Health tech innovation has long been seen as a pilot project in the lab or a distant threat by many health brands — exciting to talk about, but a sideshow to strategic business priorities. Startups served as beacons of change, cutting through the buzz with disruptive technologies, while health brands remained largely unstirred and steadfast in the belief that health tech innovation would reach them in good time.

It’s a stance that has been dramatically overturned for most health brands by the jarring effects of the global pandemic. Universal market disruption and the collapse of traditional workflows hyper-charged the need for health tech innovation and drove digital transformation from a ‘nice to consider’ to an immediate and existential imperative.

More than a year into the pandemic, we’re reaping the benefits of the industry’s unprecedented pace of digital and cultural transformation — years’ worth of innovation has come to fruition in a matter of months. Most encouragingly, the focus of the industry’s innovation has turned squarely toward a shared vision of connected care: the ultimate promise of digital health. The change can be felt everywhere:

  • Telehealth utilization, after languishing in single digits for years, skyrocketed in a matter of weeks, with an overwhelming majority of providers and patients alike saying it must largely continue.
  • AI and machine learning is increasingly used to enhance drug discovery, diagnosis, treatment, and app-based therapeutics.
  • Personal monitoring devices are increasingly medical grade, with sharing data back to providers.
  • New data platforms are emerging to deliver on interoperability and make health information integrated, accessible and contextually useful.
  • Data sharing is increasing as privacy concerns are balanced with public health needs and aggregate insight (e.g. contact tracing).
  • The growing use of voice assistants is making it easier to find answers, at home and in-clinic.
  • Diagnostic testing is increasingly rapid and portable, previewing a new vision of proactive health monitoring.
  • More and more medical functions, even clinical trial participation, are being pushed to the smartphone.
  • Public policy changes are creating a more flexible model of how technology can improve the way care is administered and how it’s paid for, as well as advancing open data for research.

Providers and patients alike have grown used to these sweeping innovations rapidly changing their behaviors, perceptions, and expectations. The digital lifestyle we’ve all come to expect — powered by intuitive, mobile, and interconnected technology — is being brought to bear for our healthcare. Together, we’re marching toward a future of seamless, digitally-driven care that complements the physician, empowers the user, increases accuracy and efficiency, transforms payment models, and addresses important equity challenges.

However, this momentum, and the dramatic benefits it offers, puts pressure on all health brands to re-think the health continuum as it has existed for decades, and their expanding role in it:

  • How do health systems evolve to be engaged, pro-active health providers? How do payers actively incentivize and realize better outcomes and efficiencies?
  • How do Pharma companies increase speed of discovery, effectiveness, and compliance?
  • How do the myriad of health data platforms connect to create clear and actionable insights for providers and patients alike?
  • How do devices and software become the key links in connected health, enabling more care anywhere?
  • And bottom line, how does the industry provide better ways to get information, access care and proactively manage one’s personal health?

If current health leaders don’t actively and effectively lean into digital innovation to define the answers and lead change, new entrants undoubtedly will. Any health company that will thrive going forward must now in effect become a digital innovator. We are all in health tech now.

Bruce Hayes is Managing Director of NY Health, Anna Sekaran is Executive Vice President and Head of Technology East and Paul Ratzky is U.S. Health Tech lead.