Health Care Venture Opportunities in a Post-COVID-19 World

During this time of great uncertainty, it’s easy to worry about the future. The effects for all of us are profound. But it’s also vital to move ahead with a focus on hope–and innovation–as we together face a massive societal transformation. If history has taught us anything, it’s that profound advancements often come about in response to major societal events.

The pandemic has offered us a glimpse into a better health care system, one powered by ingenuity and innovation. Prior to COVID-19, health care innovation was on track–albeit at a slower pace in some areas–to transform how we engage with our doctors and nurses and how they work to keep us healthy. The abrupt nature of the pandemic bulldozed many longstanding obstacles opening up the opportunity for more rapid change.

We are now firmly thrust into a new world where innovation can scale rapidly. In a matter of weeks, many patients have moved to a “virtual visit first” approach in a watershed moment for telemedicine. New technology in biology is being applied to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Automation and artificial intelligence within health care are allowing for more individualized patient journeys and more efficient use of health resources. And robotics will have considerably more appeal as we look for safer ways to perform both complex and simple procedures. Health care is actively transforming in real time to meet the challenge of COVID-19, and for health care startups today, there has never been a better time to reimagine the system.

Here are four fields that are poised for growth:


1. Telemedicine And Digital Therapeutics: A New Path For Treatment

With institutions striving to lower their exposure to COVID-19, many private practices as well as large health care systems have implemented telehealth for the first time. Telehealth visits have surged by 50 percent over pre-pandemic levels. Forrester Research analysts expect Americans to book over 200 million telemedicine general health visits in 2020 and up to 900 million COVID-19 related visits–up from 36 million total telehealth visits originally projected. Teladoc has been leading the charge as a national telemedicine platform and brand; the company has upped their projections for visits this year, as a result of the pandemic, to double its 2019 visit volume.  

With this huge influx in need and demand for telemedicine, many insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, have begun covering telemedicine visits for the first time. The White House has further prioritized expanding telehealth access by helping providers navigate the legal requirements for data security.

The expansion of telehealth hasn’t been limited to traditional medical visits. Companies like Talkspace offer a HIPAA-compliant platform that allows patients to easily and securely see a therapist and psychiatrist via phone or video, and to securely text their providers on a daily basis for ongoing support.  

Omada Health and other digital therapeutics companies are seeing a real opportunity to improve outcomes with improved engagement and persuasive design by eliminating costly in-person care. From diabetes to hypertension and high cholesterolemia, these companies are now competing–not with limits to access in-person care–but with no access to traditional preventative care at all.  Although this will likely be temporary, the mindshift from physical to virtual is already occurring.  

Entrepreneurs should seize the opportunity to be a part of this telehealth revolution as moving forward many will question: Do I really need to go into the doctor’s office for care?


2. Advancements In Biotechnology And COVID-19

The need for rapid, point of care, accurate and low-cost diagnostics has spurned innovation in new and existing methods, promising to produce new platforms for diagnosing infectious and noninfectious diseases more rapidly and even from home. Companies like Mammoth Biosciences, Cepheid, BioFire and Abbott are advancing various technologies to improve our ability to develop, approve and deploy lower cost, more efficient diagnostics.  

Advances in the development of vaccines utilizing novel methods like Moderna’s mRNA platform have the potential to transform the method by which we protect a population against a rapidly disseminating infectious disease. Oxford University, in collaboration with AstraZeneca, is developing and testing a COVID-19 vaccine using a recombinant viral vector platform called ChAdOx which, if proven successful, may prove beneficial in a number of diseases.  

Therapeutic development programs for COVID-19 demonstrate similar diversity in approaches and thought. Gileads Remdesivir is a therapy granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 and was a repurposed antiviral originally targeted at Ebola. From companies focused on convalescent plasma treatment like Grifols to a number of companies focused on novel or repurposed monoclonal antibodies, the field is full of potentially attractive successes.  

Entrepreneurs should focus on technology development that has “dual use” in addressing both large opportunities in COVID-19 and diseases outside of that, so that investors are convinced that the value created will be durable beyond this pandemic’s life.  


3. AI And Machine Learning To Support Diagnosis And Efficiency

In addition to the rapid adoption of telehealth approaches to care, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the utility of AI and machine-learning approaches to managing large swaths of data. During the pandemic, these techniques have been used not just to model the potential case count and death toll, but to help anticipate need and guide care. 

The unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the importance of health care providers’ abilities to anticipate and respond to change–and the need for more sophisticated analytics platforms within health system operations.  

Operational inefficiencies, whether in the emergency room or the clinic, negatively impact provider performance, compromise patient outcomes and send health care costs soaring. AI systems have begun to improve diagnosis, recommend therapies, and predict safety and patient flow issues in real-time.  

Companies like Qventus are adding increased value by using AI and machine learning to optimize patient and provider flow within health care systems. This automation relieves much of the burden of administrative coordination on health care providers while creating better provider performance and better patient outcomes. Qventus’ machine-learning capabilities allow the software to draw on big data and adjust its predictions and decisions to long-term and short-term changing conditions, such as pandemics and stay-at-home orders.

The ability to optimize a health care delivery system at scale is not only new but an important part of delivering value-based care, a core goal of CMS. Not only is scaling of hospital and provider capacity important to address a pandemic, responsive scaling of health care services allows systems to adjust supply to meet demand. This intelligent, data-informed approach to optimizing care will allow both small and large health care systems to intelligently adjust to meet anticipated changes in the health care needs of their communities.

I recommend entrepreneurs evaluate the areas in which AI and machine learning can be used to improve efficacy, safety and efficiency within the health care landscape. But importantly, particularly for those with technology backgrounds only, it is important to closely engage with medical professionals who encounter these challenges firsthand. Entrepreneurs need to understand the system today in order to build breakthrough systems that will shape the future. 


4. Care Through Robotics

We have already witnessed the positive impact of the use of medical robots in surgical environments with companies like Intuitive Surgical and Mako Surgical (now Stryker). The acquisition of Auris by Johnson and Johnson in February 2019 was a pivotal moment. From enabling surgeons to perform procedures that would otherwise be impossible, to improving minimally invasive approaches and increasing standardization, robotics will play an increasingly important role in health care. Companies like Neocis are bringing robotics into the operating room in ways that allow for procedures to be potentially performed more easily, more efficiently and with greater precision. Using cutting-edge mechatronics, haptics and image guidance, the Yomi platform provides surgeons enhanced image guidance, enhanced motor control through robotic actuation and control. The platform also provides feedback and control processes designed to improve safety and precision, and potentially limit droplet exposure to both patient and doctor during the procedure.  

For entrepreneurs, consider how robotics can better our health care system in three ways: Does your robotic system enable a procedure that cannot be performed manually? Does it improve the safety or precision of a procedure being performed minimally invasively? Does it convert an open surgical procedure to a more accessible, minimally invasive one? 


Investing In A Better World 

COVID-19 is forcing all in the health care ecosystem to re-evaluate their strategies and approaches. What is clear from my vantage point is that the pandemic is driving innovation and experimentation, and will reward those that create real tangible impact with capital and resources to scale and transform our system. 

The result will be a world where health care is more accessible and more cost-effective, where physicians and nurses will benefit from more automation and the promise of robotic technology, and where patients and providers will see a renaissance of new therapies and diagnostics.   

  • Originally published June 10, 2020, updated June 15, 2022