The CEO of Huma Health, Dan Vahdat, has warned that the NHS risks falling behind countries including US, Germany and France on adoption of digital health unless it aligns funding.
Vahdat said that although the UK rapidly deployed digital health technologies during the pandemic it had not since followed up with aligning accompanying regulatory policies and reimbursement regimes.
Talking to Digital Health News from Davos, the annual meeting in Switzerland of politicians and global business leaders, where he was speaking on how digital health companies can help improve health equity, Vahdat said that digital health has hit the mainstream.
“The Pandemic required people to do things differently and showed tech can work at larger scale and can add value. It massively accelerated adoption and 100% that pace of adoption will be sustained,” the Huma CEO said.
One of the key differences was that many people hadn’t even been aware that things like remote consultations were possible three-years ago. “Due to the pandemic many people have now experienced these services and lots of people love remote care.”
Digital health companies like Huma have shown that digital health models can improve equity “making the same care pathways and reminders and coaches and nurses looking after you democratises health as people get the same levels of care,” said Vahdat.
“In terms of the democratistaion of care, you can deploy an asthma solution to all patients at a health system, have same reminders, behaviour change, that is happening today in London.”
Huma says it has shown, for instance, how through digital tools it can make clinical trials more equitable, improving enrolment among women – who are historically under-represented in trials – and those who just live further from clinical trial centres.
A sign of how far things have come is that the leading pharmaceutical and medical devices company now see it as absolutely central to their future strategy. He said there was a lot of interest at Davos, with the CEOs of heads of many companies discussing how tech can support future care delivery.
“I had one hour of brainstorming with Pharma and whether they should do it all themselves – or partner,” said Vahdat. “Four years ago you wouldn’t even get a meeting. The difference is like trying to talk about electric cars four years ago to today.”
Just like electric cars digital health still required a whole supporting infrastructure to be put in place, including legal, reimbursement, to achieve full potential.
He added: “The pandemic showed you can remotely monitor patients where you have more mature reimbursement models. In the US almost every hospital system now have some level of remote monitoring programme or want to have one soon.”
Asked about how the UK NHS compared, Vahdat said: “There is lots of activity on virtual wards and lots of talking about it, but in terms of launching systems and scaling there is work to do as it’s still not reimbursed. The government has actually slashed the funding to reimburse for remote care.”
Having led the way in the pandemic on technology adoption, he warned that the UK is now falling behind.
“The UK is one of the countries that adopted fastest but not the business models needed to accompany, as a result we are behind Germany and the USA and will soon be behind France, and that’s not good.”
The disconnect meant that digital health companies “have to work three times as hard to succeed,” said Vahdat.
And with the tech market down-turn, many in the digital health sector are finding it extremely hard, seeing share prices and valuations plummet. One time UK digital health unicorn Babylon Health, for instance, is at just 5% of its peak share price and loses money on every member that comes in, while health AI firm Sensyne Health failed in 2022.
Vahdat said the “squeeze puts emphasis on fundamentals”, and added “valuations are short-term, valuation is not the business.” Huma is not publicly listed.
The Huma CEO concluded: “For the category to mature it really needs an eco-system of digital health companies to develop and succeed. One of the key things for us is to work out how can we partner more and more to have maximum impact.”