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19 Apr 2021 Updated 22 Apr 2021

Interest in medtech set to grow as healthcare firms digitalise

The Straits Times Sue-Ann Tan

Number of local medtech firms has more than doubled from 2014

The pandemic has spurred many companies and sectors to transform themselves digitally, and even the healthcare sector, with its high degree of human touch, has not been exempt.

 

The interest in medical technology, or medtech, has grown markedly over the past year, industry experts said.

This trend is set to continue because technology offers more efficient and convenient ways of accessing healthcare.

There were around 300 home-grown medtech companies last year, more than double that in 2014, noted Enterprise Singapore (ESG). More than half were start-ups.

ESG deputy chief executive Ted Tan said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has tested the global healthcare system and accelerated the need for the healthcare sector in Singapore to transform to meet the new demands today."

He cited teleconsultations, which are becoming more widespread as patients seek treatment online.

More doctors and users have signed up to use telehealth platform Doctor Anywhere, which allows users to consult a doctor through video on an app, with medication delivered to them within a few hours.

The number of users on the platform has increased three to fourfold since the end of January last year, he added.

Doctor Anywhere raised US$27 million (S$36 million) in a second round of investment funding last year and will expand regionally.

Mr Tan said: "Similarly, traditional bricks-and-mortar healthcare players are beginning to embrace the new era of telemedicine."

More than 50 GP clinics have come on board to partner teleconsultation providers under an initiative last year supported by ESG and other agencies.

Besides apps, healthcare firms are also using digital tools to improve productivity.

Mr Tan noted that some dental companies are adopting digital tools such as intra-oral scanners to provide a more comprehensive diagnosis for patients and a shorter treatment time.

ESG has supported more than 60 dental companies in the past year to adopt such digital solutions.

"Others are capitalising on data and new technologies to capture opportunities, such as in the management of mental health and detection of diseases," added Mr Tan.

Incubator NSG Biolabs has also seen the biotechnology sector in Singapore growing fast, with new companies emerging and existing ones expanding. The co-working lab and office space has 21 firms on its premises here, which is the third site in a global network that includes China and the United States.

German medtech firm Siemens Healthineers also saw interest in the sector grow during the pandemic, with the need for test kits and telehealth solutions.

Mr Fabrice Leguet, the firm's managing director and president for South-east Asia, said: "Beyond the pandemic, there is a strong role for medical technology to evolve and meet the needs of ageing populations and the rise of non-communicable diseases across the globe.

"Early detection and ongoing monitoring to prevent escalation of medical conditions is crucial to keep healthcare accessible and sustainable in the near future."

The company provides digital solutions that allow for remote monitoring of patients and servicing of medical systems remotely.

It also has solutions that assist radiologists by using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse chest images.

Mr Leguet said: "Digitalisation and AI are likely to be key enablers in bringing new innovations and helping healthcare providers enhance the overall patient experience, with better outcomes and an overall reduction in the cost of care.

"We foresee that medical technology would play an increasingly important role in managing the backlog of non-communicable illnesses that have been somewhat neglected due to the epidemic, in the near future.

"More will need to be done to accurately and efficiently diagnose and manage chronic illnesses so as to prevent increasing the burden on healthcare systems."

 

 Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.