Covid-19 has let digital health prove itself

Digital health  / Photo: Shutterstock
Digital health / Photo: Shutterstock

DLA Piper partner Danny Tobey, Tamar Tavory of Yigal Arnon & Co., and Igentify CEO Doron Behar came together in a webinar to discuss trends and opportunities in the health tech market.

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has been increasingly used for critical healthcare applications such as monitoring people for signs of stroke or using chatbots that can pinpoint certain mental mindsets and direct patients to relevant solutions, according to Adv. Tamar Tavory, special counsel for digital health at Yigal Arnon & Co. law firm. AI has also been significantly utilized for fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, from diagnosis and anomaly detection to surveillance to service automation. In a webinar arranged by global law firm DLA Piper Israel country group in collaboration with Yigal Arnon, about the health tech market in the midst of and post Covid-19, Tavory said that from a legal standpoint, "There are certain aspects, especially now with the pandemic, where there is less regulation of AI than can be expected." As regulation catches up with technological innovation, the business world also needs to prepare and consider in which direction health products are heading.

One of the main legal challenges of AI, Tavory explained, is privacy, and that is especially true regarding medical information. "Trust between patients, doctors, and the healthcare system is widely agreed to be the basis of good medical treatment and public health," she said, giving as an example the Israeli Ministry of Health, which had already issued rules regarding the secondary use of data that rely on either patient consent or de-identification. Another significant issue is potential bias such as gender or race bias guiding the AI’s decision, for which transparency and explain ability (explain the data base's components and the algorithmic process) are talked about as the main key solution. Ultimately, as healthcare givers start to increasingly rely on AI, she said, "the questions that need to be asked are: can AI work autonomously; and does the doctor truly work independently when he looks at AI and decides to accept its determinations and recommendations?

DLA Piper partner Adv. Danny Tobey, "As terrible as the currents events are, this has been a good time for digital health to prove itself as a tool that can help people. And there have been a number of regulatory changes and dispensations in just a few months, enabling patients to make better use of telemedicine and other digital health."

The big question Tobey and his colleagues are wondering is how many of these changes will remain when the pandemic passes, a question that is also pertinent to investors wondering which trends to focus on. Current high-growth areas, according to Tobey, are behavioral health, dermatology, opioid addiction/treatment, facility-based care, rural care, and home health/post-acute care, though some of these were already popular pre-Covid-19 as well. telemedicine and related marketing are also trendy due to regulatory relaxation.

The key market drivers are cost-savings, inconvenience, shortages in the US, and a crunch on access to caregivers, especially in primary care due to doctor specialization, Tobey explained. As a result, many providers are switching to concierge care, a pay-for-play method that opens private practices for an annual or monthly fee. "This crisis has highlighted the importance of patient access and has made an already challenging environment for patient access to care even more challenging."

The current funding market, he said, is focused mostly on triage - short-term operational needs and helping healthcare companies assess their mid to long-term needs in the face of deep economic uncertainty. "Interestingly enough, we see that financial sponsors do have liquidity now and there are deals to be done, though people are being choosy regarding quality." Investors are looking for companies that have proven their mantle by surviving the first half of 2020, he added.

Providing the perspective of a digital health startup during COVID-19 was serial entrepreneur and Igentify CEO Dr. Doron Behar. "Igentify is really focusing on making genetic counseling available for all because we are seeing a very narrow bottleneck in our ability to reach it," he explained.

While the startup is not focused specifically on the virus, the company has been able to raise $12.5 million and sign three collaborations since the start of the pandemic, he said, and also expand its team.

"I cannot say Covid-19 blocked us," Behar remarked, but though there have been positive developments, the company has felt the constraints of the pandemic in aspects like the travel ban and face-to-face meetings, and while working remotely reduced costs it also affected morale. "But I can tell you that we are still in the middle of the pandemic, and we are seeing a correction now, as if the world has learned how to live with Covid-19."

The trends he is seeing in digital healthcare are on-demand healthcare, personalization, big data analytics, machine-generated patient counseling, precision and preventive healthcare, and leveraging AI for improved discovery and accuracy. Regarding Igentify’s business, he said, "I think we are now experiencing some very positive waves, and a lot of will from customers to engage with digital solutions because of the Covid-19 situation."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on September 21, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Digital health  / Photo: Shutterstock
Digital health / Photo: Shutterstock
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