66% of Catalan healthcare technology start-ups are working on the five major trends in transformative innovation

Instead of going to the hospital, you will receive a “visit” from your doctor at home through your computer (decentralized health), to discuss with him the data on the control of your disease that have been collected by various mobile devices and wearables, and decide together (patient empowerment) what is the best treatment, a treatment that will be custom-designed for you from a genetic analysis (personalized medicine) and after contrasting all the information available worldwide thanks to artificial intelligence. And the psychologist will treat your anxiety at high altitudes with a series of immersive sessions that will adjust to your reactions (virtual reality).

This could be a schematic projection of how the healthcare systems of the future might work if the most transformative innovations – which are technically already available, and in which 158 start-ups are working in Catalonia – were to be widely implemented. However, more investment is needed from the Administration in innovative purchasing so that these developments reach patients, and new professional profiles are also needed – both in hospitals and healthcare centers and in innovative companies – to develop these innovations to their full potential. These are two of the conclusions of the report HealthTech 2030: Catalonia’s contribution to disruptive innovation, prepared by Xartec Salut and EY, which which identifies the five HealthTech innovation trends with the greatest potential to transform healthcare systems and how the Catalan ecosystem is participating. According to the report, of the 240 HealthTech start-ups in Catalonia, 158 (66%) have as their main activity the development of technologies within one of the five trends with the greatest potential for transformation. These trends are:

– Stretched reality, which brings together augmented reality technologies (integration of computer-generated images with the user’s vision) and virtual reality (creation of immersive computer-generated environments), which have an increasing application in surgery and in the training of medical professionals, as well as in the treatment of phobias and other psychological problems.

The report identifies 10 Catalan start-ups working in this area and analyzes the case of Amelia Virtual Care, which has created a virtual reality platform to treat health problems, and analyzes the case of Amelia Virtual Care, which has created a virtual reality platform to treat health problems.

Personalized medicine, a trend in which the report identifies two enabling technologies: so-called omics techniques (genetics, protein, metabolomics, transcriptomics) and robotics. The first already have a wide application in the development of new drugs, oriented to specific genetic targets, but more limited in terms of individualized diagnosis. In robotics, the report cites examples such as the design of prostheses connected to the nervous system of patients who have lost a limb, or rehabilitation robots that help physiotherapists.

A total of 37 start-ups are active in this field, according to the report, which analyzes the case of Exheus, which directly offers patients reports on the genetic expression of various biological parameters with recommendations for improving their nutrition and exercise patterns.

Decentralized healthcare, which includes both telemedicine – which can reduce hospital admissions and increase the frequency of home visits to chronically ill patients – and remote monitoring, also aimed at reducing the number of periodic tests carried out in hospitals and which can allow more accurate control of the evolution of certain diseases, including alerts to professionals and families.

The report identifies 38 start-up companies developing technologies in this area, such as HumanITCare, which has developed a platform that measures up to 17 biomarkers, linking them to the electronic medical record and connecting patients, families and medical professionals.

Artificial intelligence (AI), of which the report highlights the applications in image diagnosis, where AI allows to quickly process thousands of images and extract more accurate information for diagnostics, and in machine learning, which allows to automate and accelerate processes -drug discovery, emergency triage…- or create virtual assistants that can reduce the time spent by professionals in simple or routine medical consultations.

A total of 39 Catalan start-ups are developing innovations in this field, including Mediktor, which has created an AI-based medical assistant that analyzes symptoms, assesses the patient’s health status and guides them to the healthcare service they need, a platform already used by 10 million users in 26 countries.

Patient empowerment is a trend based on all those technologies (wearables, medical apps) that give patients accurate information about their health and allow them to make autonomous decisions about how to manage it. It has been developed especially for chronic diseases such as diabetes, but very little has been developed for other pathologies.

The report identifies 34 start-up companies working in this field and analyzes the case of Devicare, which develops digital devices for patients with urinary system disorders.

Among the professional profiles that will be required to implement these innovations in healthcare systems, the report highlights the need for doctors with extensive technological training (to apply augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence solutions), specialists in bioinformatics and biostatistics (to develop personalized medicine), computer engineers, bioengineers, programmers and cybersecurity specialists (for all the digital developments that decentralized healthcare requires), as well as usability specialists, UX and UI designers and product managers who have an in-depth understanding of the requirements of digital users, to drive the technologies that enable patient empowerment.

In any case, experts and entrepreneurs agree that these innovations in health technologies have come to stay, and if in 2021 investments in the global HealthTech market reached 57,200 million dollars, it is expected that by 2030 this figure will reach 790,000 million (x13).

“What we have to ensure is that there are as few obstacles as possible on the road between the cutting-edge research that is done in our laboratories and the improvement of health care for citizens. Support for entrepreneurship, training, investment, active patient participation and a clear vision from the Administration of the potential of these technologies in terms of saving resources and improving patient care will be the keys to implementing these transformative innovations”, explains Alexandre Perera, director of Xartec Salut and the Centre for Research in Biomedical Engineering (CREB) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya· BarcelonaTech (UPC).

Read the report here.

This project is co-financed by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).