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Healthcare Trends

January 08, 2021
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In mid-December, the first vaccinations for COVID-19 were provided for front line healthcare workers.  If successful, this vaccination would represent a huge leap forward in disease analysis, vaccination development and distribution, as well as worldwide cooperation.  COVID-19 vaccinations are a small part of a huge healthcare industry that is vital and dynamic, with ever-evolving trends and solutions, many of which are technology-driven. 
In healthcare, there is an insatiable demand for innovation, treatment outcome improvement, quality, accessibility, and affordability.  As a result, it is an industry that is full of new opportunities and innovations.  Current trends include Telehealth, Digital Health, Data Science and Predictive Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Leveraging 5G, and Augmented / Virtual Reality.
Telehealth
Telehealth will dramatically aid urgent care facilities, whether located in remote areas or within a denser metropolitan area.  Telehealth leverages knowledge workers such as a lung cancer physician in a regional research hospital, who could follow up and treat several patients at satellite locations going through pre/post chemo cancer rehabilitation.  Telehealth saves time and lowers the stress of physicians and patients, as potentially problematic diseases can be identified and treated sooner. 
 
Digital Health to the Rescue
Wearables and smart devices (e.g. FitBit and iPhone) can track patients’ movements such as sleep patterns, heart rate, caloric intake, or time span of exercise.  Patients no longer must arrange for an overnight sleep study at an outpatient clinic, they can perform the sleep study at home.  Cardiologists closely watching a particular patient could be notified when an unusual electrocardiography pattern appears, potentially avoiding a life-threatening event. 
Improvement in Data Science and Predictive Analytics
While the codifying of illnesses began in the 1980s with diagnostic related groups as a way of standardizing Medicare payment to hospitals, faster computers and deeper databases were needed to make the information useful for healthcare workers beyond billings.  Now data scientists collect and analyze information, such as medical records, family histories, insurance claims or billing information, then identify patterns or trends in the data that can be used practically.  For example, roughly 600,000 people suffer sudden heart stoppages in the US every year; data scientists working closely with cardiologists might soon be able to anticipate a building problem and send out an alert to potentially save thousands of lives each year. 
 
Impact of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionize medical care in this country.  Automated physician assistance could dramatically improve diagnostic precision.  Leveraging artificial intelligence could optimize the operations of most medical clinics, as well as improve both imaging capture and interpretation. 
Leveraging 5G Networks
The quality and speed of healthcare networks (hospitals, healthcare providers, physicians’ offices) has been greatly enhanced in recent years, allowing for telehealth and treatments using Augmented and Virtual Reality. 
Virtual / Augmented Reality
Virtual and augmented reality (VR or AR) has already proven useful for training and surgery simulation, as few students could “look over the shoulder” of the seasoned surgeon without it.  Medical students learning with VR or AR tend to be faster and more accurate when performing surgeries than their traditionally trained counterparts.  Virtual reality can be used to help relax otherwise anxious patients.  Stroke and traumatic brain injury patients have a better chance to successfully regain lost motor function as physical therapy becomes available through VR or AR.
Investment Implications of these Trends
While it is possible for an investor to focus on one sub-sector of the quickly evolving healthcare industry, such as biomedical devices (e.g. prosthetics, artificial hearts) or healthcare providers, we felt it prudent to invest in a growth-focused strategy that more broadly covered this exciting industry.  In mid-November, we rebalanced client portfolios, reallocating funds into a diversified health care sector strategy.