for digital medicine.

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