By Patricia B. Mirasol

Health tech is expected to grow in five key areas post-COVID: telemedicine; the Internet of Medical Things; virtual reality; robotics; and quantum computing. All of these will combine in a medical ecosystem estimated to reach hundreds of billions by 2026, said Kei Shimada, leader of IBM Japan’s Digital Maker Lab.

“Telemedicine itself is not the entire solution,” said Mr. Shimada in his keynote presentation at the Ignite 2020 Cyber conference. “It has to have, for example, patients wearing devices that produce data doctors need to address symptoms over remote sessions. In order to keep distance, robots need (to be used). Quantum computing is also necessary to break down the data. It’s everything in combination.”

He strongly recommended that governments provide subsidies so that everyone can benefit from tailwinds COVID-19 is creating in the health tech sphere. Aside from providing fiscal support, countries must fast-track innovation.

“We’re all lucky to be in the healthcare space from an acceleration perspective due to COVID-19,” said Farouk Meralli, CEO of online pharmacy network mClinica. “Anyone placed in tech solving a real need will see an acceleration.” 

Among the notable health innovations mentioned at the Ignite conference were Zipline, an on-demand drone delivery service for medical supplies; and ELXR, a mobile app that provides customized fitness training programs based on one’s DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) type. 

In Southeast Asia, Singapore is a model in terms of having an enabling environment for capital and infrastructure, said Mr. Meralli, in a panel discussion at the same conference. “Each country is at a different stage in innovation, and each market has its own benefit based on our experience.” Initially based in the Philippines, his company has since moved to Indonesia, where 92% of pharmacies are independent mom-and-pop shops. 

Johanna Weise, head of global expansion for fermata, Inc., shared that the femtech company took the lessons it learned in community-building in Japan to Singapore. “Instead of looking for communities, why don’t we create communities that stimulate this sort of environment?,” she said.

In the Philippines, Republic Act 11293, or the Philippine Innovation Act, was signed into law last year to boost innovation and help promote growth and national competitiveness of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) had to return the P300 million innovation fund for it, however, because of the pandemic. Senator Joel Villanueva, during last month’s virtual hearing on the proposed 2021 NEDA budget, urged the government to fund Republic Act No. 11293, “because as many experts claim, now is the best time for innovations.”