After a surge in uptake during the Covid-19 pandemic, the telehealth industry is courting new investment to further innovation and increase access to care in emerging markets. Digital health companies raised a record $57.2bn in global venture capital funding in 2021, a 79% jump from the $32bn raised in 2020, with 30% of the total directed towards telehealth. An estimated $140bn in private sector finance will be needed annually between 2015 and 2030 to realise the UN’s health-related Sustainable Development Goals, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, underscoring the importance of boosting spending commitments in the global health tech space.

Telehealth Solutions

As health tech in developed countries matures, emerging markets offer an avenue for digital health technology to expand access to care, improve patient outcomes and cut costs. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, some countries have as few as 0.23 doctors per 10,000 people compared to 84.2 in some of the most developed countries, according to the World Health Organisation. Investment in low-cost, high-impact fields such as telehealth could help to bridge this gap, however, with Africa’s health tech market on course to reach $11bn by 2025.

The Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service set up teleconsultation services as early as 2016 in collaboration with the Swiss Novartis Foundation, and in October 2021 a local health tech start-up, mPharma, announced plans to construct 100 virtual health centres in seven African markets. Backed by Silicon Valley-based Breyer Capital, the start-up raised over $50m between its founding in 2013 and 2021. Highlighting its potential, mPharma’s partnership in September 2021 with Gabon’s strategic investment fund, which is geared towards building drug supply infrastructure, has saved the country 30% in procurement costs in one year.

Many countries are leveraging tools such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things to improve patient outcomes, reduce medical staff burnout, and lower health care and operating costs. Internet connectivity plays a fundamental role in India’s health tech expansion. In India, AI-powered predictive analytics are enabling the early detection of diabetes and cancer. These technologies could be integrated with portable screening devices to provide early testing for underserved rural areas, where 70% of the country’s population lives. The country’s health care sector was estimated to be around $372bn in 2023, and the integration of data and AI in the delivery of health care could add an estimated $25bn-30bn to GDP by 2025.

The Future of Health

Meanwhile, the UAE has been at the forefront of telehealth innovations – spurred by disruption of Covid-19 to regular patient care. Shortly after the declaration of a global pandemic in 2020, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health launched the Remote Healthcare app for smartphone users to access preliminary medical diagnostics services, as well as health information and guidelines.

Since then, telehealth in Abu Dhabi has evolved significantly, improving patient care and supporting the growth of medical tourism. Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), the UAE’s largest healthcare network, conducted about 50,000 virtual consultations in 2021 through its Telemedicine Virtual Outpatient Clinic, now a primary communication channel for international patients alongside SEHA’s smartphone app.

In March 2023 the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention issued legislation requiring that all medical facilities provide at least one of the following services remotely: medicine prescriptions, vital signs monitoring, robotic surgery or medical consultations. The expansion of remote medical services is generating new business opportunities in the technology sector. For example, Yahsat – the satellite solutions provider owned by Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala – plans to offer telemedicine services, among other things, through its Thuraya-4 Next Generation Satellite when it commences commercial services in 2025.