My Thoughts Of A Digital Health Future

As a co-founder of a health tech company, I’m often asked what my vision of the future of healthcare is. I often wonder where to start(!), but mainly to avoid succumbing to the paralysis of analysis, I keep pithy soundbites in my pocket, like “a future characterised by volatility” and “what a sea of change should look like”, which are true; and are well and good. But, let me try to really unpack my thoughts on what a digital health future will be like — and Speedoc’s role in it.

First of all, my vision of the future — any future, really — lends primarily towards the concept that all things in essence are reflections of each other at scale.

Just like how the Rutherford-Bohr model of the atom was built after humans’ understanding of the solar system, or the spread of information on the social internet mimics the viral network of contagion, I lean towards the art of statecraft to understand the rise and fall of industries in a way that business and marketing textbooks cannot explain. Let me give you an example of my thought process.

In Henry Kissinger’s book ‘World Order’, he speaks of America’s journey to its current position in the world order. Presidents like John F Kennedy and their administrations have passionately affirmed America’s superpower status, but Woodrow Wilson, the President who first dreamt up the plan for this brand of foreign policy, would be hard-pressed to imagine anything beyond overextension and disillusion. In fact, America’s original stake in its claim for world leadership was built largely on the fact that it emerged relatively unscathed from World War I, and as a result, produced about 60% of the world’s GNP. When you hold that kind of economic power, you’re able to call the shots, at least for a while.

In a parallel system, much has been said about the global pandemic giving digital health a shot in the arm. I, myself, have been quoted as saying that it’s accelerated the adoption of digital health by two to three years. And yet, my “pithy soundbite” of the future being characterised by volatility holds true here. Despite the accelerated, almost universal, acceptance of digital health (from governmental regulation to consumer behavioural change), it would be vastly unwise to view the evolutionary change of digital healthcare as foreordained. Instead, leaders in digital health and health tech should view the irruption of the adoption of digital health with equanimity and emotional forbearance.

The global pandemic is to digital health companies what the development of X-ray technology was to semiconductor manufacturing firms — a big fundamental change that galvanised the industry, but which long term impact is yet to be determined. To date, despite great investment in X-ray technology development by the manufacturing industry, it did not take off.

Indeed, such is the bitterness of betterment.

There is hope yet. Not all is dull and gloom. Accenture found that 69% of consumers in Singapore were interested in using virtual care for remote monitoring through at-home devices for ongoing health conditions, and 60% of them would go virtual for routine follow-ups (such as using telemedicine).

When I think about Speedoc in the future, I think about how Brene Brown describes Barack Obama’s brand of leadership — “straddling the tensions of opposites, forcing transformation through duality”. I think about what this means for the future of healthcare, where healthcare gets steadily more embedded in technology and technological processes; and the arms race for connectivity leaves humans yearning for connection. In particular, one frontier of duality calls out to me - the idea of a high-touch, high-tech future. In effect, healthcare of the future, which in necessity must be driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning and the proliferation of digital touchpoints, should serve each organisation in becoming more human, more intuitive and more patient-centric, and not the other way around.

I imagine a “high-touch, high-tech” future to be characterised by things being impossibly simple to use, to be intuitive in a way that even consumers would find difficult to imagine — like the iPod click wheel, or Amazon’s One-Click Purchase.

In his book, ‘Only The Paranoid Survive’, Andy Grove of Intel, writes about how Intel was a scrappy start-up, and soon enough found itself in a “strategic inflection point”, and having to pivot away from memory chips to microprocessors. He also warns that strategic inflection points are often invisible and hard to detect. It is my wish and vision for Speedoc and other digital health companies to navigate the rise of digitalisation by not heeding it as a mandate for corporate success or a stamp of approval from the universe, but upon which to build a foundation of many, many strategic inflection points, that converge into the singularity of a high-touch, high-tech healthcare universe.

It is ever more so important in an industry where change is ever-present, not just in terms of technological change, but wherein family situations, biochemical profiles, diets, social support all remain fluid. The stakes are high - many patients don’t seek out healthcare until they or their loved ones feel unwell, and they’re depending on us to feel better. Sometimes, it’s even a matter of life and death. All of this has resulted in an industry that is expected to grow by 37.1% by the end of 2021 and attain a post-COVID-19 compound annual growth rate of 18.8% from 2020 to 2027.

To whom much is given, much will be expected.

It must remain a moral mandate for us to look at “health” and “tech” in “health tech” as a duality and never pursue one without the other; nor must we ever innovate for the sake of innovative theatrics. The role of technology in healthcare must breathe life into each and every company’s ethos of providing affordable, accessible healthcare; and to serve the ideals of disease eradication and proliferation of global health.

This article was written by Serene Cai, Co-Founder of Speedoc.