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Startups focusing on ‘continuity of care’ flourish in SG’s booming health tech sector

Life sciences expert says fragmented data remains a challenge for many healthcare institutions and an opportunity for tech startups.

The majority of healthcare technology startups in Singapore — even all over Asia — are in the teleconsultation space, and only a few are offering solutions that can improve the continuity of care across players and institutions in the sector.

Such is the challenge of “fragmented data,” which is a key concern of many healthcare institutions and players, as pointed out by Dr. Xinhong Lim, a life science expert, partner  and managing director at Vickers Venture Partners.

“Healthcare data is often fragmented across different systems and facilities, making it challenging to have a comprehensive view of a patients’ medical history,” Lim told the Singapore Business Review.

“We need to develop systems that allow portability and seamless sharing of patient data across different healthcare providers and platforms,” he said, noting that such data management and interoperability solutions ultimately lead to better coordination of care of patients.

But startups or enterprises will need the help of governments. For Asia Pacific, Lim underscored the importance of governments to step up efforts to digitalise and provide access to electronic health records, “which should enable and improve public health research and management.”

Other areas of growth

Apart from solutions that focus on continuity of care, Lim said chronic disease management is also an area of opportunity for health tech startups in Singapore.

“Chronic diseases such as kidney failure are increasing in Singapore and the rest of the world. We see startups working on next gen machines, remote monitoring devices, and digital platforms to help patients with their chronic conditions more efficiently,” Lim said.

One of Vickers Venture Partners’ funded startups, Singapore-based MedTech AWAK Technologies, is one of the few with solutions that help in managing chronic diseases.

AWAK Technologies has a wearable peritoneal kidney dialysis device which is the size of a handbag. The device also only requires two litres of fluids, unlike traditional dialysis machines that require 10 to 12 litres. This portability gives patients flexibility to do dialysis anywhere and improve patients’ quality of life dramatically. AWAK recently closed a USD$20 million fundraise - one of the biggest fund raises in Southeast Asia this year.

Another key area of growth for healthcare startups in Singapore is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

According to Lim, digital mental health and wellness coaching have been gaining traction amongst customers and corporations in Asia, making CBT a thematic growth area for healthcare startups.

Regardless of focus and expertise, Lim said healthcare startups must help in addressing the sector’s major pain points which is access and affordability.

“Singapore, like many other countries, faces the challenges of rising healthcare costs. We need to ensure that healthcare services and treatments are accessible and affordable to all segments of the population, especially in an environment that is pretty costly in Singapore,” Lim added.

Growing the digital health startup economy

Singapore has seen significant growth in the number of startups and investments in the healthcare technology (healthtech) sector.

Data from Enterprise Singapore showed that in 2022, healthtech was also the top vertical under the “Human Health and Potential” sector, with a total of 22 deals and value of US$643m (SG$876m).

According to the report, healthtech also accounted for a third of the total deep tech funding in Singapore.

Lim said Singapore’s favourable business environment, robust infrastructure and strong government support all contributed to the growth of digital health startups in the country.

Across the Southeast Asian region, Lim said he believes Singapore leads in terms of a mature and supportive digital healthcare startup ecosystem.

To foster further growth in the economy, he pressed on the need for “continued investment and funding support,” and a “supportive and clear regulatory framework.”

“We need to address data privacy and security concerns, whilst at the same time not present onerous barriers that would hinder innovation. This could be greatly enhanced by productive public private partnerships, increased awareness about digital health benefits and incentives and grants for startups, which could also significantly contribute to the sector’s growth, and the emergence of cutting-edge solutions that revolutionise healthcare and contribute to the well-being of society,” Lim said.

The biotech export also underscored that healthcare, particularly health tech, is a growing market given the ageing population as well as increasing healthcare awareness in Asia.

“The market potential for innovation in healthcare is really immense,” he said. “There’s rising consumer demand for convenient and accessible healthcare services, which should further motivate entrepreneurs to develop services to cater to the evolving needs of patients.”

Towards the end of the interview, Lim highlighted technological improvements and advancements, which include AI, big data analytics, the IoT or Internet of Things and wearables.

“We should all enable entrepreneurs to create transformative solutions in healthcare delivery, diagnostics, personalised medicine and remote patient monitoring,” he said.
 

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