Digital transformation and COVID-19 are reshaping health care on an irreversible course, said Choi Yoon-sup, managing partner of Digital Healthcare Partners at The Korea Herald Biz Forum held Tuesday at The Shilla in Seoul.
The forum, held under the tagline of “Contact less, connect more,” had speakers deliver talks on business outlook in the post-COVID-19 era. Choi’s speech outlined digital health care trends surrounding telemedicine, digital therapeutics and medical artificial intelligence -- and where Korea stood in the global playing field.
While Korea is the only country in the world that legally bans telemedicine, Choi stressed, “I would never say telemedicine regulations should become relaxed. Medicine involves lives. Therefore, regulations to safeguard and gatekeep its practices should not be relaxed, but rationalized.”
Having drawn the line, Choi said that changes incurred by COVID-19 are like a tsunami that cannot be reverted, and it is worth a moment to reflect on the lack of digital health care “unicorns” in Korea despite the globally increasing investments for such businesses. A unicorn refers to an unlisted startup worth more than $1 billion.
Currently, there are 41 health care unicorns in the world that are collectively worth $102 billion. Korea’s Ministry of SMEs and Startups hopes to foster 30 domestic digital health care unicorns by 2023, but so far Korea has none.
“Perhaps we could take a moment to reconsider why this is so,” Choi said.
According to Choi, non-face-to-face health care is becoming an integration of three elements: telemedicine, digital therapeutics and medical artificial intelligence.
Telemedicine is an emerging trend whose growth has expedited due to the COVID-19, he said. The sudden, unexpected encounter with an unparalleled global pandemic has nudged various nations to make more use of remote patient monitoring.
Teladoc Health, based in the US, made an initial public offering in 2015 and now has over 500,000 doctors registered as members strewn across the world. It is a service that is making explosive growth through the pandemic, Choi said.
Livongo, Amwell, MDLive and Hims are other noteworthy applications that Choi mentioned in his speech.
In Korea, where telemedicine was tentatively made available to counter the spread of COVID-19, homegrown applications such as Medihere and GoodDoc have demonstrated their capabilities as telemedicine platforms, Choi said.
Then there are digital therapeutics that are expanding the conventional concept of therapies, he explained.
These are software systems that are used as medical devices, which often target neurological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder or insomnia that can be modified or corrected through exposure to the certified software programs. Some take on the form of games, virtual reality and augmented reality content that offer visual stressors that give patients something else to focus on than pain, Choi said.
Rounding out the trends was the use of artificial intelligence in medicine, especially in radiology, where AI is increasingly assisting radiologists to make faster, fail-safe readings of image scans, enabling better patient care and opening up new medical possibilities.
By Lim Jeong-yeo (firstname.lastname@example.org