Wednesday

23rd May 2018

Focus

E-health business is good business

  • 'Things are going very, very well' (Photo: Zenicor Medical Systems AB)

Early investors in Zenicor, a Swedish medical technology company founded in 2003, are probably congratulating themselves on their foresight.

"Over the last three years, we have had an annual growth of more than 50 percent," says CEO Mats Palerius. "Things are going very, very well."

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Zenicor's flagship product is a pocket-sized ECG (electrocardiograph) scanner, the type of machine that monitors the heartbeat. All you do is place your thumbs on a pair of sensors left and right, and off you go. The device then saves the scan or sends it off for analysis using its built-in mobile phone.

"That is the trick," says Palerius. "People used to have to wear monitors for days on end. There is no telling when palpitations may occur. Now, you can start scanning whenever they do."

Pick a number

The size of the e-health industry is difficult to determine as it touches the whole of healthcare, but there is little doubt that it is growing fast.

Ten years ago, it was "microscopic," says Anna Lefevre Skjoldebrand, chair of the eHealth Task Force of Eucomed, the Brussels lobby for the medical technology industry. But over the last two years, "it has exploded."

Today e-health is the third largest industry in healthcare, after pharmaceuticals and medical devices. "In Sweden, it represents at least 10 to 15 percent of the healthcare industry," says Lefevre Skjoldebrand, a Swedish national.

Europe runs second to the US when it comes to global market share, but has "a large number" of European-based companies that are specialised in e-health solutions, as well as around 5,000 smaller enterprises that "operate in the various sub-sectors of e-health," according to the European Commission.

One of those large companies is Agfa-Gevaert, from Belgium. It used to be known for its photographic film, but has since long shifted its focus to the business of high-tech medical imaging.

"It is a market that we expect to grow at around six to eight percent per year," says Johan Jacobs, a company spokesperson. "Which is very decent."

Another branch of e-health that is expected to grow particularly fast, is that of health-related mobile phone applications.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers in a study conducted for the mobile industry, the global 'mobile health' market will reach a value of €17.5 billion by 2017.

Europe will by then be the largest market, according to the study, with an estimated €5.2 billion, just ahead of North America.

E-health, shme-health

The e-health business is sure to continue to grow as our economy continues to tilt towards one based on the Internet. Only in the future, it may not be called e-health anymore.

"Nobody here talks about e-health products," said Lefevre Skjoldebrand late February, who was attending a conference on IT and healthcare in Las Vegas - the biggest of its kind. "People just talk about health products."

As does Mats Palerius, of Zenicor. "People talk about these new technologies as if they will solve everything. Just like they did when electricity was invented. But in the end, they are just tools. Technology has to be at the service of a need. And the reason why we have grown so fast is because we meet a medical need."

Putting the 'e' in e-health

The 'e' has become a familiar sight before words like book or commerce, while health has long been spared the token affix of the digital age. But now e-health has arrived and seems set to revolutionise traditional healthcare.

Healthcare without borders

The town hospital of Guriceel, Somalia, is understaffed. The doctors who once worked there have all but fled the fighting that mars the country since decades. Those who remain often lack in education. But they do have an internet connection.

The EU and e-health: a European disease

Healthcare, strictly speaking, is none of the EU’s business. On e-health, therefore, much of the Brussels oeuvre consists of communications, recommendations, action plans, conferences and the odd pilot project. But even that seems too ambitious.

E-health

E-health is already the third largest sector in the healthcare industry after pharmaceuticals and medical devices. With new technology fundamentally changing doctor-patient relations and posing new questions on privacy, EUobserver explores the issues.

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