Biju Mohandas, global co-head of healthcare investments at LeapFrog Investments, tell us that a “secular shift” in the attitude towards healthcare technology has taken place.
- The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology by health workers and healthcare consumers.
- Technology driven solutions are shifting the focus onto patients and disease prevention.
- The shift towards digital led networks will happen faster in emerging countries in Asia and Africa where health systems are still basic, unbuilt, and therefore better suited to leapfrogging.
- LeapFrog is seeking out healthtech companies making a real world difference
As part of its impact, mission Leapfrog Investments is committed to “providing critical health services to underserved consumers”, including primary healthcare, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and prevention and chronic illness management tools.
The impact investor believes these tools provide “safety nets for low-income people”, enabling them to avoid or better treat health shocks, and they also act as springboards because “being healthier enables emerging consumers to improve their economic productivity and overall financial and social well-being”.
It could just be that now that has become a whole lot easier. Biju Mohandas, global co-head of healthcare investments, at LeapFrog tells us: “Just as tech has uprooted traditional thinking and product design across financial services, infrastructure, and education, so too is the healthcare industry in need of a design shift towards regular prevention of disease and enabling of wellness.”
Integrating physical and digital health
The World Economic Forum has called on nations to provide better cohesive strategies to integrate physical and digital healthcare infrastructure.
COVID -19 actually had a positive impact in this regard. “The pandemic has accelerated by an order of magnitude the adoption of technology in healthcare by workers as well as consumers,” says Mohandas. “A secular shift in the attitude towards technology has definitely taken place.”
The traditional frontline for healthcare has been the episodic treatment of disease or symptoms at hospitals or clinics by healthcare professionals. Now “regulators are more open to innovations, doctors, nurses and paramedics see smart use of technology as a force multiplier and not a replacement”, he adds.
The other side to this is the important development that “consumers have tasted the convenience and affordability that technology brings to their healthcare journey”. As technology driven solutions shift focus onto disease prevention, there could be a decrease in the need for patients to have to visit physical hospitals, and a decline therefore in healthcare costs while improving quality of life.
Mohandas says: “Digital infrastructure will become integrated into existing physical healthcare networks, telemedicine, AI assistance, remote robotic surgeries being a few examples. This will act as a force multiplier of healthcare workers and infrastructure extending services far further and wider, without the cost or complexities of physical construction and better utilising scarce healthcare talent.”
In this regard, digitalisation is a massive enabler. “It is the effective design of digital products which tap technologies as basic as mobile phones that will allow it to happen, creating new healthcare networks combining both digital and physical infrastructure, with more effective solutions.”
Emerging markets will benefit the most
In Mohandas’s opinion, this shift towards digital led networks will happen faster in emerging countries in Asia and Africa where the health system currently is still basic, unbuilt, and therefore better suited to leapfrogging.
He notes there are 700 million smartphones in India alone, and the country is one of the largest consumers of data via smartphones. “As a result, vast amounts of data are being generated, captured, and disseminated globally every second, able to be read with increasing accuracy, relevance, and usefulness thanks to advancements in big data which in turn has catalysed a revolution in AI.” This has increasing applications in healthcare in genomic sequencing and drug discovery, the net effect being technology has become cheaper and more accessible and ready to be deployed widely in health.
“This is the future of healthcare,” adds Mohandas. “Technology built into the life sciences to provide cheaper, better medical equipment, more targeted and customised drugs, gene-based therapy, and personalised medicine. The biggest shifts will happen by leveraging relatively simple tools like a mobile phone, but will require a massive shift in thinking and in the design of health systems.”
Real world examples
These themes are made clearer by looking at some of the LeapFrog investments.
In line with the theme of the patient as the new frontline, Mohandas cites Redcliffe Labs diagnostics, an omnichannel provider of high quality diagnostics services in India. It has seen the surge in adoption of its at-home sample collection service sustained after the pandemic. “This allows their customers to secure convenient and affordable tests to manage their wellness and detect diseases early.”
HealthifyMe is a mobile health and fitness app that aims to “combine the power of technology with real human services to deliver measurable impact”. It is India and Southeast Asia’s largest digital wellness platform catering to more than 25 million users in more than 300 cities, with over 1500 coaches. The app delivers measurable results on eating habits, fitness, and weight through tracking lifestyle, providing access to human coaches and AI nutritionist ‘Ria’.
In terms of impact, Mohandas notes “the scalability of the platform holds the potential to contribute towards saving a meaningful portion of the 164 million healthy life years estimated to be lost annually due to early death and disability caused by chronic diseases in India”, according to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
MedGenome is India’s leading genetic diagnostics, research, and data company, with a focus on improving the health of populations in South Asia and other emerging markets. They have roughly 170,000 patients, 6000 clinicians and have delivered 200,000 genetic tests.
Mohandas says: “MedGenome’s work to provide insights into complex diseases at genetic and molecular level has the potential to be leveraged by researchers and pharmaceutical companies to aid in drug discovery and clinical trials for treatment in the areas of oncology, diabetes, ophthalmology, cardiology and other rare diseases.”
The company has established genome centres in key cities across India to create awareness of genetic testing, and offer relevant and affordable services to help patients manage their health outcomes via genomics and personalised medicine, which represent the future of healthcare.