One of the most exciting new technology sectors on my radar is telehealth, including telemedicine. The Covid-19 pandemic gave the field a real boost. But will its momentum continue now that the pandemic has lost its urgency?
The industry foresees CAGRs — with time horizons as far out as 2030 — ranging from 19% to 24% to 32%. At the same time, healthcare is a traditionally slower growing and slower changing sector. Patient attitudes change slowly. And, in the case of telemedicine, the comfort levels of elderly and less tech-savvy patient cohorts can be influential. What’s more, adopting new health and medical practice technologies can be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive for patients, doctors and hospitals.
All of this creates a push-back tide, against which the innovations and advances must swim. Nonetheless, as the coronavirus showed us, when critical conditions change, change can suddenly accelerate.
Compare telehealth and telemedicine to smartphones and wireless. In the 1990s, wireless technology was still analog. That meant cellphones were just phones without wires. There was no real wireless data usage compared with today. But as we advanced into the digital world — 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and beyond — we created an exciting new environment where smartphones and wireless data could thrive, and providers could show strong and rapid growth.
But even in the beginning, growth still took time. Back then, Blackberry was the winner, and so was the Palm Pilot, and some other early smartphones. Products like these led the marketplace for a decade. There were only a few hundred apps. Growth was slower.
While these smartphones were loved by their users, they did not usher in a change in thinking. Not yet. It took a sudden shift in the smartphone marketplace to jolt everyone into a new reality — a new way of thinking about wireless and how it could change our lives.
And that’s what Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android did. When they launched, we called them super-smartphones to separate them from more traditional smartphones. To jumpstart user demand, wireless networks like AT&T Mobility ( T ), Verizon Wireless ( VZ ) and T-Mobile US ( TMUS ) gave away wireless data for a while. It was free to use these services for a time.
After greasing the skids for a while, these companies sparked rapid growth, and the smartphone sector took off. Today, we are up to 5G. Today, the number of apps has jumped from a few hundred to a few million.
So what does this teach us about the world of telemedicine and telehealth? Today, these exciting new areas are at the same level as the Blackberry and Palm Pilot were in their day. They are advanced, but not as much as the next level will be.
What everyone wants to know, of course, is what will happen next — and even more than that — when the next thing happens, who will the industry’s leaders be? Remember, leadership changed in the smartphone industry. Will that happen in telemedicine?
The list of players in telehealth and telemedicine is growing. Some companies you know and others you may not. There are even some surprises on the list.
Cisco ( CSCO ), Teladoc ( TDOC ), and Polycom () are in the mix. So are Amwell ( AMWL ), Doximity ( DOCS ), GoodRx ( GDRX ), LifeStance ( LFST ), and Hims & Hers ( HIMS ).
Privately held players include MDLIVE Inc., Doctor on Demand Inc. and Sesame Care. MeMD was acquired this year by Walmart, and is now now known as Walmart Health Virtual Care. Even Apple ( AAPL ), Google ( GOOG ), Amazon ( AMZN ) and Huawei are active — to one degree or another.
And subcategories are taking shape — like mobile healthcare, remote patient monitoring, video and live video, and more. Investors should not ignore the potential of the changing telehealth industry. I certainly won’t, as readers of this column will see in the coming weeks and months.